On the grim streets of the notorious Langworthy Estate in Salford people fear that a running gun battle that claimed two lives and left two men injured is only the beginning of another bloody gangland feud.
Police in high-visibility uniforms swarmed around the rundown network of highrise flats and Victorian terraces yesterday in an operation designed not only to trace the killers but also to offer reassurance to those who call this area home.
Down the years casual violence has become a way of life on Langworthy as criminal gangs seek to wrest control from each other, but nothing had prepared its residents for the terrifying violence that broke out over several mad minutes on Sunday afternoon.
After the gun smoke cleared it appeared that the predominantly black gangs from south Manchester had once again tried to move in on the “white boys” from Salford.
Two would-be hitmen from a Moss Side-based gang, said to be of Asian or mixed-race appearance, went looking for revenge on a hoodlum they blamed for a city centre stabbing of one of their own. After opening fire on two men inside the Brass Handles public house on the corner of Edgehill Close and Fitzwarren Street they were chased by other customers and shot dead before they could reach their getaway car.
This part of Salford was once the fiefdom of Paul Massey, 46, also known as Salford’s “Mr Big”, whose security company once held a stranglehold on the doors of Manchester’s biggest and best-known clubs. He was jailed for 14 years in April 1999, for stabbing a man outside a nightclub.
There was speculation last night that Massey, a category A prisoner in Frankland Prison, Co Durham, remains a significant figure in Salford’s criminal underworld, even in his absence.
One police source acknowledged that the explosion of violence took the police force by surprise but added: “One name keeps cropping up: Paul Massey. He may be in jail but he has still got some cronies on the outside.”
Officers are linking the tit-for-tat shooting to a feud sparked by a recent incident in Manchester city centre when one gang member believed himself to have “lost face” in an apparently inconsequential confrontation.
Other reports suggest that there has been bad blood since the stabbing of a member of a crime family based in Moss Side, once the epicentre of the “Gunchester” phenomenon. The victim survived, but fellow gang members vowed that they would extract revenge.
At 2.15pm on Sunday women and children were mixing with regulars in the Brass Handles, an ugly, low-rise bar near Salford Shopping Centre.
The two men, wearing beanie hats, walked into the pub and then pulled the woollen rims over their faces to reveal home-made balaclavas. Some drinkers dived for cover beneath pool tables as the pair produced automatic weapons and fired at least four shots.
Two white men, both aged 27, were injured. According to one eye witness account, retaliation was almost instant with gunfire exchanged across the floor of the pub. The two hitmen ran from the pub across Fitzwarren Road and on to parkland known locally as The Croft with the mob at their heels. Children enjoying a Sunday afternoon kickabout scattered as shots rang out.
One of the men was hit in the back as he tried to reach the getaway car, a black Mondeo, parked on the other side of the parkland. The other was hit in the face as he turned to see what had happened to his accomplice. By the time the police arrived the two injured men had been bundled into a car and ferried to Hope Hospital. Their injuries are not thought to be life threatening.
The two dead men, both in their twenties, died where they fell, 20 yards apart on the grass.
Significantly the police were unable to recover any weapons from the scene. One report suggests that the guns and balaclavas were hurriedly retrieved by an accomplice before the Mondeo sped off.
One witness said: “A car with five men in it pulled up outside the pub, which was full of parents and kids watching the match, and two men with balaclavas charged in. They fired four shots at some lads in there, one of whom got hit in the mouth, and people scrambled under pool tables in terror.
“From what I have heard one of the lads who got shot was giving people tenners minutes before it kicked off saying, ‘Remember my name’.”
Another said: “A man inside the pub was shot in the stomach and the face. Then it all kicked off in the pub and someone in the pub shot back at the gunmen. There was blood everywhere and the place looked like an abattoir. The lad who was shot was in a bad way.”
Manchester earned its unwanted “Gunchester” soubriquet more than a decade ago when several, predominantly black, gangs vied for supremacy. Moss Side, the scene of much of the violence, was labelled the British Bronx.
The death of Benji Stanley, 14, who was caught in the crossfire as he queued for a takeaway in January 1993, sent shockwaves far beyond the city boundary.
But after a brief interlude the violence continued spreading across the city to Longside and north to Cheetham Hill. Throughout the internecine strife, the rivalry between the white “crime firms” of Salford, interested in protection, and the street gangs of Manchester, who run drugs, has been an occasional theme.
One Salford gangster, Stephen Lydiate, was peppered with bullets in April 1999 by a black gunman who entered the crowded Ship pub in Pendleton, Salford, and opened fire.
On that occasion Lydiate, then 32, survived to wreak his own kind of vengeance on his rivals, described by the judge as a “case set apart by its savagery and brutality” for which he was jailed for life.
Detective Superintendent Andy Tattersall, from the major incident team, appealed for witnesses. “This was a terrifying ordeal for those in the pub when shots were fired.
“It is imperative that we are able to piece together the moments leading up to this incident.
“I am particularly keen to speak to anyone who may have seen a dark-coloured car in the area surrounding the pub on Sunday afternoon,” he said.
Four men have been arrested in connection with the incident and remain in custody for questioning.
CRIME FIRMS TURN TO GUNS TO ESTABLISH SUPREMACY
Manchester, London and the West Midlands are the worst centres for gun crime, according to the Home Office
At the height of the “Gunchester” era, 27 people died and 250 people were injured over five years
Police intelligence suggests that 76 per cent of gang members are Afro-Caribbean or mixed race
Intelligence material concludes that 500 people have been involved in gang-related offences over the past six years
Five gang members were jailed last month after the Doddington and Gooch Close gangs clashed near the Granada TV studios
Peter Walsh, the author, in his book Gang War: The Inside Story of the Manchester Gangs, wrote: “Crime firms are seen in Greater Manchester to be more organised, more instrumental, and more specifically focused on crime than street gangs”
He added that Salford gangs “have tended to traffick drugs from the South. Manchester gangs have been more involved in providing protection, and have been more organised”