Page last updated at 10:33 GMT, Thursday, 22 May 2008 11:33 UK

'Wild West' killing in crossfire

By Jon Kelly
BBC News

A teenager has been convicted for his part in a shoot-out in a car park that ended with the death of a Polish care worker who was struck by crossfire.

As the bullets flew, prosecutors said, it was a scene "reminiscent of the Wild West".

Magda Pniewska
I heard the last breath of Magda. I heard when she fell down
Elzbieta Luby

But as two 17-year-olds fired at each other across a south London car park, it was an innocent bystander who was caught in the crossfire.

Magda Pniewska, 26, a Polish nursing assistant, was chatting to her sister on her mobile phone when she inadvertently stepped into the midst of the gunfight.

She was caught in the head and mortally wounded.

Moment's hesitation

One of the gunmen, Armel Gnango, has been convicted of her murder in October last year. He had admitted possessing a prohibited weapon.

The Old Bailey jury heard from the victim's sister, Elzbieta Luby, who was speaking to her on the phone from Poland at the time of the shooting.

Magda had been walking to her nearby home in New Cross, which she shared with her partner, after a shift at Manley Court nursing home.

In her shopping bags were toys for her dog given to her by one of the old people she looked after.

Mrs Luby said: "I heard shots. I heard several shots - three or four.

The scene of the crime
Magda was gunned down on this set of steps
"There was a short break between the third and fourth shot, like a moment's hesitation.

"I asked Magda, 'What's happening, what is going on, who's shooting?'

"She said, 'Wait a minute, Ella.' The fourth shot came.

"I heard the last breath of Magda. I heard when she fell down, I heard when all the bags fell down."

'Big grin'

Magda knew nothing of the two youths whose feud ended her life. According to Brian Altman QC, prosecuting: "Each had a score to settle."

Prosecutors rejected Gnango's claim that he had fired two or three times into the air, but accepted that the bullet that killed the care worker came not from the gun he fired but from the other youth's weapon.

The second youth, who was named by Gnango, has denied being involved and police have been unable to charge him because of lack of evidence.

But Mr Altman said this did not absolve Gnango of responsibility.

I put my hands over my head as I was crouching and let off a shot
Armel Gnango

Jurors were told the encounter between the youths was prearranged with Gnango, who was born in the Ivory Coast, claiming the other owed him money.

Witnessed told how a youth with a red bandanna covering his mouth and nose had appeared on the car-park steps, produced his gun and fired down at Gnango, who ducked behind a car.

Two girls who were inside the vehicle at the time said Gnango had been wearing a "hoodie" and had a "big grin" on his face.

Mr Altman said Gnango's "immediate reaction had been to pull out a handgun" and return fire.

Gnango shot across the windscreen and then ran to an alleyway as he continued to fire.

Mr Altman said it was probably this move that had made the other gunman change the direction of his shots - resulting in him hitting Magda.

The two youths ran away unharmed, but their 9mm pistols were found months later.

No-one saw Magda being shot. Only after the shooting stopped did witnesses discover her body.

'I was panicking'

Gnango told the court that he had only noticed her while he had been running away from the scene.

"I could not see exactly," he said. "I saw bags, I saw hair... a person was shot."

He insisted to jurors that he had only fired into the air.

"I put my hands over my head as I was crouching and let off a shot," Gnango said.

"It was not more than two shots. I was aiming at the sky.

"I had never shot a gun before. I was panicking. I was trying to scare him off."

But the jury concluded that he was guilty of murder.

"The gunfight tragically ended the life of a young woman who had fearlessly given her life to caring for others," Mr Altman said.

map of the scene

'Last breath' heard over mobile
13 May 08 |  London

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