Saturday 19 August 2017

Gangland rivalries, murder and code of vengeance behind riots

CARNAGE: Initial riot was sparked by killing of Mark Duggan
CARNAGE: Initial riot was sparked by killing of Mark Duggan

JASON LEWIS

GANG rivalries, an unsolved murder and a code of vengeance are at the heart of the events which sparked the rioting and looting last week.





The events can be directly traced back to the death of a 23-year-old man stabbed through the heart as he left an East End nightclub and the actions of his friend who believed he was honourbound to avenge his death. The dead man was Kelvin Easton, known as Smegz, who was an elder in the ‘Bloodline’, from the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham, one of London’s ‘post code’ gangs.



The club where he died had been heaving: more than 500 people were inside at the time of the attack. But this is a world where the ‘stooly’ who talks to the police is an outcast. Tragically, it was not — until last week — an unusual story: London has seen 92 similar gang-related murders in the last two years. The gangs control the drugs trade on their territories, sometimes little more than a few streets, and will kill and maim rivals to defend it.



The young foot soldiers in this world are bound by a warped code of honour and their movements restricted for fear of breaking down the uneasy truces between them. Police sources say Easton was a key figure in the gang’s hierarchy, a member of its elite ‘Star Gang’ clique.



With his death, responsibility for revenge fell to his closest friend, his ‘god brother’, Mark Duggan, known by the street name Starrish Mark. According to his family, Duggan had left gangs behind and had not been in trouble with the police for nine years when he served time on remand for an unspecified crime. Others dispute this, claiming Duggan was a key gang lieutenant.



For several days before his death Duggan was the target of specialist police motorcycle surveillance teams and officers from Operation Trident, the Met’s unit tackling “black on black” shootings, usually linked to drug dealing.



A pre-planned “hard stop” was carried out as he travelled in a minicab on Ferry Lane, Tottenham, to arrest him. It is still not known exactly what happened when the minicab was stopped and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is investigating. Duggan was armed with a blank-firing BBM ‘Bruni’ pistol which had been converted to fire live bullets. It was found in a sock at the scene.



The IPCC initially — and wrongly — briefed that there had been an exchange of fire. One bullet killed Duggan, but an officer was hit, a bullet lodging in his shouldermounted radio. Forensic evidence later revealed this bullet was fired from a police weapon. It remains unknown whether Duggan was in or out of the car when he was shot. The death sparked widespread community anger. “He was not mad enough or bad enough” to get into a police shoot-out, his friends and family said.



His family staged a peaceful demonstration outside Tottenham police station last Saturday but within hours it escalated. A group of young men set light to several squad cars sparking a riot — which led to the large-scale copycat disorder across the UK in the days that followed. British Prime Minister David Cameron last week declared war on the street gangs. But Easton’s death illustrate the difficulties that war will face. The stalled investigation into Easton’s death is an example. The gangs hate the police more than each other and the investigation faced a wall of silence.



So far the police have arrested 12 people in connection with the attack, but no one has been charged. The suspects are on police bail “pending further enquiries” — not usually a sign that officers are building a firm case. Scotland Yard was reluctant to connect Easton’s murder with the shooting of Duggan. “We are not making that link,” said a spokeswoman. Last May, the head of the Met’s Homicide and Serious Crime Command, Detective Chief Inspector Charles King, gave an insight into the difficulties his officers face.



Offering £20,000 for information, he said: “The Boheme nightclub was very busy on the night Kelvin was attacked. I am confident that there are people who saw what happened and I hope this significant reward will encourage anyone with additional information to come forward.” The reward remains unclaimed.



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