The media projected Benji as an innocent victim: When Benji was shot he was Moss Side's martyr. But he left pounds 30,000. Was he a drug runner?

BENJI Stanley, 14, was gunned down in a Manchester fast-food restaurant in January 1992. The gunman shot him through the door of Alvino's Pattie and Dumplin shop in Great Western Street, Moss Side, and then stood over him and blasted him in the chest with a pump-action shotgun.

The apparently motiveless assassination of a young boy as he queued to buy chips made national headlines and once again focused attention on Moss Side, the scene of looting and rioting in 1981. The murder symbolised gun law taking over the streets of Britain; ruthless, armed drug gangs killing indiscriminately. The tabloids started calling Manchester Gunchester.

Benji was a victim of Manchester's drug culture, but not in the way everyone thought. He had between pounds 24,000 and pounds 30,000 in a building society account. Although everyone denied at the time that he was connected with the drugs trade - the police continue to do so - many in Moss Side say he was a runner or courier. His parents were not wealthy but the mountain bike he used to make deliveries cost pounds 900.

'Where would he get that kind of money if he hadn't been involved in anything,' a police source said. 'Schoolboys don't save up that kind of money.' In fact, Benji died wearing the uniform of one of Moss Side's drug gangs; khaki clothing and a bandana. He was with Tito Gunning, then a gang member. The gunman, who has never been caught, singled out Benji and made sure he was dead.

So why was Benji portrayed as an innocent victim? And why, 32 months later, are police nervous about any re-examination of his death, even though the murder is unsolved?

John Benjamin Stanley led an happy, untroubled life, according to his schoolfriends. He was a good, although average, pupil at Ellen Wilkinson High School. Adopted at 22 months, he lived with his mother, Denise, a child minder, and father, Junior, in Cadogan Street, Moss Side, near to the Alexandra Park Estate. At his funeral in the Church of the Holy Name near Manchester's Royal Infirmary, a month after he was killed, schoolfriends described him as 'a good laugh', someone who got on with everyone. Hundreds of letters and tributes were sent.

His mother appealed for help to find his killer and, understandably, refused to believe he had anything to do with the drug scene. 'He was a quiet boy who had never been in any trouble. He didn't even like cigarettes, let alone drugs.'

Greater Manchester Police say they still regard Benji as an innocent youth, that a re-examination of his death in any other light would not be sensible. It is easy to understand why: almost exactly a year after Benji was gunned down, Julian Stewart, 20 - street name 'Turbo' and a well known gang member - was shot in the head by a rival. While Benji's killing attracted national headlines, fired anti- drug, anti-violence sentiments and forced the government to turn its head towards Manchester, Stewart's death was like a drop in the ocean; another lawless black drug dealer got killed - so what?

Benji's killing, though, led to a sea-change in attitudes inside and outside Moss Side. In death he became a martyr to the violence that plagued a small section of Moss Side; a portent of what lurked in areas around the country where drug dealers carried guns. Mothers from the area staged a protest march to demand that law and order be restored to the estate. More than 500 residents attended.

The media began arriving in the area in force, as did celebrities like the boxer Chris Eubank, and politicians, including Paddy Ashdown. Although the area had been plagued with drugs and gang activity for years, Moss Side suddenly burst on to the national agenda.

Pictures of the area surrounding the Alexandra Park Estate - the estate itself is relatively modern, mostly neat terraced houses and maisonettes - showed the rotting shells of the crumbling and part demolished blocks of the nearby Hulme projects. The area became 'Baby Beruit', 'Britain's Bronx'. Television camera crews turned up, pointed in the wrong direction and spoke in breathless tones of a lawless underclass. Youths posed for Sunday colour supplement magazines sporting Second World War revolvers, clad in bullet proof vests and bandanas tied round their faces. Moss Side became the essence of lawless Britain.

Manchester City Council announced a pounds 6m programme to redesign the Alexandra Park Estate, the hub of drug dealers' activities in Moss Side.

Over five years the culs-de- sac and rat runs which are used by dealers and runners to evade capture by the police will be blocked off or re-routed to provide traditional street patterns. Houses on the estate will be given back gardens and derelict properties, used by the dealers as crack dens and safe houses, will be demolished. The work is under way.

The police changed their approach to the area's drug problems. Now everyone arrested in Manchester is automatically referred to a rehabilitation clinic. A special squad tackling drug-related violence has confiscated a small arsenal from dealers in and around the area.

The results appear promising. In six weeks from August to September 1992, police dealt with 110 reports of gunfire in the Moss Side area. For the whole of 1993, there were only 34 such incidents. This year, the figures are down again - by 27 per cent.

Superintendent Rob Taylor, head of policing at Greenheys police station, which covers the Moss Side area, is fiercely determined that the progress made since Benji's death must continue.

'There has been a tremendous change in our ability to work with other groups. It is about having the trust of the community so we can enforce the law with their support. We are working with the city council on plans for crime prevention, like the work that is going on at Alexandra Park. The corner has been turned. '

But the most remarkable change is in the attitude of some of the drug dealers themselves. A whole generation of Moss Side's drug traders was arrested in an undercover police clampdown - Operation China - in August 1991. Sentences of up to five years were handed down to 23 people. As some of them began to emerge from prison there were fears that they would want to resume their trade and there would be violent clashes with the youths who moved in to take over the drug selling territory in their absence. This new generation of dealers, armed and perhaps even more ruthless than their predecessors, was not likely to give up the lucrative trade without a fight.

Instead, the older dealers appear to have called a truce with former enemies. The two rival gangs which made the area notorious - the 'Goochies' and the 'Doddies', named after Gooch Close and Dodington Close, two of the culs-de-sacs that form the labyrinthine network of the Alexandra Park Estate - have been playing football against each other. The word on the street is of a cease-fire. Whether this is because they are still on parole or whether they have simply tired of living under the gun, fearing they will be shot down like Benji, remains to be seen.

Father Phil Sumner, Moss Side's parish priest for the past 17 years, is cautious about talk of a cease-fire.

'Benji's death did make a difference but then again it didn't. There was considerable feeling expressed by the mothers at the time in a public way. But it has been months since then. There is talk that the violence around here is affecting the market, that people are not coming to buy drugs in the same way. But until there is economic regeneration here there is no hope for the youngsters. Some 90 per cent of our young black population is unemployed. It's going to be a long job, but we're not giving up on it.'

There is a long way to go. A survey of residents on the Alexandra Park Estate carried out by the Moss Side and Hulme Community Forum showed that 76 per cent thought 'dealing in drugs on the street' is a very big or fairly big problem. Eight per cent avoid going out during the day, increasing to 36 per cent at night.

'We are tackling the problem of street dealing,' Mr Taylor said. 'We still have a long way to go, but there is no doubt there is a clear climate of co- operation. We think this started before Benji died. His murder was not the start of the process but it caused a lot of people to ask questions of themselves.'

For Benji, though, it is too late. His mother did not wish to speak to the press last week. His family has moved away from Moss Side to live in Ardwick, closer to the city centre. Near the street where they lived, mountains of rubble are all that are left of some of Hulme's worst slums. New houses and new hopes are springing up.

Benji's death, in a way, gave Moss Side a chance to return to normal life. It raised cries for an end to the madness, a fresh start. Greater Manchester Police are desperate not to lose hard-won progress. Mr Taylor said last night: 'I wish to stress emphatically that Greater Manchester Police has no evidence to suggest that Benji was anything other than an innocent lad.'

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape