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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 June, 2004, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Facing the gunmen without fear
By Cindi John
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

When it comes to gun crime, Manchester is one of the UK's hotspots with more than 1,200 recorded firearms offences and six fatalities last year. One woman whose son died in a gun attack three years ago told BBC News Online about her attempts to rid the city's streets of gangs and guns.

Sheila Eccleston
Sheila Eccleston wants to turn kids away from gun crime
By day, the street in Longsight in Manchester seems an unthreatening place. The rows of neat terraced housing facing onto a bank of open grass look just like many others in the city.

But the blackened patch of ground in front of Sheila Eccleston's house tells a different story.

It's where her car was set on fire and burnt out six weeks ago. The result, Ms Eccleston says, of her work with Mothers Against Violence (MAV), a group which is seeking to turn the tide of gang violence and gun crime in the city.

"I've had my car burnt, my windows smashed and a firework through my letterbox.

"There's a lot of hostility towards members of Mothers Against Violence because at the end of the day we're the ones trying to get the guns and drugs off the street, and a lot of people don't like that," she says.

Ms Eccleston, 50, has been active in MAV since her son, Dean, was shot dead not far from her home in Longsight nearly three years ago.

Along with the neighbouring districts of Moss Side and Hulme, Longsight in south Manchester is where most of the city's gang activity takes place.

We've got no fear, if they want to shoot us, let them shoot us.
Sheila Eccleston

Firearms offences account for less than 0.5%. of all crime in Manchester, according to figures from Greater Manchester Police but the concentration of gangs in the south of the city means a large proportion of shootings take place there.

But Ms Eccleston says though her son was "no angel", - he had been in trouble with the police from an early age and spent time in prison - he was not a member of the local gang, the Longsight Crew.

The 24-year-old was shot seven times in October 2001 as he left a friend's house.

Police believe he was killed by members of a neighbouring gang, Ms Eccleston says, but nobody has ever been charged with his murder.

'Bullet proof jacket'

Her work with Mothers Against Violence, set up by Patsy McKie after her son was shot dead, was a way of coping with her grief, Ms Eccleston adds.

Dean Eccleston
Dean Eccleston was shot dead as he left a friend's house

MAV, which now has groups in Leeds and Liverpool, particularly targets younger children before they have a chance to get fully into gang culture.

On school visits she and the other mothers take along pictures of their sons. Ms Eccleston's picture shows Dean laden with gold jewellery, posing with his sports car.

But she stresses to the children that his life was not as easy as it seemed.

"I talk to them about the way my son was, how he had to watch his back all the time.

"I mean even when he was murdered he had a bullet proof jacket on and he used to sleep with a gun under his pillow. So I explain to the children it's no life to have."

Gun crime in Manchester has dropped in the past year and Sheila Eccleston is convinced MAV's work has played a part in that.

In spite of the intimidation she faces on a daily basis, she and the other group members will continue their efforts, she says.

"I know I could be shot but since my son's gone - and a lot of the mothers will tell you that - it gives us the courage to go on.

"We've got no fear, if they want to shoot us, let them shoot us. There's nothing we can do about it but we'll have our say and we won't sit behind closed doors."

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02 Jun 04  |  Manchester

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