Two men came forward yesterday to tell police they had grappled with robbers who were fleeing from the jeweller's shop where they had murdered the owner, Marian Bates, four days ago.
It was a break the police badly needed. The witnesses' stories - of how they had first tried to pull one of the robbers from a motorbike, then halt his getaway - came as the case developed into a metaphor for the police's apparent inability to contend with Nottingham's rising gun crime.
The distraught family of Mrs Bates, who died trying to prevent robbers from shooting her daughter, has called on the Government to put its "money where its mouth is" over gun crime.
The political timing of the family's plea is likely to havae embarrassed David Blunkett, who had just told the Labour Party conference of record numbers of officers in Britain.
Nottinghamshire Police can only accept the family's criticism of policing levels. The Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire, Steve Green, admitted his resources were "stretched to the very limit dealing with the type of tough street crime". Nottinghamshire Police Authority has called an emergency meeting, to be held next Thursday, to discuss the incident and the force's response to gun-related crime. It is expected to call on the Home Office to provide more money for the force to tackle criminals with guns.
The details of the case have captured the imagination of Arnold, the Nottingham town where Mrs Bates died. She leapt in front of her daughter, Xanthe, 34, as one of the robbers pointed a gun and demanded jewellery at their Time Centre shop, which the family has run for 25 years.
Mrs Bates's husband, Victor, 64, who was hit over the head with a crowbar, said the gunman had first tried to shoot him but the weapon misfired.
The shop has been raided by an armed robber twice. Nearly two years ago Xanthe was threatened by a man brandishing a knife.
Mrs Bates' daughters, Xanthe and Naomi, spoke emotionally about the attack. Thanking well-wishers for the many messages of condolence, they called for a return to old-fashioned policing.
"When we came to Arnold 30 years ago, there was a bobby on this street who would have a cup of tea with us," Xanthe said. "Now you see no one from week to week. We need policeman who are approachable on the streets of Britain."
Their father, Victor Bates, 64, who was injured in the attack, said: "Many of my friends are senior police officers and some of them have tears in their eyes when we talk about modern policing.
"I have no argument with Mr Blunkett or Mr Blair, they do a hard job and they can't always get it right.
"But they need to make changes and persuade forces like Nottinghamshire to put officers back where people can see them."
Gun crime has become a serious problem in Nottingham, mainly related to drug disputes between rival gangs, and the city was the first place in mainland Britain where specialist firearms officers were deployed on routine foot patrols.
At least 28 people were shot in Nottingham during a six-month period last year, and in 2001 police recorded 693 firearm offences in the county, an increase of 70 per cent on 10 years earlier.
Figures from the latest Home Office crime statistics for 2002-03 show the county had the highest recorded rate of offences per head of population. Nottingham, one corner of a "golden triangle" of increasingly affluent cities in the east Midlands that includes Leicester and Derby, is seen as an area of rich pickings for robbers. Nottingham is also home to many nightclubs, which makes it attractive to drug pushers.
To counter the threat, the force has mounted a series of drug and gun crime initiatives, which led in 2001 to the arrest of 400 people.
Dozens of those arrested were from Jamaica, and some were deported to face questioning over murders in their home country.
The police authority is concerned that high-profile policing in the city centre and known troublespots has pushed violent crime to less well-protected areas on the outskirts of the city.
The killers of Mrs Bates shrugged off the witnesses as they ran from the shop and sped away on a stolen scooter. The scooter, which had been stolen a month earlier in the city, was later found dumped.
Police think it may have crashed into a car during the pair's escape.
Nottinghamshire Police say they are also following a number of leads and are examining CCTV footage of the area on the day of the raid.
The officer leading the investigation, Detective Superintendent George Frame, called on other criminals and family members of the two raiders to call the police if they had any suspicions.
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