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EDITIONS
 Saturday, 4 January, 2003, 09:36 GMT
Reluctant witnesses hamper gunmen hunt
From left: Cheryl Shaw, Charlene Ellis, Sophie Ellis and Latisha Shakespeare
Charlene (second left) and Latisha (right) both died
Police say reluctant witnesses are hampering their efforts to track down the gunmen who shot dead two teenage girls in Birmingham and left two others injured.

Appeals for information have so far produced a disappointing response and detectives hope reward money totalling 35,000 may prompt more of the 100 people who were at the same party as the girls to come forward.

They said the girls - who were all related - were innocent victims of what was probably a feud between rival gangs.

The only thing that needs to happen for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing

Chief Superintendent Kevin Morris
More than 30 shots were fired from at least two weapons, including a sub machine gun, during the attack at a hair salon in the Aston area of the city on Thursday.

Charlene Ellis, 18, and Latisha Shakespeare, 17 were killed in the shooting, while Charlene's twin sister, Sophie, and 17-year-old Cheryl Shaw were injured.

Cheryl has returned home, but Sophie Ellis remains under armed guard in hospital, where her condition is described as stable.

Post-mortem examinations on Saturday found that Latisha died from a gunshot wound to the chest while Charlene had been shot in the head.

The shooting has led to calls for tighter controls on people carrying guns in the UK.

'Absolutely traumatised'

Police released a picture of the friends taken hours before they were killed in an attempt to find the gunmen.

Rewards offered
Daily Mail: 25,000
Birmingham Evening Mail and Victims of Crime group: 10,000

Detective Superintendent Dave Mirfield, leading the murder hunt, said: "These girls were not members of any gang, they were merely on a night out with friends."

Mr Mirfield, who backed the 35,000 rewards offered by newspapers and a crime victim group, said there appeared to be a fear or reluctance to come forward among potential witnesses.

Although about 100 people were thought to have been at the salon only 30 were still there when officers arrived.

Tribute left at scene
Tributes have been left at the scene of the shooting
The chairman of the Birmingham Racial Attacks Monitoring Unit, Maxi Hayles, said there was room for the police to improve the way they dealt with black-on-black crime.

But he also urged anyone with any information about the attack to come forward.

Mr Hayles said: "We're appealing to the black community to come forward and assist the police.

"And at the same time, the police must provide the appropriate channel of protection for the community."

He said he wanted to see a witness protection scheme set up as soon as possible.

There are certainly elements in the community who are scared to come forward

Steve McCabe
Labour MP for Hall Green

Chief Superintendent Kevin Morris, president of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, admitted the criminal justice system had not been "particularly good" at protecting witnesses.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Perhaps we need to tighten up on the way we deal with witnesses to make sure that they are anonymous from the criminals themselves and that they are protected from any retribution that may follow."

Mr Morris said the association was pressing the government to change the law to curb the conversion of replica guns and air weapons into lethal weapons.

'Violent gangs'

People caught with illegal firearms could face at least five years in jail under government plans being considered in response to rising gun crime.

Home Secretary David Blunkett is reportedly ready to add new minimum jail terms for possession of firearms to the Criminal Justice Bill.

Steve McCabe, Labour MP for Hall Green, said: "I think there's the danger that there are very aggressive violent gangs mostly associated with the drugs trade and I think that there are certainly elements in the community who are scared to come forward.

"But this is really about the availability of guns and we've really got to tackle that in order to clamp down on these people."

Chief Constable Chris Fox, Vice President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, told Today the country's gun problem was complicated.

He said tackling the problem involved targeting the dealers, protecting the public and finding a way to change "the mindset of someone who feels they need a weapon to protect themselves and gain respect".

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Clarence Mitchell reports from Birmingham
"Rewards totalling 35,000 are now being offered"
  The BBC's Judith Moritz in Birmingham
"The family of Latisha Shakespear have laid their own tributes"
  Lucy Cope, Mothers Against Guns
"This wall of silence needs to be broken down"

Click here to go to BBC Birmingham Online
See also:

03 Jan 03 | England
03 Jan 03 | Politics
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