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

The Sunday Telegraph - - Features & Arts -

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

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