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Last Updated: Friday, 18 March, 2005, 14:40 GMT
Victims of 'transferred malice'
By Chris Summers
BBC News Website

Four men have been convicted of the murder of two teenage girls in Birmingham. The girls were accidentally shot when the gang targeted rivals outside a late-night party.

Innocent victims of a gang war, Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis were simply standing too close to the intended targets of the latest shooting.

Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare
Cheryl Shaw, Charlene Ellis, Sophie Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare

The legal term to describe what happened is "transferred malice". It means those responsible can still be charged with murder - even if they had meant to kill a member of a rival gang instead.

The murders of Letisha and Charlene, aged 17 and 18, were the result of a violent feud between the Johnson Crew and the Burger Bar Boys.

On 6 December 2002, a month before the girls' killings, 24-year-old Yohanne Martin was shot dead as he sat in his Mercedes in West Bromwich High Street.

Yohanne - whose street name was "13" - was a key member of the Burger Bar Boys, whose territory included nearby Smethwick and Handsworth. The Johnson Crew were based in Aston and Lozells.

Yohanne's brother Nathan - whose street name was "23" - believed the Johnson Crew were behind the killing - in particular a man who can only be called "Mr X" for legal reasons.

Plotted revenge

Nathan Martin began planning his revenge.

He had found a willing recruit in Michael Gregory, whose sister Leona had been Yohanne's girlfriend and had a child with him.

Timetable for tragedy
6 Dec 2002: Yohanne Martin is shot dead in West Bromwich
31 Dec 2002: Yohanne's brother, Nathan Martin, and other members of the Burger Bar Boys buy a red Ford Mondeo
2 Jan 2003: The Mondeo, containing Martin, Michael Gregory and Marcus Ellis, drives up to the party in Aston and the gang open fire on partygoers, killing the two girls
Aug 2003: Tafarwa Beckford survives a shooting in Winson Green
Nov 2003: Martin, Gregory, Ellis, Rodrigo Simms and Beckford are arrested
Nov 2004: The trial begins at Leicester Crown Court
Feb 2005: Beckford is acquitted
Mar 2005: Martin, Gregory, Ellis and Simms are convicted of murder

Martin also recruited Marcus Ellis, another gang member known as "E-Man", who was coincidentally the half brother of Charlene Ellis.

Gregory - known as Chunk because of his size - was given the job of co-ordinating the hit.

He bought a pay-as-you-go mobile phone and used it to negotiate the purchase of the getaway car, a red Ford Mondeo, from a dealer in Northampton.

On the afternoon of New Year's Eve 2002 the car was brought back to Birmingham and a window tinter hired to darken the vehicle's windows.

The gang did not want witnesses to be able to get a good view of them - a motive the tinter was unaware of.

Opportunity for revenge

All the gang needed now was an opportunity, and it arrived in the early hours of 2 January 2003.

Another member of the Burger Bar gang, Rodrigo "Sonny" Simms, was at a party at the Uniseven salon in Aston, which his cousin Selina owned.

The prosecution claimed that Simms spotted several members of the Johnson Crew at the party and guided the killers into position just after 4am.

Yohanne Martin
The shooting was to avenge the murder of Yohanne Martin

Earlier that night Jermaine Carty had been "bigging it up" in Rosie O'Brien's nightclub in Solihull, taunting the Burger Bar Boys.

Carty was named in court by witnesses as being in the rival Johnson Crew, although he denied being a member.

Carty was said to be one of the principal targets when the Mondeo pulled up outside the back of the salon and the attackers fired a "fusillade" of bullets at partygoers, killing the two girls and wounding two others.

The prosecution initially claimed Carty, who was uninjured, fired back at the attackers. He was cleared of possessing a firearm on the night of the shooting.

The assailants had used a Mac10 sub-machine gun, often nicknamed the "spray and pray" because its fierce recoil makes it almost impossible to aim accurately.

After making their bungled attack they drove off and a couple of hours later the getaway car was found burned out.

It was some time before Martin, Ellis, Gregory and Simms were arrested and charged with the murders.


When it came to the trial Martin admitted playing a part in buying the Mondeo but said he did not know what the car was intended for.

The shooting (of the girls) was in the headlines for weeks and weeks but my brother's death had been in the headlines for a day
Nathan Martin
He also denied being a member of the Burger Bar gang and having anything to do with the shooting, claiming he was in bed with his girlfriend at the time.

Asked why he had failed to mention his alibi he said: "It's bad what happened to them girls, but I didn't want to get involved.

"My brother had been murdered, my mum was having a very bad time, I was the only thing my family had left. I lied to protect myself and my family."

Cross examining him, Timothy Raggat QC said: "Your brother was a gangster and you are a gangster. You committed crimes together, you were inseparable."

Martin replied: "No. We were close, he was my only brother but he was trying to reform...to put it behind him, to make something of his life."

Brother of pop star

Martin had told police: "It pisses me off because the shooting (of the girls) was in the headlines for weeks and weeks but my brother's death had been in the headlines for a day."

During the trial another man, Tafarwa Beckford, was acquitted of murder on the judge's directions because the only evidence against him came from a witness, known as Mark Brown, who the judge concluded had been lying.

Beckford is the half-brother of pop star Jamelia. Another of her siblings, Kairo Beckford, was convicted of a separate murder in Birmingham last year.

For the Beckford family, like the Ellis and Shakespeare families, the gun and gang culture has brought nothing but despair and heartbreak.

1 A red Ford Mondeo, containing three members of the Burger Bar gang, pulls into Church Hill Parade, Aston, at around 4.08am on 2 January 2003.
2 The gang's car is guided into place by Rodrigo Simms, a fellow Burger Bar member. He is the cousin of Selina Simms, who is hosting the party at the Uniseven hairdressing salon.
3 The Mondeo pulls up outside the party and the gang fire on people standing outside. Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis are killed. Charlene's sister Sophie and cousin Cheryl Shaw are injured.
4 More shots are fired at a black Audi car parked in the street. Two people inside escape injury.
5 Another fusillade is fired at a white Ford Orion containing Leon Harris. He is also unhurt.
6 The car speeds off and is found later in nearby Smethwick. It had been burnt out

Father of murdered girl and one of those who killed her tells of pain


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