Gunchester: the sequel

Fatal shootings undermine claims that Manchester is winning war on gun crime. Mark Hughes reports
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The Independent Online

At the end of Britain's biggest ever gang trial it was easy to see why senior officers from Greater Manchester Police were pleased. The 11 gangsters in the dock were sentenced to a total of 220 years. After two decades of terrorising the Moss Side estate, bringing murder and mayhem to the city, Colin Joyce and Lee Amos, the leaders of the notorious Gooch gang, were behind bars. Convicted alongside them were nine of their most trusted lieutenants.

Their removal from the streets was claimed as a victory in the war against gun crime. "There has not been a single gun-related murder in Greater Manchester in the past year and... there has been a 92 per cent drop in gang-related shootings," a statement from the police crowed. The force's Chief Constable, Peter Fahy, congratulated his officers, saying they had done "an incredible amount of work... to reduce the number of shootings." It was, he said, "an absolutely fantastic achievement".

Today, four months on, that looks like hubris. Three men have been shot dead in Greater Manchester in the past four months – all seemingly gang-related. The hope that the city once dubbed Gunchester – due to the relentless series of gun murders in the early 1980s and 1990s – had finally begun to shed its firearm-riddled image appeared dashed.

In Piccadilly Gardens, in Manchester's city centre, the face of a young man stares down from a giant screen at the hordes of shoppers below. At just 16 years old, Moses Mathias is Britain's most wanted fugitive, sought in connection with a fatal shooting in Manchester.

The victim, 16-year-old Guiseppe Gregory, was the first of the three to be shot dead in the region since the convictions of Joyce and Amos. Guiseppe was hit in the head when shots were fired into the back of a green VW Golf in the car park of the Robin Hood pub in Stretford, south Manchester, on 10 May. He was said to be known to police and had gangland connections. Two men have been charged with the murder, but the main suspect, Mr Mathias, is still at large.

Guiseppe Gregory's death was followed by the murders of Nasar Hussain and then Junaid Khan, which took place within five days of each other last month.

Mr Hussain, a shop assistant, was shot dead in the Brookhouse Wines store, in Salford, on 4 July. He had lived in the city for just six months and his death is believed to have been a case of mistaken identity. The Serious and Organised Crime Agency tipped off Greater Manchester Police that an armed robbery was going to take place at the store. When officers arrived they found Mr Hussain had been shot six times. The circumstances are the subject of an inquiry by the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Two men have been charged with the murder and await trial.

Mr Khan was shot from behind in the car park of a doctor's surgery, in Chadderton, on 9 July. As he lay on the ground, the gunman approached and shot him again at close range with an automatic weapon. His murder, like Guiseppe Gregory's, remains unsolved. The shootings have reminded the country of the city's association with gun violence. And have led to criticism that the police's insinuation that the battle against gun crime was being won was trumpeted in haste.

Patsy McKie set up the Mothers Against Violence support group after her son Dorrie, 20, was shot dead in Hulme, south Manchester, in 1999. She said: "The police said what they felt they needed to say. They put some men away but to then say that this was the reason for the drop in gun crime was a bit presumptuous.

"We have had three murders and we can see that they definitely haven't sorted it. And they are not going to sort it just by thinking that putting a couple of men away will solve the whole problem. There are a lot of people helping the police but the police make it sound like it is all because of them. They cannot go around blowing their own trumpet because then it comes back and hits them in the face."

The fact that two of the recent murders are unsolved brings unwelcome comparisons with other gun murder cases that the force has been unable to close. When Mr Fahy spoke in his statement of the last gun-related murder being more than a year ago, he was referring to the murder of Louis Braithwaite, a 16-year-old who was shot inside a betting shop in January 2008. It is unsolved.

Ten days before that Halton McCollin, 20, was shot dead in a takeaway shop. No one has been caught. In 2006 15-year-old Jesse James became the youngest person to be gunned down in Manchester since 14-year-old Benji Stanley was shot dead in 1993. Both cases are unsolved.

Even the murder of Patsy McKie's son Dorrie, 10 years ago, remains unsolved. The police often say that the reason for their lack of success in such cases – most of which are believed to have gangland motives – is that members of the local community are unwilling to collaborate with the law, for fear that they will become a victim too.

But, despite the reasons, a glut of unsolved gang murders does not reflect well on the police. Yet they are, they claim, making headway. In 2006-07 there were 120 guns fired in the region. This climbed to 146 in 07-08, despite a target of a five per cent reduction being set. But in the 16 months since April 2008 until now there have been 135.

And the force also seem to have established, since the departure of the main players in the Gooch gang, who now poses the main gun threat in Manchester. In a recent report, Mr Fahy concluded: "It was recognised that the emerging firearms threat to GMP and local communities come from identified Asian organised crime groups, with parallels being drawn with the historic activity of drugs gangs from the South Manchester area in the use of firearms to secure fiscal outcomes to their organised criminality."

Manchester in numbers

16

The number of months Greater Manchester police had gone without a gun murder before Guissepe Gregory's killing in May.

220

The combined number of years Colin Joyce, Lee Amos and their cohorts will spend in prison.

135

firearms discharges have been recorded in GM since January 2008.

14

The age of Benji Stanley, the youngest person to be shot dead during Gunchester years 80s-90s.

25

Number of "active factions" of the two main gangs in Manchester – the Gooch and the Doddington.

2,200

stop and searches have been carried out by GMP since February 2008 to try and combat the problem.

150

GMP officers and staff are dedicated to gangland gun crime.