| A police officer places flowers where two teenage girls were shot dead in Birmingham on Thursday. (Reuters)
London, Jan 4 (Reuters): Gun crime in Britain has almost doubled over the past five years with gangland warfare erupting in drug-fuelled turf wars.
Now the New Year’s eve murder of two Black teenage girls, cut down in the crossfire of a suspected gangland battle, has sparked calls for tougher gun laws and a crackdown on the mayhem.
It is a far cry from US gun culture but Britain has lost its image as a tranquil land, where unarmed police officers, or “bobbies”, once patrolled the streets and murders were rare enough to be front page news.
“Black on black” crime, linked to crack cocaine gangs who control the lucrative trade, has soared in inner cities.
Firearm offences totalled 12,410 in 1997. By 2001, they had risen 42 per cent to 17,589. The rise shows no signs of slowing.
Police have been wary about accusations of racism in cracking down. They are often mistrusted in the Black community where fear of retribution from gangland killers has combined to form a deadly cocktail.
Guns — from the Israeli-made Uzi submachine gun to the American Ingram Mac 10 — are snapped up on the black market. In a machismo gun culture, they are treated as fashion accessories. Commander Alan Brown, head of Scotland Yard’s Operation Trident which targets black-on-black gun crime, said: “These are not trained killers. They are immature people with very potent weapons.”Black community leaders agree.
“Black gun culture is becoming a way of life,” Black broadcaster Trevor Phillips said.
“What is happening here is an incendiary mix of adolescent pride, drugs money and social exclusion,” he wrote in today’s Daily Mirror.
Despite hefty rewards, witnesses are too afraid to come forward in the case of the teenage girls who died in a hail of bullets in the central England city of Birmingham.
“People are afraid but we need them to come forward and we need them now,” said detective superintendent Dave Mirfield, who is leading the inquiry.
The girls were mowed down by sub-machineguns after stepping out for some fresh air at the party in a hairdressing saloon.
Last month, police chiefs sent plans to the government for a gun amnesty to reduce the number of illegally-owned weapons.
More than 60,000 guns were surrendered in amnesties after the massacre of 16 children and their teacher by a gunman in the Scottish town of Dunblane in 1996 and after a man shot dead 16 people in the southern England town of Hungerford in 1987.
With Britain outraged by the New Year’s eve killings, home secretary David Blunkett is considering plans for a five-year minimum sentence for anyone caught illegally carrying a firearm.
The British diplomatic service will shake-up its operations to better protect Britons abroad and respond faster to emergencies in the light of a growing threat of terror attacks, the foreign office said yesterday.
Michael Jay, head of the British diplomatic service, said the service will expand its travel advice department, create rapid response teams and construct mobile embassy kits that can be flown into countries.