Outbreak of drive-by shooting claims three more victims

Blunkett under pressure after alarming escalation of gun violence hits Middle England
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The Independent Online

Three Berkshire men have become the latest victims of gun crime in a week that has already seen two people shot dead in an alarming escalation of gun violence across Middle England.

The three men were blasted with a shotgun from a moving car in Reading late on Friday night. One of them suffered serious facial injuries and the other two suffered shotgun wounds to the arms and back.

It followed the murder of a man on the same day in another drive-by shooting in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. The man was named yesterday as David King, 32, who had a criminal background.

Detectives are also hunting for the killer of Marian Bates, a 64-year-old jeweller, who was shot in the chest on Tuesday by a robber wielding a handgun.

Mrs Bates died when she jumped in front of her daughter, Xanthe, to protect her from a gunman during a raid on her shop in Arnold, Nottingham.

Embarrassingly for the Government, the shootings coincided with a declaration by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, at the Labour Party conference that tackling gun crime would be a priority if the Government won a third term in office.

Ministers are now under increasing pressure to put more resources into combating gun attacks, which increased by 35 per cent between 2001 and 2002.

Mr Blunkett has already announced a new mandatory five-year sentence for illegal possession of a firearm, but senior police officers are demanding he goes further by also banning the manufacture of imitation guns, which can be converted into lethal weapons.

Police are understood to have ruled out any connection between the shootings in Reading and Hoddesdon.

The Reading shooting happened just before 10.30pm on Friday night, opposite Battle hospital in the west of Reading, close to the Tilehurst area.

A Thames Valley police spokeswoman said the three men are believed to have suffered shotgun pellet wounds. The blue or black car involved in the attack was travelling towards Oxford Road.

Meanwhile, Hertfordshire police said a post mortem examination was being carried out yesterday on the victim of the Hoddesdon shooting.

Mr King, a builder from Stevenage, was shot dead in the quiet market town after two gunmen pulled up next to him in a van and opened fire in broad daylight.

A police spokeswoman said a second man injured in the shooting had now been discharged from hospital and was at a secret location.

Forensic officers are still examining the scene and a vehicle found abandoned in the Lampits area of Hoddesdon, thought to be the van used by the gunmen.

Gun crime accounts for only about 0.4 per cent of all recorded crime, but experts say they are concerned about the increased use of more sophisticated firearms such as automatic handguns. These spray out bullets, creating the risk of hitting far more people.

Mike Presdee, a criminologist at the University of Sunderland, said drive-by shootings were not a new phenomenon but that the use of automatic weapons was a worrying trend.

"Drive-by shootings have always been around," he said. "What's different is that automatic weapons are now being used, which are more dangerous, and put the community at risk.

"Amnesties do nothing. You just get grandfathers handing in old weapons. Gangsters are not going to give up their weapons."

Professor Dick Hobbs, from the University of Durham, said the Government needed to put more investment into tracking illegal firearms.

"The question is: 'where are all the guns coming from?'," he said.

"For all David Blunkett going on about bobbies on the beat, that is not going to stop people getting hold of guns.

"There should be a properly funded database that lists the type of guns. Most people are never going to be affected by this type of crime, but once you get military-quality weaponry used in shootings then that is a problem."