Eleven members of a criminal network that brought gun-related murder and mayhem to the streets of Manchester for 20 years face lengthy jail terms after they were convicted in one of Britain biggest-ever gang trials.
Colin Joyce, 29, and Lee Amos, 32, the leaders of the notorious Gooch Gang, were yesterday found guilty of the drive-by murder of a mourner at the funeral of a man that Joyce had executed weeks earlier. They were convicted alongside nine of their fellow Gooch members and will now be jailed for life.
Their removal from the streets of the city has been claimed as a victory by Greater Manchester Police who point to the fact that fatal shootings have decreased 92 per cent since Joyce and Amos were arrested.
Those arrests related to the murders of Ucal Chin, 24, and Tyrone Gilbert, 23, who were shot dead in separate drive-by shootings in 2007 because of their apparent links to the Longsight Crew or the Doddington Gang, the Gooch Gang's rivals. During the investigation into their deaths, Greater Manchester Police uncovered evidence of a drug-dealing network which Joyce and Amos's gang had run for four years, and subsequently charged 11 people.
Following yesterday's verdicts, Detective Chief Inspector Steve Eckersley, who led the investigation, said: "I am absolutely delighted that Ucal and Tyrone's killers are behind bars and that this ruthless gang are off the streets.
"From the very beginning, this was an incredibly complicated and protracted inquiry and when we scratched the surface of the two murders, it uncovered a much wider and well-organised conspiracy to possess guns and sell drugs. This is by far the biggest trial of gang members Greater Manchester Police has run and the implications of the conviction for the city are immense.
"Make no mistake, the men who led this gang – in particular Joyce and Amos – are among the most dangerous men in Manchester. They built a network of foot soldiers who had easy access to guns and were prepared to use deadly violence to enforce their will and settle scores with rivals. They had absolutely no qualms about firing these guns in public and did not care who they hurt."
Ucal Chin was shot dead on 15 June 2007 as he drove his car through Longsight, south Manchester. The prosecution case was that Mr Chin was earmarked for death after being spotted earlier that day by Joyce, who believed that Mr Chin was present at the murder of Stephen Amos, Lee Amos's brother, who was shot dead in 2002.
At 6.45pm a silver Audi pulled up alongside Mr Chin's car and a gunman in the rear passenger seat shot seven times. Three bullets hit Mr Chin, causing him to crash the car. He was pronounced dead in hospital.
Five weeks later, on 27 July 2007, Tyrone Gilbert was killed as he attended an impromptu wake for Mr Chin. Just before midnight, three cars arrived at a house in Frobisher Close, where the wake was being held. One of the cars, a Honda Legend, rolled its windows down and three gunmen opened fire. Mr Gilbert was killed by a single bullet to the heart.
During the murder investigation, codenamed Operation Silverstone, officers discovered that the gang operated a drug empire which flooded the streets of Manchester with heroin and crack cocaine and relied on a network of street dealers. The drug operation made the gang profits which they spent on a considerable armoury of shotguns, handguns, a machine gun and revolvers.
Between August 2007 and May 2008, 11 Gooch members were arrested. Yesterday Amos and Joyce were found guilty of murder, as were Aeeron Campbell, Narada Williams and Ricardo Williams. Hassan Shah, Aaron Alexander, Ricci Moss, Kayael Wint, Tyler Joel Mullings and Gonoo Hussain, all from Greater Manchester or of no fixed abode, were convicted of firearms and drug offences. All will be sentenced today.
The convictions are a victory for the police in their ongoing war against the gangs that have fought a vicious turf war in Manchester's deprived Moss Side estate since the 1980s.
The gangs are the Gooch Gang and the Doddingtons – named after streets that have since been torn down, rebuilt and renamed in a bid to extinguish their association with the mobs. At the height of their warfare, which earned Manchester the nickname "Gunchester", the two groups were responsible for 27 deaths and 250 non-fatal shootings in five years. The youngest victim was 13-year-old Benji Stanley, shot dead as he queued for a takeaway in 1993.
In that time many underworld figures with associations to the gangs were convicted, but other trials repeatedly collapsed after witnesses were terrorised and forced into not testifying. Also, due to their failure to solve high-profile murders such as that of Jesse James, the 15-year-old shot dead as he rode his bike through the estate in 2006, many of Moss Side's largely Somali and Asian community do not trust the police.
The fact is not lost on Det Ch Insp Eckersley, who yesterday praised the courage of six witnesses who, persuaded by the promise of voice-changing technology which would ensure their identities remained secret, dared to testify against Amos and Joyce and their crew. The detective said: "It is no exaggeration to say these people risked their lives and their bravery should be applauded. Their actions helped remove killers from our streets. Without their help we may never have put these killers behind bars."