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 Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 14:37 GMT
'I know how it feels to have a child gunned down'
The girls who were shot - two of whom died
The shooting sparked a debate on gun culture
The New Year shooting of teenage girls in Birmingham has stirred bitter memories for Steve Walker. His son's killer also wielded a sub-machine gun.

"My heart goes out to the families of the two girls murdered in Birmingham. I know exactly how they must feel. My son and his half-brother were murdered by a petty criminal using an Uzi sub-machine gun," says Steve Walker, a former police officer.

Andrew Walker
Andrew Walker was shot while taking a bath
"This was not an inner city crime, it happened in a rural market town, so those who claim this is purely an inner-city problem need to be made aware that this affects the whole country."

On 4 August 2001, Jeremy Earls let himself into Andrew Walker's flat in Lincoln - he had a set of keys as he and Andrew had recently swapped flats. Armed with an Uzi sub-machine gun, he shot the 26-year-old and his half-brother Alexander Woodcraft, 17.

Earls - who the coroner ruled had "paranoid psychosis" - was later found dead with a single gunshot wound to his head.

"The man who shot my son and his brother was a petty criminal, who liked others to think he was a hardened criminal - he wanted respect and he wanted to control others," Mr Walker says. "He had got hold of a deactivated gun then acquired the spare parts to reactivate it."

Pain returns

The deaths of Charlene Ellis, 18, and Latisha Shakespear, 17, in the Birmingham shooting has brought the memories of his own son's murder flooding back.

Steve Walker
It only takes a small reminder to bring the pain back

Steve Walker
"It was even the same sort of gun. Sometimes it only takes a small reminder to bring the pain back - perhaps I might see something my son would have enjoyed - but especially when it's something like this.

"Time does ease the pain but it never goes away. It does help if you can find some sort of justice in the end. My son's killer shot himself, which I guess is a form of capital punishment.

"It meant that he could never put another parent through this, but it also left us with unanswered questions as to why he did what he did."

Beyond use

Deactivated firearms can legally be bought in the UK without a licence.

WAY OF THE GUN
Guns
In 2000, one in three criminals under 25 owned or had access to a firearm
75% of guns seized during Operation Trident are deactivated or replica weapons
In 1995, the Home Office tightened up the rules on deactivating old firearms which made it much harder to fire them again - but not impossible. Those determined to fire their weapon have to virtually rebuild the gun.

And there are still about 120,000 guns in the UK put out of use before these tougher standards were introduced. As it takes relatively little skill to make these useable, they are a major source of illegal weapons and account for about half of the firearms seized by police, says Dave McCrone, of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Mr Walker says that despite having served with Bedfordshire Police for 30 years, he was shocked to find how simple it was to make such weapons useable. This is why he wants a ban on sales of deactivated guns.

Bodybag removed from the Lincoln flat
Police brought out Andrew's body
"Collectors will argue that they are being penalised whereas criminals will still obtain the guns and use them because they do not care about the law.

"But this argument is flawed because, if there was not a legal demand for these guns, manufacturers would not find it profitable to produce any more and the guns would become harder to obtain.

"Let us not make it easy for the criminal to obtain the tools of their trade. It will be worth if it just one more life is spared."


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TALKING POINT
See also:

30 Aug 02 | England
29 Aug 02 | England
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