Birthday party that ended with senseless killing in gun crime capital of Britain

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The Independent Online

The Friday evening of Nottingham's 700-year-old Goose Fair was one of Danielle Beccan's most eagerly awaited events of the year.

As she had done on previous occasions, this year she went to celebrate her friend Antoinette's birthday, playing on the attractions and rides before planning to return to her friend's house in the St Ann's area of the city for a sleepover party.

Janice Fogo, the mother of Antoinette, had been expecting the girls to walk through the door at midnight.

They had been given a special dispensation to stay out late, playing on dodgems, flirting with boys.

Instead she received a phone call shortly after midnight to say that Danielle had been shot.

The 14-year-old had been standing on a patch of grass in front of some houses with a group of 10 friends when a gold car with blacked out windows, possibly a Citroen, drew alongside and shots rang out.

Within three hours Danielle was dead. The single bullet that hit her abdomen caused so much damage to her vital organs that surgeons at theQueen's Medical Centre in the city were unable to save her.

She died on the operating table, the latest victim of a wave of shootings which have tarnished Nottingham with the unenviable reputation of Britain's capital of gun crime.

Speaking through tears at her home close to the scene, Mrs Fogo said: "This had always been one of the best bits of our year. Antoinette takes her friends down to the Goose Fair as part of her birthday and then they come back for a sleepover. I was expecting them to come through the door at midnight. Then I had a phone call saying Danielle had been shot. I loved Danielle like one of my own. She was a lovely, bubbly girl."

As the gunman's car screeched away, the group of male and female friends aged between 14 and 17 scattered behind trees and fences before returning to Danielle's aid.

Witnesses said some were still carrying cuddly toys won at the fair, some 20 minutes walk away.

Danielle's mother, Paula Platt, who lives a few hundred yards away, was alerted and rushed to the scene to join paramedics already tending to her daughter.

A card attached to flowers laid at the scene by Ms Platt said: "We will miss you always. Our hearts are broken."

Police said today that they had released an unnamed man who had been under arrest since Saturday when an unspecified vehicle was seized. Uncertainty surrounded the motive for the killing, described as "senseless" by police.

Nottingham's inner-city areas, such as St Ann's and nearby Meadows, have been plagued in recent years by gun violence stemming from rivalry between gangs, most of them linked to Jamaican Yardie criminals, seeking to control the city's heroin and crack cocaine market.

The resulting toll of death and injury has been shocking. Until Friday, the city had not seen a gun-related injury for four months. But in the 12 months before that a total of 30 people were either killed or seriously wounded in shootings.

In 2002-03 there was an average of one shooting every week in Nottinghamshire, leading to at least 13 deaths and 49 injuries. Police estimate that 40 per cent of all murders in the county are drugs related. Detectives refuse to be drawn on whether the events of Friday night were directly linked to this, stressing that Danielle, a music-loving teenager with two younger siblings, had never been in trouble and was not a gang member.

Assistant Chief Constable Susannah Fish told a press conference: "Danielle is not known to us in any sense criminally. She is an innocent 14-year-old."

Police appealed last night for witnesses from a second group of up to 30 individuals, who were passed by the gold car moments before the shooting, to contact them.

On the streets of St Ann's, however, the belief was that Danielle was the random victim of a turf war.

One 17-year-old, who claimed to have seen the gold car at the time of the shooting, said he saw one of the occupants make a three fingered sign used by gang members from the Meadows, an inner-city area to the south of the city centre which has seen a rise in gun-related violence. Some predicted retribution. Sandra Smith, 16, said: "The word is that whoever did this came from one of these other areas. Now the talk is of revenge. You can bet the guys from around here will get someone for this."

The Goose Fair, Britain's oldest and the second largest event of its type, has traditionally been the focus of rising tensions in the city.

Police received intelligence of a potential clash between criminals on Friday and Saturday night, but a spokesman said: "It was fairly unspecific whether it was going to be between St Ann's or any other area."

The murder of Danielle is the latest in a number of deaths with their roots in St Ann's, a mixture of modern local authority housing and Victorian terraces, many of them boarded up and daubed with graffiti.

The murder this summer of a former Nottingham couple, John and Joan Stirland, at their retirement home in Lincolnshire was linked to the fatal shooting of a shop fitter outside a St Ann's pub by Mrs Stirland's son, Michael O'Brien.

A few hundred yards from the scene of this weekend's killing, two bunches of now dried flowers were tied to a lamppost outside another pub, the Westminster. They commemorate the fatal stabbing of a young black man 18 months ago.

In an unwitting commentary on the mood in the area, two young boys playing near by were pointing toy pistols at each other and shouting: "Stop, armed police."

Meanwhile, a poem at the scene of Danielle's death read: "On the 9th October every year we will sit down and celebrate the life of Danielle Beccan ­ who was a friend to many but enemy to some ­ 30 minutes past the hour of 12 bullets were shot and her life was stole, the heartache and pain is unbearable.

"How many times must a bullet fly before they're forever band?"

CITY'S HISTORY OF GUN CRIME

February 2002 Brendon Lawrence, 16, died after being shot several times while sitting in a car in the St Ann's area.

December 2002 Gerald Smith, 42, an innocent bystander, was shot dead in a Sheffield club by a gang of men from St Ann's carrying out a revenge killing. Nine men were later convicted of his killing.

August 2003 Marvyn Bradshaw, 22, was shot dead while driving his car away from the Sporting Chance pub in Nottingham.

September 2003 Marion Bates, 64, was shot in the chest during a raid on her family-owned jewellery shop in Nottingham after she intervened to protect her daughter Xanthe, aged 34.

November 2003 Omar Watson, 24, was shot dead by a gang at a unisex hairdressers in the inner-city area of Radford.

October 2004 John Stirland, 55, and Joan Stirland, 53, were killed by hit-men at their home in Lincolnshire. The couple, who had fled Nottingham in fear, are believed to have been targeted after the conviction of their son, Michael O'Brien, for the murder of Marvyn Bradshaw.