Liverpool gang hatred revealed

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Hatred runs deep between the two gangs of north Liverpool.

In the early hours of New Year's Day 2004, Danny McDonald, a Crocky Crew leader, was blasted seven times as he drank in the Royal Oak in West Derby.

The gunman, in dark clothing and wearing a ski-mask, fled from the scene leaving 50 or so stunned drinkers.

The 20-year-old's murder was the result of a number of petty disputes between the gangs but marked a terrifying raising of the stakes.

No-one was charged with McDonald's murder but Strand Gang rookie Liam Smith, 19, was widely believed to be the killer.

The shooting was said to have propelled Smith up the hierarchy of the Strand Gang - also known as the Nogga Dogs after the Norris Green district of Liverpool.

Smith, whose gang hail from Norris Green, just a mile from Croxteth, was shot dead outside Merseyside's Altcourse Prison on 23 August, 2006, in a revenge attack.

He was spotted visiting a friend by sworn enemy, prisoner Ryan Lloyd, 21, who used a hidden mobile phone to arrange the hit.

More than a dozen Crocky Crew gangsters arrived and Smith was shot in the head with a shotgun from five yards.

A 10-week trial in 2007, involving 11 defendants, saw three men convicted of murder and one of manslaughter.

In the last year there were more than 70 incidents of criminal damage between the warring groups - with thugs and their houses being shot at.

But Merseyside Police insist they are winning the battle.

In the wake of Rhys Jones's death, 54 extra officers went into the ganglands of L11 - the postcode for the area.

There have been more than 5,800 stop and searches there in the last 12 months, with 636 arrests, and violent crime is down by 21.8 per cent, the force said.

Steve Moore, head of Matrix, the force's anti-gang unit, implemented a policy of probing every area of criminals' lives to "suffocate" them.

Known gang members are no longer targeted solely for serious offences like drugs and gun deals, but for every little transgression.

One offender was even successfully prosecuted for having an under-inflated car tyre.

Mr Moore said: "Firing a gun is like firing a flare into the sky.

"It is saying to the police 'Come and look at me, my family and my friends for all types of crime we commit'."

Mr Moore said leaflets were also delivered which said "all criminals in that area will pay the penalty for someone firing a gun in that area".

The force is also helping the families of gunmen to set up home elsewhere and fund potentially life-changing courses.

So far, one family has taken up the offer and two more are considering leaving L11, as are several single criminals.

Mr Moore said: "We have had some very good results. I have been surprised by how quickly some of our so-called hard cases were coming to us to say 'What do we have to do to get off your list?"'

Many of the gangsters are just boys.

The youngest the police know about are just 13, went to school together and share a common identity.

But there is no Mafia-style structure, Mr Moore said.

There are an estimated 40 Nogga Dogs, with one 25-year-old general behind bars.

At least eight have Asbos restricting their movements and associations.

According to information given by Merseyside Police after Rhys's shooting, the oldest member was 34 but junior ranking.

The Croxteth Crew is smaller, with two of the top three in jail.

Of approximately 11 junior members, one is 43 years old.

One is 51 but occupies the menial role of street dealer.

"We wouldn't want to overstate the sophistication of the gangs - they are an amalgam of dysfunctional teenagers," Chief Superintendent Steve Watson, Area Commander for Liverpool North, said.

"There is no rigid hierarchy or set of rules," he added, saying there were 43 gang members behind bars serving a total of nearly 300 years.

"It is fair to say many youngsters will bump into each other on a Saturday night.

"Opposing factions have grown up, we have a very clear idea of who is involved.

"The groups have been severely undermined by the actions we have taken and the number of people in jail.

"The dispute between them can escalate from anything very petty.

"It can be as ridiculous as the theft of one person's bicycle or an argument over a girlfriend and added to that, turf disputes for so called dealing rights for drugs."