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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 October 2005, 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK
Shadow of gangs over Nottingham
Barnie Choudhury
BBC News social affairs correspondent

Danielle Beccan
The court heard Danielle was a victim in a gang feud

The murder trial of the killers of 14-year-old Danielle Beccan heard she was the innocent victim of a bitter feud between two gangs from rival Nottingham areas, said to have a "pathetic and absurd hatred" for each other.

BBC News social affairs correspondent Barnie Choudhury visited the two areas to assess how the feud escalated.

By day, The Meadows area of Nottingham does not look or feel intimidating.

Yet ask folk wandering in the precinct about the Waterfront Gang and their response falls into three distinct camps: outright denial; shifty look in their eyes and a vehement brush-off; or an acceptance verging on pride.

As evening draws closer and groups of youths start to wander the estates you begin to feel ever so slightly uncomfortable.

'City divided'

It is on such an evening that two young men come up to me and ask why I am filming some graffiti on a wall. They are the signs - or tags - of the Waterfront Gang. One of them says he is a member of the WFG so I ask him why.

"'Cause that's how the city's divided at the moment, man," he says. "You can either stand for something or get walked over and I'm not going to get walked over."

Neither he nor his mate will talk about Danielle Beccan's killing. Yet he is forthcoming on what is wrong, why there are rivalries and he even has a prediction that I pray will not come true.

"The situation's going to get worse because, out of that little girl's death, St Ann's have got a performance centre," he says.

"People are concerned for the youths up there. You come here and what the f*** we got?"

Firearms offences account for only a fraction of overall crime
Barnie Choudhury

Academics would call this the theory of relative deprivation or - put another way - jealousy that one side is said to be getting more favourable treatment.

The local agencies are at pains to point out the "gangs" are people who simply want to belong to a group.

Drugs and guns may be involved but these are not gangs like those in London, Manchester or New York, which are structured with a defined hierarchy.

Message of peace

Across the way in St Ann's, Pastor Joan Richards and her team of prayer patrollers are spreading their message of peace. They began the patrol just days after Danielle's shooting.

As I film them, we come across a 10-year-old curious to know why. He goes on to explain why his mum wants to move out of the area.

"My mum thought one day me and my brother's going to grow up, walk around with our friends and come back from town and there might be a shoot-out and we might be in the middle of one."

So is his perception borne out in reality? Not really. Firearms offences account for only a fraction of overall crime.

If we compare government statistics per 100,000 head of population for last year, Nottinghamshire recorded 23 firearms offences. Greater Manchester and London had 51 and 53 respectively.

That is little comfort to people living in Nottingham and everyone I spoke to agreed there was a problem that needed to be tackled.

None more so, it seems, than getting young children away from crime. Phillip Haynes works for a group called "Supporting Communities" which helps vulnerable youths in Nottingham.

Young 'groomed'

"Young people as young as seven or eight are being groomed, but at that age they probably wouldn't be seen as members of a crew or posse," he said.

"In essence the grooming is about trying to prepare young people to become runners or foot soldiers."

In St Ann's, young men also hang around the precinct. With their hoods and bandanas they too look frightening to outsiders. But take no notice of them and they will leave you alone. They bear no obvious malice.

Engage them in conversation and you soon find out they have real aspirations. They want to go to university and put something back in to their community. Many feel the area has an unfairly bad reputation.

For example, they say, there is something called the Youth Inclusion Project which is trying to give young people self-respect, showing them they can turn their backs on crime.

I attend one of its award ceremonies where Dale Beccan, Danielle's father, is the guest of honour.

He shows remarkable poise and explains it is an honour to be at the event giving out a prize in memory of his daughter.

Driving into a community and firing on kids. What does that say?
Dale Beccan

He says he does not believe there is a gang problem in Nottingham and that he has nothing but contempt for his daughter's killers.

What would you say to them, I ask?

"I'd say rot in hell. That's what I'd say to my daughter's killers if ever I had the chance," he replies without hesitation.

"I'd also say they're cowards. Driving into a community and firing on kids. What does that say? I'd say they're cowards, big time."

Time and again I have come across the Beccans of this world. Families whose lives have been ripped apart by gun crime. Time and again I have marvelled at their strength and quiet dignity.

How do you stop people from hating when a loved one is taken away under such violent circumstances? Yet in this case, there is no call for revenge, simply a call for justice and a wish to end all gun crime.

Mr Beccan simply says: "For young kids who want to carry guns, just remember when you pull that trigger you don't realise what you're leaving behind."

The BBC's Barnie Choudhury investigates gang culture in Nottingham


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