Wretched crime ended with fatal mistake: Death almost routine in city where violence involving guns has increased dramatically. Jonathan Foster and Jodie Taylor report

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THREE young white men broke in to a corner shop run by Yemenis. It was late, and they thought the Toxteth shop was empty. They were mistaken.

Ahmed Muhsen shot Paul Tierney in the chest in what has become almost an everyday killing in inner-city Britain.

It was a wretched crime. The shops in Lodge Lane, many run by Liverpool's 800-member Yemeni community, confirm the area's poverty; no burglar would get rich from the entire stock and takings. That does not deter them.

Yemeni businessmen had wearied of the break-ins. 'Many families are too frightened of burglaries to leave their homes,' a middle-aged Yemeni man said. One family decided to hire some extra protection for the general store at No 155 which they owned but did not live in.

Muhsen was desperate for any sort of work. He was born in England in 1963, but his father took him in infancy back to the Yemen. He joined the army, got married, was demobilised, but could not find a job. In 1991, he decided to seek work in the country of his birth and, despite speaking virtually no English, came to live in Birmingham with his mother. He planned to send for his wife, but the plan was stymied by unemployment.

He moved to Liverpool in November 1992 and, by April last year, he was living alone in a squalid bedsit, employed at last. He spent every night on a sofa in the rear of No 155.

Mr Tierney went to burgle the shop after meeting two friends in a pub on Thursday 15 April. By the early hours of Friday, his friends had left his body at the Royal Liverpool hospital after a bizarre high-speed drive from Toxteth.

'Burglary was a normal way of life for lads like these. It is a depressed area,' Noel White, the detective inspector who led the investigation, said.

Mr Tierney, 27, had a string of convictions for drugs offences and burglaries. He had been out of prison and off heroin for two months.

Muhsen, 30, bought the semi-automatic Browning pistol that killed Mr Tierney for the going price of pounds 30, including five bullets. 'He not only bought it for so little, he bought it in Liverpool with considerable ease,' DI White said.

'We have had a man shot dead during a burglary of a corner shop. A few years ago, it would have caused an outrage, but just recently in the Toxteth area we've had three other worrying cases.

'We charged two men with attempted murder after a man was shot six times in the street. He retracted his statement, and the two walked. We arrested a man for deliberately shooting another man in the foot. The allegations were withdrawn. And we've had a man found in possession of crack and armed with a Browning.'

In Merseyside, reported robberies involving guns have increased by 82 per cent since 1988; other incidents of violence involving firearms totalled 160 in 1992, an increase of 39 per cent in five years. On average, someone waves a gun with malice every day.

Muhsen seems to have decided for himself that the paltry contents of No 155 needed armed protection. He fired fearfully. He made no attempt to run, or hide the pistol.

The Yemeni community does not defend his actions, and his family has been silent. Liverpool Yemenis are phlegmatic about the problems they endure.

There is racism, these immigrants say, but it is not as bad as some people make out. There is crime, but Toxteth has an undeservedly bad reputation.

They do not believe their businesses have been targeted by white criminals. Toxteth is not Los Angeles. But the roots of all the bad things, they say, are poverty and drugs, and it is getting worse.

'Britain used to be a place like nowhere else where arguments were settled by reason and law, not by buying a gun,' the middle-aged man said. 'We are worried by the way things are going. If people feel they are threatened, they look for a way out.'

The Tierney family - Edie, Danny and four surviving brothers and sisters - mourn a desperate man. 'He was bringing up two children on his own,' his sister Nicolette, 29, said.

'Paul wasn't very good at burglary. But he was trying to get a roof over his head and bring up his kids.'

(Photographs omitted)