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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 March 2005, 21:16 GMT
Living in 'Gun City'
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News website

Police tape - generic
Nottinghamshire is struggling to deal with violent crime
Nottingham, the city of the Robin Hood legend that became a textiles powerbase during the Industrial Revolution, now struggles with a reputation for drugs killings and teeming with binge drinkers on lawless Saturday nights.

It is a city, apparently, where the local police cannot deal with the amount of murders taking place on their patch - so much so that they may have to farm some investigations to other forces, Nottinghamshire's chief constable has warned.

But many of the citizens of Nottingham are becoming upset at seeing their city painted as the new crime capital of Britain. And while they are not pretending there are not problems, they say Nottingham's image is being tarnished.

Hilary Silvester, the chair of Nottingham's Civic Society, told the BBC News website: "I'm concerned about this view of people running around waving guns. It's not my impression of the middle of Nottingham.

"There is crime here, just like there is crime in all big cities. Very often it is localised."

Police 'stretched'

Nottingham's problems have been blamed on vicious drug gangs fighting for control of the city's narcotics trade.

The city also attracts thousands of drinkers and revellers every weekend night, drawn to more than 350 licensed premises within a square mile of the city centre.

Its police are stretched to the limit on weekend nights, officers have complained, and too many are being diverted from street duty to undertake clerical duties, chief constable Steve Green said.

Ms Silvester said: "Everyone tends to look at Nottingham when they want to do a feature on violence or binge-drinking."

City-rebranding

While she understood Mr Green wanted to boost the number of officers working on the beat, "we got this image of Nottingham being totally inhabited by gangsters", she said.

That image had become so bad, earlier this month, the city's tourism chiefs "re-branded" Nottingham as a county capital for shopping, culture and entertainment.

They feared the media coverage of drug killings and binge drinking was discouraging tourists from visiting.

"I would like to see this city known for things other than shopping and binge-drinking," said Ms Silvester.

"We still want to be Nottingham, but we want to be the best Nottingham possible."

Brendon Lawrence
Brendon Lawrence was shot on the street in Nottingham in 2002

Nottingham City Council has not welcomed reports calling the city a crime centre.

A spokesman told the BBC News website "the portrayal of our city as the capital of violent crime is not supported by fact and it simply is not the reality of everyday life here".

The number of firearms incidents in 2003/4 was 233, putting it in fifth place in England and Wales in terms of population, he said.

Violence against the person rates of 31.8 per 1,000 was lower than Blackpool, Lincoln, Peterborough, Gwent and Leicester's, the council said.

But the mother of one of Nottingham's gun crime victims, Janice Collins, says that the realities of life in the city are as bad as Mr Green has painted.

Mrs Collins, whose son Brendon Lawrence was killed for being "in the wrong place at the wrong time" in 2002, said she backed the chief constable "every step of the way".

A member of Mothers Against Guns, she said she had seen "30-year-old detectives who looked like they were 60" because they were so over-worked.

Community 'know'

She said Nottingham's police needed to be given the extra resources they needed to carry out investigations.

But she laid a lot of the blame for Nottingham's problems on the community itself.

"These crimes can't be solved if the community doesn't come forward. I've told people that if they come forward and speak out, Nottingham's police would act on it."

She said people knew who was carrying out the killings, and Nottingham's crime problems could be solved in a week if the police had the information to convict them.

She also said she believed life sentences should be mandatory for those who killed with guns.

Nottingham's last attempt at a guns amnesty, in November, only took 35 weapons out of commission. The hardcore drug-dealers and offenders were not being dissuaded, Mrs Collins said.




SEE ALSO
Gun crime fears 'hitting tourism'
31 Jan 05 |  Nottinghamshire
Two plead not guilty to shooting
22 Feb 05 |  Nottinghamshire
Gunman beats woman and steals car
02 Mar 05 |  Nottinghamshire
Reward offered in shooting case
08 Feb 05 |  Nottinghamshire

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