Gun culture returns to Manchester

Jason Bennetto,Ian Herbert
Friday 20 August 1999 23:02

THE BLACK Volkswagen Jetta tore down the road at high speed just after midnight. Inside were two panic-stricken men. Following closely behind was a grey BMW whose front- seat passenger was spraying the fleeing car with an automatic weapon.

The VW approached a T-junction a mile from Manchester city centre and swerved to the left into Kincardine Street, a fatal move. Here it slammed into the back of a car before ricocheting into a lamppost and coming to a shuddering halt.

The chasing car casually pulled up alongside and a man stepped out. He walked up to the passenger of the VW, Antony Cook, 24, and shot him seven times in the head and chest, killing him instantly.

He then turned his attention to the 20-year-old driver and shot him three times in the stomach. The injured man managed to escape by appealing for help to a couple who had been in the vehicle he had hit. He staggered to them, begging: "Help me, I've been shot." He is still under police protection in hospital. Police said the attack was a "premeditated, cold- blooded murder".

The shooting, last Sunday, was the third street gun killing in Manchester in seven weeks and has raised fears that it marks a resurgence of the gang-related murders that have plagued the city in recent years. In 1991 seven young men died in tit-for-tat shootings.

For years rival gangs in Manchester have been vying for control of the city's lucrative drug markets and for command of the booming clubs and pubs scene. The gangs often control the drug supplies to clubs and pubs by putting their own bouncers on the door.

On Monday, the police are expected to disclose further details of the three recent murders and their links with on-going gang feuds.

Yesterday in Chorlton on Medlock, an anonymous no-man's land close to the city's student quarter, there were at least a dozen bunches of flowers and messages of sympathy at the scene of Sunday's murder. One card was simply to "Antony - a friend". Shards of glass left from his wrecked car remain scattered around the base of the lamppost. One of the rain-smudged messages is to a "baby son".

But Mr Cook was not an innocent victim. He was thought to have been trying to assert himself in one of the big drug outfits, the Doddington gang, based in Moss Side.

On Saturday 31 July, Martin Bennett, 25, another senior member of a gang, was also shot, this time in the chest as he walking through Moss Side in the early evening. He was bundled into a car and taken to hospital but died later. Shortly before the shooting Mr Bennett had been involved in what police say was a "minor fracas" with a number of young men outside a newsagent's shop .

Donnie McKie, 20, was the first victim of the shooting spree. He died from a chest wound after being ambushed in Leaf Street, Hulme. A second man was shot in the arm.

The police have responded with armed raids and operations against the suspected killers and gang members, making a number of arrests.

Martin Pagel, deputy leader of Manchester City Council, is worried at the apparent easy availability of automatic guns. He said: "I worry that when you have people out there prepared to use guns on the streets, innocent people could be shot. I have every confidence that the police will not tolerate a gun culture in our city."

Mr Pagel is also concerned over the sale of bullet-proof vests, which have become standard dress among many of Manchester's gangsters.

The growing willingness of criminals in Greater Manchester to use firearms was illustrated in April when a woman was held hostage in her car as a gang armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a pistol fired from the windows during a police chase. Five bystanders were hit by bullets. The chase ended when the silver-coloured BMW crashed into a lamppost in the centre of Rochdale.

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