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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 February 2007, 19:37 GMT
Inside the mind of a young gangster
By Mark Simpson
North of England correspondent, BBC News

Mark Simpson interviewing teenage gangster
Frank, pictured wearing a hood, says the shootings will carry on

Wearing a bullet-proof vest, and riding a mountain bike, 18-year-old Frank skids to a halt and starts to talk about his life in a Manchester gang.

It is a chance encounter with a talkative teenager in the heart of Moss Side's so-called gangland.

"Call me Frank," he mutters, although it is not his real name.

In the five-minute conversation, he is remarkably candid, and willingly shows off the thick protective vest under his black anorak.

Usually, the media are shunned when they want to interview young males about gun crime, and told in precise biological terms where they can shove their microphone.

Frank is not afraid to talk. In fact, Frank is not afraid of anything.

Why did you join a gang?

"It's just pressure out on the streets... even if you don't want to do it, you get dragged in. When you start getting shot at, what can you do?"

Why are you wearing a bullet-proof vest?

"People get shot at randomly. Jessie James was shot dead only a couple of months ago... it shows that anyone can get shot at, at any time. You got people shooting at youth clubs, with girls and kids and stuff like that.

There will always be shootings, always be random people getting shot

It's just not nice so obviously you gotta wear a vest for your own protection. I feel safe with this on me. There's like a 50-50 chance that I'm gonna die. You have to wear a vest round here if you're known to be gang-related."

What about Tony Blair's plans for tougher sentences for young people caught with a gun. Would that be a deterrent?

"Yeah, it probably will - but it's not going to stop it is it? How's that going to stop it? That's not going to stop it at all... it would be harder on the criminal side obviously... but I don't think it'll ever stop."

What would act as a deterrent?

"I don't think this will ever stop. Moss Side will always be the same. There will always be shootings, always be random people getting shot. It won't stop. It can't stop. It's just a vicious circle."

Are gang members aware of the possible prison sentences? Do they even think about the consequences?

"Of course they do, of course they do. If you ask any gang member do they want to go to jail or not, they'll say they don't want to go to jail. They don't want to do the things that they do - but they have to be done."

Is there a feeling among gang members that they will never be caught because local people are too scared to talk to the police?

"No, it's not like that. Everyone knows that if you commit crime, you've gotta do the time. But the majority of people are willing to take that risk. You get me? It's either you do this, or your life gets took."

The recent killings in London have provoked national outrage. Has that caused Manchester gangs to think maybe it's time to stop?

"No. Simple question, simple answer - no. It's not like that. We don't think about that kind of stuff. The guns are always in Manchester. It just takes a little argument from two people to start a feud."

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