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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 May 2007, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
Bungled hit highlights gun culture
By Chris Summers
BBC News

Two people have been jailed for life after planning a contract killing that ended with the target still alive but both the would-be assassins dead. The killing highlights the lure of Britain's gun culture.

Richard Austin (right) and his accomplice Carlton Alveranga
Richard Austin (right) and his accomplice Carlton Alveranga

Every mother worries about their teenage sons, but when they grow up in Manchester's Moss Side district and associate with criminals the anxiety is on a different level.

So it was with Bridget Austin, who last saw her son Richard alive three days before he was shot dead as he attempted to carry out a gangland hit at a pub in Salford, Greater Manchester.

Austin, 19, and his accomplice Carlton Alveranga, 20, had burst into the Brass Handles pub in the Langworthy area of Salford on a Sunday lunchtime in March last year.

Gun jammed

Inside a crowd of people were watching a Manchester United match live on television.

Austin and Alveranga, who were both masked, approached a table at which their target, David Totton, was sitting.

Austin opened fire, but Alveranga's 9mm handgun jammed and the pair were disarmed by some of the pub's customers and shot with their own weapons.

The scene inside the Brass Handles
Dozens of people were in the pub at the time of the shooting

The pair fled outside but collapsed on the grass, where they died of their wounds. Mr Totton, despite being shot in the face and chest, miraculously escaped serious injury.

Detectives investigating the events of 12 March 2006 discovered CCTV from inside the Brass Handles had disappeared.

The pub was later closed down on the orders of Greater Manchester Police.

Fled the country

Several people were later arrested and last month Ian McLeod, 42, and Constance Howarth, 28, were convicted by a jury at Preston Crown Court.

On Tuesday they were jailed for life. McLeod must serve a minimum of 21 years and Howarth a minimum of 20 years.

Sentencing them, Mr Justice Andrew Smith, said: "Two men died, they were not innocents, but they were young, their lives were not expendable.

Two men died, they were not innocents, but they were young, their lives were not expendable
Mr Justice Andrew Smith

"In view of the calculating nature of this offence I consider there is every danger you are incorrigibly involved in violent crime. You will always present a danger to the public."

A third man, Robert "Bobby" Spiers, wanted in connection with the conspiracy, is believed to have fled the country.

The trial heard a statement from Ms Austin in which she spoke of how she had feared her son was becoming embroiled in gangsterism and gun culture.

She said gangs were a way of life in Moss Side and she had "desperately" wanted her family to move away because she could see "how bad the area was".

Constance Howarth and Ian McLeod
Constance Howarth and Ian McLeod both had criminal connections

The Austins moved to Wythenshawe, but her son continued to visit friends in Moss Side and his mother said: "I worried every time Richard would not come home as he would probably be in Moss Side. I had no idea who he was with."

The trial heard Austin and Alveranga were guided to their targets by Constance Howarth, who had a long track record of involvement in organised crime and is the cousin of Salford gang boss Paul Massey, who was jailed in 1999.

In 1998 Howarth was jailed for five years, along with notorious Glasgow criminal Paul Ferris, after being convicted of trafficking guns.

'Gunchester' reputation

The scene of the shooting in Salford
Austin and Alveranga were found on the grass outside the pub

McLeod was a senior member of Moss Side's Doddington gang and police said his conviction was "significant".

Detective Superintendent Andy Tattersall said: "McLeod is an influential character within the underworld of Manchester and Moss Side. He recruited those boys and planned an execution. It's because of him they died.

"He used his influence on others to do his dirty work. He is a very, very dangerous man."

The killings at the Brass Handles reinforce Greater Manchester's reputation for gun crime and gangsterism.

Young people need to realise that when they pick up a gun, ironically they increase their chances of being shot themselves
Greater Manchester Police

Greater Manchester Police told the BBC News website it had launched an operation called Xcalibre, which "targeted known individuals who are at the root of this type of crime".

The spokesman said: "Since the launch of Xcalibre the number of firearms incidents in Greater Manchester has been decreasing year-on-year. April 2004 to March 2005 saw a 12% decrease in firearms discharges and a further 4% reduction during the same period in 2005/6."

He added: "We recognise that society is changing. At one time fists were used to settle disputes, today some people reach for a gun instead.

"Guns are items that for some peer groups, are seen to be a symbol of respect and kudos. Young people need to realise that when they pick up a gun, ironically they increase their chances of being shot themselves."

Hitman's mother appeals for end to gun violence

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