Uncovering the story of Britain’s deadliest weapon
A new documentary tracks one of Britain’s bloodiest weapons. Cara McGoogan tells the story of Gun No6
It was approaching 3am on February 23 2003 when the trigger was pulled for the first time. The piercing sound of two bullets exploding from the end of a 9mm handgun rang through Birmingham’s Proctor Street. An anonymous phone call tipped off the police, but no witnesses came forward, let alone any potential victims. Investigators found two stranded bullet cases and sent them to a forensics lab; the gun entered the British criminal record.
These were the unremarkable beginnings of Gun No 6, one of Britain’s deadliest handguns, which went on to be used in 11 shootings in six years. It would become one of the West Midlands Police’s 10 most wanted guns, passed around a stream of violent criminals before vanishing in 2009, never to be recovered. By then, it would be responsible for three deaths and four serious injuries.
It is unique “in the volume of attacks and the incremental increase from a drive-by shooting to targeting it to hurt somebody”, explains Andy Hough, a retired detective chief lieutenant, who spent two years tracking its every move. “It’s a significant deadly weapon, and it posed a threat to the public.”
The story of Gun No 6, the focus of a new BBC documentary, offers a fascinating insight into the UK’s criminal underworld. Although key details remain elusive – how exactly it entered our shores, how it was passed between criminals and its current whereabouts – tracking the gun has uncovered how Britain’s illicit weapons network operates.
Gun No 6 came to the attention of the West Midlands Police a year after the incident on Proctor Street. A forensic investigation of a gang-related murder by a separate firearm, in 2004, revealed that 10 guns were frequently being used alongside one another; Hough linked them to 30 shootings. “Then we get Gun No 6’s first murder, and 30 becomes 31,” says Hough.
The weapon was associated with the Johnson Crew, a notorious gang that had terrorised inner-city Birmingham for decades. They received national attention in January 2003 when Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis, two teenage bystanders, were killed in the crossfire of a shoot-out with the rival Burger Bar
Boys. That year was one of the worst in UK history for gun crime, and police recorded almost 22,000 incidents involving a firearm.
Small weapons such as Gun
No. 6 often arrive in the UK from eastern Europe, where they could have been the product of conflicts like that in Bosnia. They tend to be shipped to the UK hidden in cars or heavy goods vehicles on container ships; if decommissioned, they will be sent to an armourer to be reactivated. Armourers have also been known to “convert” gas pistols into guns that fire bullets, such as the Baikal, which flooded UK streets in 2008.
Nowadays, those seeking guns turn to the dark web – the hidden part of the internet also known for the sale of drugs and illegal pornography. “It’s still hard to get hold of a gun today, but means of access is better facilitated [by the internet],” Hough says.
The exact number of illegal firearms in the UK is unknown, but police recover around 1,000 per year. A 9mm handgun, favoured among criminals and accounting for nearly a third of the annual 8,000 firearm offences, would have cost around £1,000 in 2003, according to Hough. Often, gangs will hold on to guns and share them with one another.
“Gun No 6 is probably a Johnson Crew gun that has been handed around a group of individuals,” says Hough. “Gangs will hide a gun by putting it in socks or a plastic bag, then burying it.” That is, until it is used for murder. “Once a gun has killed someone, the owner wants to get rid of it,” says Hough. “Similar to stolen goods, the longer you keep hold of them, the more likely you are to be caught.” So it was that in 2005, eight months after the Johnson Crew was found responsible for killing bouncer Ishfaq Ahmed, Gun No 6 fell into the hands of Londoner Kemar Whittaker. The weapon’s final three shootings all resulted in death, with Whittaker executing Andrew Huntley under a railway arch before passing the gun to a group of what Hough describes as “clearly chaotic, not very good armed robbers”. People who use arms tend to be “immature” and come from difficult or tragic backgrounds, according to Hough. “You have this mythical picture of criminals, but when you meet them they’re just normal people,” he says. “We don’t need to be frightened of them.”
This is true of Anselm Ribera, Gun No 6’s last known owner. On January 9 2009, Ribera and two others orchestrated an armed robbery against a post office in Fairfield. Owner Ken Hodson-Walker and Craig, his son, were shot by a masked Ribera, killing 29-year-old Craig, who had recently got engaged, and injuring Ken. “The Anselm I knew wasn’t a horrible or evil person. He wouldn’t hurt anybody,” says Alison Cope, Ribera’s former partner, with whom he had a child, Joshua. “It was such a shock to our family and everyone who knew [him].” Ribera was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 34 years. While serving his sentence, Joshua, an 18-year-old rap star, was murdered in a knife attack outside a nightclub.
“There are no winners that come out of gun or knife crime,” says Cope. “The people who walk away from that situation are either traumatised as murderers, injured – or dead.” What became of Gun No 6 is unknown. It could still be out there, waiting to be used again. Or perhaps it is lying where anyone whose life it has devastated prays it has finished up – at the bottom of a river, destroyed forever.
‘Gun No 6 is unique in its volume of attacks and the incremental increase in violence’
Deadly: Anselm Ribera, right, along with brothers Declan and Christopher Morrissey, used Gun No 6 to rob a post office