Gun crime: Blair dismisses Cameron's claim that Britain is a 'broken society'

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Tony Blair has rejected David Cameron's claims that the recent spate of teenage shootings in London were symptomatic of a "broken society" .

The Prime Minister dismissed a speech by the Conservative leader in which he called for fathers to be "compelled" to care for their families by tougher rules on maintenance payments.

Mr Cameron also said the three "horrific" killings in a fortnight represented a "broken society". He said: "We urgently need to reform the law, and the rules around child maintenance, to compel men to stand by their families."

Mr Blair, speaking at the Labour National Youth Conferencea in Glasgow, said: "This tragedy is not a metaphor for the state of British society, still less for the state of British youth today, the huge majority of whom are responsible and law-abiding young people. But it is a specific problem, in a specific criminal culture among specific groups of young people."

The Prime Minister added: "It will require specific solutions to deal with guns and gangs as well as confronting broader questions of community and family responsibility. And over the coming days and after discussions with police and the local communities, we shall set some of those solutions out."He described the shootings as "horrific, shocking and tragic beyond belief".

Mr Blair promised action to curb gun crime among teenagers. New measures being considered include longer jail sentences for people aged from 17 to 21 who are caught with firearms.

Wednesday's shooting of Billy Cox, 15, at his home in south London followed the deaths of James Andre Smartt-Ford, 16, who was shot and killed at an ice rink in Streatham on 3 February, and Michael Dosunmu, 15, who was killed in his home in Peckham on 6 February.

John Reid met south London MPs and the Metropolitan Police chief in charge of gun crime, Commander Cressida Dick, yesterday to discuss the killings.

The Home Secretary said he was looking at ways of strengthening the law and bringing in tougher sentences to tackle gun crime and gang culture. He said: "I have asked my lawyers to look at ways of possibly strengthening legislation and, where appropriate, sentencing. There is no excuse and there is no justification for people taking the lives of others with guns. We need to make people face up to their responsibilities as parents and families and we need to empower local communities."

Harriet Harman, the Constitutional Affairs minister whose south London seat, Camberwell and Peckham, was home to two of the victims, said before a crisis meeting with Mr Reid that imitation guns needed to be banned and suggested earlier intervention to stop "kids going off the rails".

But the murders were seen by Tory leaders as further evidence of a collapse in family discipline in the wake of the Unicef report putting Britain at the bottom of the international league for happiness among children.

Mr Cameron told GMTV yesterday: "When you look at the people caught up in these events, what you see is a complete absence in many cases of fathers, and a complete presence of family breakdown ... let's start the big culture change of encouraging responsibility in our country."

A bereaved father's plea

* Statement by Tommy Cox, father of the murdered teenager Billy Cox, on behalf of the family:

"We are missing Billy so much. He was not perfect but he was dearly loved as a son and brother. He was waiting for a place at college where he could continue working for GCSEs. He lived at home with his parents and his sister. We and all his family will miss him so much. I've been watching news about the two other boys shot and thought, 'These are only kids. They don't deserve that'. The way they get hold of guns now is unbelievable. Since all this began, we have been very grateful for the support of the police. I want everyone to get behind the police 100 per cent. If you have anything to say, tell the police. Everyone has been talking to reporters down there but they must tell the police first. We need to catch my boy's killers."