Jail for gangsters' girlfriends who stash guns

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The Independent Online

Young women who stash guns for their gangster boyfriends are risking their futures and will face jail, police said today.

The stark warning was issued at the launch of a campaign to help prevent shootings across London by urging young women not to hide weapons .

Black teenagers in the capital aged between 15 and 19 years are being targeted under the initiative, which follows a recent rise in the numbers of young women being arrested and convicted for possessing weapons.

Among a dozen women charged so far this year with possession of a firearm were seven teenagers, including a 16-year-old girl arrested after a 9mm Browning self-loading pistol loaded with one round was discovered in her bedroom.

The series of radio, cinema and billboard adverts - carrying the strapline "Hide his gun and you help commit the crime" - has been masterminded by Trident, the Metropolitan Police's anti-shooting unit.

Police fear more girls are being persuaded to store weapons for male friends and relatives.

Detective Chief Superintendent Helen Ball, head of Trident, said: "We are launching this campaign now because of a very worrying trend that we have noticed has been increasing over the last few years.

"In the years 2004 to 2007 on average we charged five women a year with possessing a gun. Last year we charged 13 women, this year we have already charged 12.

"We've been very worried about the increase in women who are carrying and hiding guns for gunmen. We want to raise awareness of the fact they are equally responsible for the crimes committed with those guns and they will face the same prison sentences as the men involved."

She said if the women were over the age of 18 they faced a mandatory minimum prison sentence of five years.

The campaign is targeting Trident's six priority boroughs of Brent, Hackney, Haringey, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark.

Claudia Webbe, chairwoman of Trident's Independent Advisory Group, said: "Sadly whether through lack of self-esteem, lack of confidence or the need for love, we are seeing an increasing number of young women being caught up in the whole nature of gun crime.

"This campaign sends a clear and direct message to young women vulnerable to male peer pressure that if you hide, store, or carry a gun there are going to be dire consequences.

"You will face the same consequences as your male counterparts. This will have devastating effects on your future and the people you love."

One woman at the launch, named only as Rebecca, who was jailed, warned other young females not to succumb to pressure and risk their lives through hiding a gun.

She said: "Nobody, if they say they love you, or if they say they care about you and that is the reason why they want you to hold their weapon, you know they don't. They are doing it to save their own skin. They are only doing it because they know you will face the consequences and they won't. That's not love, that's not friendship, that's manipulation and it's bullying."

She added: "Holding a firearm for someone is something you have to say 'I won't allow in my life'. There are consequences not only to yourself and to possible victims, but friends and family. It's your future."