|SPECIAL INVESTIGATION : Tony Thompson reveals how the murders of a middle-aged couple are part of a chain of drug-fuelled violence and revenge shootings which have brought a reign of terror to Nottingham : How a gunshot in a pub car park... : ...led to deaths of three more people
FROM THE hilltop grounds of St Mary's church in Bulwell, Nottingham, you can see all the way across to the cemetery where Marvyn Bradshaw is buried. The death of the 22-year-old victim of mistaken identity last August has so far led to the deaths of three others and many believe there are more to come.
Last Friday, the church was the venue for the funeral of Jamie Gunn, Marvyn's best friend, whose life fell to pieces after he saw his friend killed.
Gunn, who had held Marvyn in his arms after he had been hit at point-blank range with a shotgun shell, never recovered from the shock. The 450 mourners heard that he had stopped eating and begun drinking heavily, a regime that weakened his immune system so much that he succumbed to pneumonia.
'They can call it what they like,' said one mourner, 'but we all know Jamie died of a broken heart.'
Last week's murder of Joan and John Stirland in a bungalow in Lincolnshire is believed to have been in revenge for Marvyn's death. Joan was the mother of Michael O'Brien, who was convicted of Marvyn's murder last month, but in Nottingham the case is just the latest in a long line of revenge shootings, which, according to Chief Superintendent Les
Kominiak, amount to 'a pernicious form of urban terrorism calculated to deter victims from coming forward to testify in the courts'.
Police have confirmed that Bradshaw had no criminal connections and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. His parents, Christine and Lyndon as well as his older brother Curtis have all been devastated by his death. A hard-working shop fitter he had been friends with Jamie Gunn since he was a toddler, having grown up with him on the notorious Bestwood estate. The pair were part of a group of close friends from the area who would meet most weekends at various pubs around the city.
Jamie, the youngest of three brothers, worked as a pub bouncer. Although no one is willing to go into any details, Gunn's family is said to command a great deal of respect in and around the Bestwood estate. 'I did think about calling for there to be no revenge,' says Rev Christopher Gale, who gave Jamie's funeral service, 'but it's a difficult time and you have to be sensitive. You have to remember that people are grieving the loss of their 19-year-old son.'
With years of urban decay and spiralling unemployment having created a generation hooked on heroin and crack cocaine, Nottingham is seen as prime territory for drugs gangs and as a result is the scene of regular turf wars. Jamaican Yardies and drug dealers from Birmingham, London and Liverpool have all clashed in the city. As a result there were more shooting incidents in Nottingham in 2002 than in all the seven previous years combined and the situation rapidly appears to be getting out of hand.
Last month, nine members of a Nottingham drugs gang were jailed for murder after travelling to Sheffield to seek revenge on a gang that had robbed them of their mobile phones and gold chains. Their victim, father-of-seven Gerald Smith, had no connection to the robbery but happened to be in the doorway of the club where it had taken place when the gang fired their weapons.
In June, a 21-year-old mother was shot in her living room three times as she sat holding her 13-month-old son. Police believe she was attacked in revenge after a former boyfriend lost a major drugs haul.
Another revenge attack took place in May when 50-year-old Rastafarian Derek Senior was shot four times in the chest, abdomen and legs outside his Nottingham home by a gunman who escaped with an accomplice on a motorbike. A week earlier he had given evidence against a gang of men accused of viciously attacking him in a pub. The chief suspect, James
Brodie, is also wanted for questioning over the murder of Nottingham jeweller Marian Bates, who was shot dead last year.
Quite why Nottingham should have produced such a spate of violence remains a mystery.
Sitting in the heart of the lowlands that once produced much of Britain's coal, the centre of the city is now almost entirely ringed by run down, sprawling, low-rise estates which were originally conceived as high-density housing for the local workforce. With little or no recreational facilities and declining employment, many areas of the city are spiralling into decline. Huge numbers of properties, many of them close to the city
centre, are boarded up, burned out or simply falling down.
The collapse of the mining industry in the north of the county has forced many workers back into the city and it is their increasingly disaffected children who are being drawn into Nottingham's drugs and guns culture. Many leave school convinced a career in crime is their only option for getting out of the ghetto and are all too eager to start as young as possible. In recent months children as young as 13 have been caught with guns.
Turf wars have become increasingly common as loyalty to particular estates and areas of the city has grown. Many of the most serious clashes have grown from nothing more than one gang feeling they have lost 'face' because another has passed through their territory.
THE CHAIN of events that led to the latest killings began in 2001, the year that Gary Salmon, a 32-year-old bodybuilder, was jailed for two years for beating up a man who owed drugs money to his friend O'Brien. Salmon pleaded guilty to causing actual bodily harm and the judge ordered that charges of kidnap and robbery remain on file
Salmon and O'Brien shared a close bond and had previously been jailed for committing a robbery together. Both had a number of enemies, but it was Salmon who seemed destined for an early grave, having fallen out with members of a local drugs gang. On 1 August, four weeks before the killing of Bradshaw, Salmon was standing at the door of his house in Brooklyn Road when a van approached. An unknown gunman got out and fired at least three shots towards him.
A FEW WEEKS later, O'Brien and Salmon were trying and failing to get into a number of after-hours clubs in the Nottingham area. At Obsessions nightclub O'Brien was turned away because he was wearing trainers and a tracksuit top. Forming his fingers into the shape of a gun he pointed at bouncer Lee English and told him that he could come back and sort him out.
'He said he would do it his way,' English said later. 'He said he would use a gun and shoot to kill and that I would get it in the head or the chest.'
The pair returned to O'Brien's rented home in Bulwell where they met O'Brien's 16-year-old girl friend and her 14-year-old friend. It was there, while drinking champagne and smoking cannabis, that Salmon heard that there was a lock-in in progress at the nearby Sporting Chance club.
O'Brien tried to get inside, but a fight broke out with Jamie Gunn - said to be connected to the local underworld - and some of the club's bouncers. In the fracas that followed, O'Brien was hit in the head with an ashtray, leaving a deep facial cut. He and Salmon returned home, where it is alleged they changed into dark clothing, gloves and balaclavas and Salmon produced the gun, wrapped in a coat, and handed it to O'Brien.
According to O'Brien's girlfriend, who knows him as JJ: 'He [O'Brien] pointed the gun at me. I said "Don't do that" and he said "I'm not going to shoot
ya". He said, "That's what I am going to do to him".'
The pair left the house and headed towards the car park of the Sporting Chance, where Jamie and two friends were being driven by
Marvyn. He had just pulled out when Jamie, sitting in the back seat, saw two men in balaclavas approaching and ducked. A shot rang out and when he looked up Marvyn had been hit in the back of his head. He remained conscious until the police and paramedics arrived, but nothing could be done for him. Spattered with his friend's blood, Jamie held onto Marvyn until help arrived, watch ing him slip in and out of consciousness.
According to O'Brien's girlfriend, the two men then returned home. 'They were out for about 15 minutes. When they came back they were panicking. JJ said, "I shot him. He was a bad man. Watch this being in a newspaper tomorrow."'
Salmon immediately went on the run and a week later O'Brien was arrested. Convinced that her son was innocent Joan
Stirland, a children's cancer nurse, made no secret of her disgust for those who had 'set him up' as she toured the pubs and bingo halls of Nottingham. She ignored the threats and warnings that followed, but five days later two men on a motorbike were seen outside her house. Minutes later a volley of shots were fired through the front window. John was lying on the settee and Joan was standing when the first bullets hit. He dived over and dragged her to the ground.
TERRIFIED, the Stirlands fled Nottingham next day, leaving all their belongings behind and moving into a police safe house. Just after Christmas, they settled in a rented holiday bungalow in Trusthorpe on the Lincolnshire coast, where they lived until they were murdered.
Salmon was also being sought for revenge. The same day the Stirlands' home was attacked, an imitation grenade was thrown through the window of Salmon's house and his girlfriend's property was firebombed. The following day Kevin White, a close associate of Salmon and O'Brien, was shot and wounded by a pillion passenger on a passing motorcycle.
In court, O'Brien's defence was that Salmon alone had been responsible for the killing. His defence team pointed out that O'Brien had never been convicted of an offence involving a firearm while Salmon had stashed a shotgun in his cupboard because of an ongoing dispute with members of the local underworld. Salmon had also drawn further suspicion by going on the run immediately after the shooting, whereas O'Brien had stayed in Notting ham.
Found guilty of murder, O'Brien threw a cup of water at Bradshaw's relatives and screamed: 'I'm not bothered, I'm a bad boy. Your son looked like a doughnut with a big hole in his head. I don't care.' Judge Richard Pollard responded with the life sentence, adding the stipulation that O'Brien must serve a minimum of 24 years before parole could be considered. O'Brien turned his fury to the judge and barked back: 'I'll do that standing on my head.'
Meanwhile, Salmon has remained at large despite the offer of a £10,000 reward, an appeal on BBC1's Crimewatch and a major advertising campaign which saw his picture plastered on buses and trams throughout Nottingham. 'We don't need any more evidence on him,' says Detective Chief Inspector Phil Walker, the man in charge of the hunt, 'we just need to find him.'
In Trusthorpe, the Stirlands tried to blend in as best they could. Joan, known for her sharp temper, soon became known at the local bingo club. A few days before she died, she was thrown out for using abusive language. To most of their
neighbours, however, they were seen as a lovely couple who kept themselves to themselves.
IF THE Stirlands hoped that the move to Trusthorpe would make them safe, they were very much mistaken. On 13 July, a few days after her son was convicted, Joan contacted Nottinghamshire police to say she had heard threats had been made against her and her family. Next day Nottinghamshire police told their colleagues in Lincolnshire. That was the last contact the couple had with Nottinghamshire police until their deaths on 8 August
That day Joan called police officers in Nottinghamshire just before 2pm to say her neighbour had reported seeing a man hanging around the house the previous evening. She explained that this had not been reported to Lincolnshire police and emphasised she did not want the backgrounds of her and her husband revealed. 'She asked for a normal response to a prowler,' said a Lincolnshire police spokesman. But within half an hour of the call the couple had been shot dead.
Detectives now believe the murder had been planned for some time. The getaway car used had been stolen as part of a burglary more than two weeks earlier. It was found burned out several miles from the murder scene.
At least one of O'Brien's sisters and several members of the Stirland family are now under police guard.
Four years ago, Nottinghamshire became the first UK police force to arm officers on routine patrol. The initially temporary measure, which has been reimposed in the city and introduced elsewhere in Britain, focused on the notorious St Ann's and Meadows areas of the city and followed 14 drug-related shootings in the space of a few months. Despite such radical innovations, the gang culture shows no sign of abating.