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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK
Did the gun amnesty work?
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Kavian Francis-Hopwood: Killed in front of 250 homes

The UK's month-long gun amnesty is ending - but it appears to have had little effect in the communities where it really matters. One family tells their story.

On 16 May Patsy and Martin Hopwood will be burying their son.

Kavian, a 21-year-old college student, died in a hail of six bullets on the Stonebridge Estate near Harlesden, north-west London.

He was killed on 2 April, the day after the start of the nationwide gun amnesty.

His parents don't know why he died. The killers may not have known Kavian wanted a career as a local social worker.

Patsy Hopwood takes what comfort she can from her three younger children and the congregation of the Willesden New Testament Church of God.

I know that I will find true justice through Christ. I can forgive the guy who killed Kavian. True justice will eventually be done
Patsy Hopwood

She said her son was a wonderfully dedicated and upstanding young man.

"Kavian was very, very quiet," she says. "Neither I nor Martin ever heard anyone complain about him.

"He just had a smile on his face. I will always see the smiles before I see anything else.

"I just can't see why Kavian got killed. His life was wasted by somebody who did not anything to do other than use my son as target practice."

"They seem to feel that unless they carry a gun, then they don't feel like somebody. It has to stop."

Kavian is not the only young black man to have died this year in London. But each time someone dies, detectives at Operation Trident, the unit charged with tackling gun-related crime within black communities, have the same problem. Not enough people are coming forward.

In Kavian's case, some 250 homes overlook where he fell at 12.40pm. The police only have two statements and very little else. They have yet to establish a motive.

Rising tide

This year Brent has witnessed three murders, five attempted murders and numerous shootings after two years of success in reducing gun crime.

The silence of this community is the only music the killers are listening to right now
Martin Hopwood

Only 15 of the 250,000 people in the area, have given the police information on guns. By the start of the final week of the gun amnesty, only six firearms had been surrendered in the borough.

Similarly disappointing figures are expected from the other key Trident areas of Lambeth, Harringey and Hackney.

Police chiefs had cheered a huge drop in gun crime at the start of the year. The coming months will be the real test of the gun amnesty.

"I take this very personally," says Chief Superintendent Andy Bamber, commander of Brent Police. "My officers take this very personally, Trident takes this very personally.

"We want to make a difference but we can't do it on our own. We need help. I can understand that people may be afraid, but why can't they give us information anonymously?"

Commander Bamber says the "full force" of the Met is being thrown at gun crime in Brent. Some of the best hand-picked officers of the Trident team, "Armed Response Vehicles" on almost constant patrol, elite officers prepared to risk their lives with "armed stops" on suspects and soon 40 more beat officers dedicated to the borough.

But still they need information.

Drive-by shooting

Take Hurschell Broderick for example. He was targeted in a drive-by shooting on Harlesden High Street on 27 March.

The killers fired at him a dozen times from a black Ford Focus which sped off down the wrong side of the road. Drive-by shootings leave little forensic evidence so officers desperately need the car registration.

What are we doing? Why are people in our community saying black people can only deal in drugs and guns? We are more than that. We have contributed to everything that has made this country
Cllr Lincoln Beswick, Brent community safety unit

Police have an open mind about the motive and believe up to 100 people could have seen what happened. Nowhere near that number have come forward. Detectives still don't have the car registration.

Commander Alan Brown, head of Operation Trident, attended a public meeting this week in Brent where the frustration was written all over his face.

"The inescapable truth is that this crime is a problem that affects the black communities totally disproportionately," he told the audience. "The profiles of those shot is not those of organised criminals.

"The [perpetrators] are 16 to 26-year-olds who are prepared to carry a firearm and have little regard for their safety or that of others.

"That's a massive challenge and we can't do it without the support of the communities affected."

So why is the trust not there? Ten years after the murder of Stephen Lawrence the suspicion of the police runs deep. But for many, fear of the gunmen runs deeper.

Kavian Hopwood's father, Martin, says both the police and community have to do more.

"Brent has had one of the weakest responses to the appeal. If I had just a toy gun in my hands I would turn back at the police station because I did not see even posters there appealing for them to be handed in.

"We cannot solve this on our own. Neither can the police. The silence of this community is the only music the killers are listening to right now."

'Sleepwalking to disaster'

Brent councillor Lincoln Beswick, one of the local leaders involved in developing Trident, went further.

"Five years ago we were sleepwalking into disaster. Now we must be completely dead because only the dead keep silent.

"What are we doing? Why are people in our community saying black people can only deal in drugs and guns? We are more than that. We have contributed to everything that has made this country."

When Cllr Beswick posed that question at Monday's public meeting, he met both a chorus of jeers and loud applause. Divisions are deep and answers are hard to find. None of which helps Patsy and Martin Hopwood as they prepare for Kavian's funeral.

"If it was not for the Lord on my side, I don't know how we would have coped," said Mrs Hopwood.

"But I know that I will find true justice through Christ. I can forgive the guy who killed Kavian. True justice will eventually be done."

Your comments:

No one forces a gun into your hand, it's a conscious decision and no one forces you to pull the trigger. People need to take responsibility for their own actions and stop blaming someone else or society.
Adrian Harvey, England

The Government has to devise ways of changing the attitude and thinking of these youths by giving them more chances to obtain a good education and a good job. Without some radical change and reduction in poverty in the black community, there can be 100s of gun amnesties, but gun crime will only continue.
Richard, England

It's about time these youngsters took responsibility for their actions. If they are old enough to handle a weapon they are old enough to take the jail sentences that should be handed out. It boils down to a lack of respect for everything and everyone.
David, UK

Harlesden is a true ghetto. The youth there have nothing to work for and are very poor. It's no surprise the only way young people can better themselves is to sell drugs and commit street crime. Both these involve the use of guns.
John Fenwick, England

It is very naive of the police to think that by asking nicely all the illegal guns in the country will be handed in. People who use guns in crime are not going to just hand them in.
Sarah Humphries, Wales

I grew up in Brent and remember hearing gunshots in some areas at night. The gun problem, in my view, stems from the lack of good role models, ie fathers, and a lack of moral fortitude. Harlesden and Stonebridge are dangerous areas to drive though by day or night.
Richard Lee, England

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