Shots highlight surge in estate violence

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The Independent Online
ARMED police patrolled near the perimeter of Ordsall last night after four bullets turned the Manchester housing estate into the scene of tense confrontation between inner city poverty and policing.

Shots were fired from a handgun late on Monday at two police vans and a fire engine. No one was hurt in three incidents separated by 30 minutes and a few hundred yards, but linked to episodes of car theft and arson in the area during the past 18 months.

The single bullet that struck the fire engine's ladder was the most serious in an increasing number of attacks on firefighters, who were stoned on Friday by a crowd of young men at a fire in a carpet warehouse.

Police were yesterday studying the bullets, which hit two vans patrolling the estate; one shot hit the side of a vehicle two feet behind the driver's seat.

Greater Manchester police said the shootings were a culmination of a cycle of violence that began with arson attacks on Wednesday on five cars and a neighbourhood centre which housed Salford City Council services devolved to Ordsall.

Subsequently, a security guard had been beaten, and arsonists had attacked Salford University, a hamburger restaurant and the main Salford police station, DaVid Wilmot, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, said.

Reports of guns in Ordsall were made to police on Friday. Mr Wilmot said shots had been fired in the air and at cars during outbreaks of joyriding, ram-raiding and burning of vehicles in the area.

'We believe these incidents are orchestrated by a small group of cirminals,' Mr Wilmot said.

'There is no no-go area - we will continue to police effectively.'

Police have been deliberately ambiguous about the crime which, Ordsall residents said, was operated by a small ring. Car theft, drug dealing and extortion have been traced to the estate, but police do not link the shootings with any one category of offence.

Residents say unemployed young men infatuated with a criminal cadre have been manipulated to give resistance to the police and fire service.

They also claim policing is characterised by either a massive, intimidating presence or an absence of police.

None of the incidents catalogued since March 1991 has assumed the size or intensity of a riot.

'You cannot say there has been a conflict between the Ordsall community and the police,' a senior police officer said.

'Guns have been found when arrests have been made in Ordsall, but you cannot assume that those guns were to have been used against the police.'

Arrests in Ordsall this year may have lit a fuse of increasing violence. Police changed their tactics late last year, with a special focus on car thefts.

Local people say arrests of several local men have made other criminals more anxious. The fresh graffiti denouncing an Ordsall police informant is conspicuous around the estate of 2,200 homes built by Salford council in the 1960 and 1970s.

The council has budgeted pounds 30m for a 10-year programme of improvements to Ordsall estate begun in 1989; housing association and private investment is projected to add a further pounds 10m.

An island between Manchester city centre and the speculative office developments around Salford docks, Ordsall has already lost many of its slum flats to houses and bungalows popular with tenants.

Coronation Street - a renovated Victorian terrace that has also been the subject of arson attacks - has been commended for the quality of low-cost housing provided.

But unemployment is endemic, along with problems of domestic violence and family break-up. Government figures of 17 per cent for unemployment in Ordsall probably underestimates the problem, especially among women.

More than half of the jobless have been out of work for at least one year.