Toddler joins list of gun crime victims as police arrest five suspects in Danielle case

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The Independent Online

An 18-month-old girl became the youngest victim of Britain's gun epidemic yesterday after being caught in a barrage of bullets apparently aimed at her father.

An 18-month-old girl became the youngest victim of Britain's gun epidemic yesterday after being caught in a barrage of bullets apparently aimed at her father.

As the head of the Police Standards Unit warned that gun crime risked snowballing out of control, a pool of blood on a street in Hackney proved testament to the problem.

The little girl was hit when a man with a handgun walked up to the car she was in and fired as many as 15 times before walking away down a busy shopping street. Her 30-year-old father and another 35-year-old man were seriously injured in the attack while a four-year-old girl, who was also in the Citroen Picasso, escaped unhurt.

The shooting incident was the second involving children since last Saturday, when the 14-year-old schoolgirl Danielle Beccan was shot dead near her home in St Ann's Valley in Nottingham. Last night, five men were arrested in connection with her murder.

Shortly before the latest incident, the group had parked in Blurton Road at about 6.30pm on Monday night as, it is understood, the little girl's mother had arranged to pick her up there from her father. As they waited, a third man - the four-year-old's father - got out of the vehicle. Minutes later, a man with a handgun, accompanied by two others, approached from nearby Chatsworth Road.

Police said yesterday he had fired up to 15 shots into the car before disappearing on foot back down the same road. It is understood the four-year-old's father, with the mother, immediately drove the injured child and men to a nearby hospital.

The little girl, who was said to have suffered a minor leg wound, was yesterday still in hospital with her mother by her side. The two men were transferred to another hospital where their condition was said to be serious but stable.

All the victims are believed to be Afro-Caribbean and the matter was immediately handed over to the Metropolitan Police's specialist Operation Trident unit, which investigates black-on-black crime.

Yesterday, the brutality of the shooting was all too evident as shattered glass lay amid pools of blood on the pavement. After conducting house-to-house inquiries throughout the east London area, forensics officers combed the street for clues. While Scotland Yard insisted it was keeping an open mind about the crime, it is understood detectives were investigating the possibility that the gunman knew his victims and the shooting was over a personal matter.

"We believe it was not drug related. It was a local issue between two groups. As far as we know she is the youngest victim of gun crime," said one source.

Locals said the area was well known for drug dealers and shootings had become a regular occurrence. Several people heard gun shots and women crying and screaming but said the car had left within minutes.

Naomi Holder, 24, who works for a security company, said: "It is disgusting. At least once a week you hear about somebody getting injured by shooting or stabbing. It happens quite often but it is rare for a child to be involved. It is really sad."

The mother of Danielle Beccan, Paula Platt, who cradled her dying daughter in her arms, described her as a bright, intelligent youngster destined for great things. She said: "I feel very angry. At this moment my child is lying in a refrigerator. She should not be there. My daughter has been taken away from me and no parent should have to go through this. If anyone knows anything, please examine your consciences and come forward and tell police. Danielle deserves justice."

Home Office figures released earlier this years showed that firearms offences in England and Wales had risen from 13,874 in 1998-99 to 24,070 in 2002-2003.

Paul Evans, a former American senior police officer who now heads the Police Standards Unit, warned yesterday that Britain's relatively low gun crime needed to be "nipped in the bud". He told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday: "The one thing you want to make sure of is that it does not snowball out of control."

A Tory home affairs spokesman, Andrew Mitchell, said: "A government spokesman talking about gun crime as a 'very small problem' which can be nipped in the bud shows astonishing and worrying complacency."

DIARY OF VIOLENCE

24 September

CASTLEFORD: A 12-year-old boy is left critically ill after being shot by a "lamper".

29 September

LONDONDERRY: A 22-year-old labourer is shot in the left eye. He dies two days later.

30 September

RUGBY: A shopkeeper is shot in the ankle by two hooded men.

2 October

CROYDON: Two men in their thirties are killed when a gunman opens fire in a club.

BRISTOL: Two women shot and injured when gunmen fire on a car; man shot in the stomach.

7 October

COVENTRY: Three masked gunmen snatch a 23-year-old man from the street and shoot him in the leg.

9 October

NOTTINGHAM: Danielle Beccan, 14, is killed in a drive-by shooting.

11 October

HACKNEY: Baby girl is shot in the leg and two men, 30 and 35, shot in their car from a passing vehicle.

LIVERPOOL: Man found shot dead.