Here's the story of one beef among many in Hackney, which has continued and built since these events between the two gangs in the article - anything like Folkstone?
The Sunday Times September 25, 2005
Britain's inner-city streets are awash with guns. They are being used routinely by gang members to murder, intimidate and settle scores in scenes reminiscent of the 'hoods' of Los Angeles. Black people are just 10% of London's population, but 70% of shootings are now 'black on black': teenage squabbles over imagined slights, drugs and territory. Graeme McLagan in vestigates one horrifying case that began with nothing more sinister than two boys trying to chat up a girl. It sparked a cycle of gun crime and gang warfare that cost the police £5m to resolve
This is the story of how one simple act — an attempt to chat up a girl — spiralled into gang violence, and death, in the summer of 2003. Two teenage boys in a car, out cruising the streets of east London, had tried to "pull" the girl. Her boyfriend, Pepe Brown, was outraged. Although just out of his teens, Brown had a long record of violence, glorying in his street reputation as his neighbourhood's "god" and its "baddest gunman". But he had been shown "disrespect" by the youths. Their error led to a spiral of gang violence on the streets of London more akin to the hoods of Los Angeles.
Brown, the 20-year-old leader of a gang of youths in Hackney, wanted revenge on the two erring youngsters, who belonged to a rival gang. He and his gang, the Holly Street Boys, were joined by another gang, the Square Boys, based in Clapton. They had different reasons for striking at the two teenagers from the London Fields Boys (known as the LFB). One of the Square Boys' leaders, Aaron Salmon, a 17-year-old crack-cocaine dealer handy with a gun, had just been robbed by some of the LFB. At gunpoint, his car and heavy jewellery were taken, and worse — it was in front of his girlfriend.
The two gangs struck on a hot summer evening. There were at least nine of them in the hunting party, in a convoy of three cars. The senior members of the LFB, men in their mid-twenties and thirties, were known to be at a wake for a Jamaican who had been shot. The two disrespectful youths had been spotted with friends in the shadow of a tower block overlooking an area of worn green called London Fields. When the posse found them, they were playing "money-up" — throwing £1 coins at a wall, trying to win all the cash by getting their coin closest to the brickwork. As three hooded men emerged from the cars, a long-barrelled handgun alerted the targets. "It's what Clint Eastwood rolls with," an eyewitness recalled. Another gunman was seen aiming from the back of one of the cars. After shouts of "drive-by" and "machines" (guns), the group scattered. But the two youths who had offended Brown were not there — they had left about 30 minutes earlier. Nevertheless, the hyped-up attackers were determined to get somebody. Four loud bangs were heard. One bullet smashed into a windscreen. Another whizzed by the head of a 10-year-old boy on a bike. Young Jadie Brissett, 18, was hit twice. A bullet smashed into his upper left thigh, and a shotgun blasted a two-inch hole in his chest. Despite his wounds, he clambered over a wall, ran across a small patch of grass, over a fence, and finally collapsed and died next to some dustbins. The cycle of violence had started.
Brissett was popular. His only conviction involved possessing cannabis. That same evening his friends and relatives started tracking down those they believed responsible. The resulting retaliation caused more bloodshed, more grief and a criminal investigation that culminated in an estimated £5m in police and court costs.
The boy's murder made headlines only in east London. It was barely worth national attention with "black-on-black" gun murders in the capital taking place every few weeks. Although black people make up around 10% of London's population, they are involved in a staggering 70% of the city's shooting incidents. The same sort of figures are reported from the country's other main areas plagued by gun crime and gang feuds — Manchester, Nottingham, the West Midlands and Bristol. Generally, only those involving children or young women make headlines. Recent cases include the murder of seven-year-old Toni-Ann Byfield, shot with her drug-dealing father in his London bedsit; and the teenage girls Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis, killed in crossfire at a New Year party in Birmingham. In a bizarre murder in 2002, two men were killed by the same bullet at another New Year party in east London. The bullet passed through the neck of the first man, the DJ Ashley Kenton, went through a wall and into the head of the second man, Wayne Mowatt.
Guns started to be increasingly used in our cities during the 1980s. Many of the shootings and murders were associated with turf wars involving the spread of crack cocaine. At that time, and during the next decade, Jamaicans were involved in most of the cases and Scotland Yard's response was slow — cynical, even. Who cared if black drug dealers were killing each other?
Two events changed that: the outcry over the murder by white racists of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence; and a series of horrific murders, prompting Scotland Yard to attempt to build bridges with the wider black community. In the space of a few weeks in 1998, a Jamaican gang committed three murders and a rape in London. One woman was shot dead in front of her two children. Another was tied to a chair, tortured, and then shot in the head, to be found by her three children the next day. With nobody knowing where the gang was going to strike next, activists who had previously branded the police racist demanded action from Scotland Yard. Welcoming the opportunity, the Metropolitan police piled money and resources into the investigation, and for the first time, black community leaders began helping the police. The gang was caught in what turned out to be a landmark case, leading to Scotland Yard creating Operation Trident, the branch dealing only with black shootings and murders. Such crime, acknowledges the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, represents the biggest problem after terrorism.
With 360 detectives and civilian staff, Trident has an annual budget of more than £23m, aided by community groups in "hot-spot" London boroughs. It's an alien world for many Trident detectives. One experienced sergeant vented his frustration after giving evidence in a murder case. The defendant "made the sign of a gun with his fingers and mouthed 'mum'. He was threatening to kill my mother," he says. "I just can't understand the mentality. I live outside London in a nice area. My friends and neighbours know I'm a cop, but they simply cannot comprehend what we're dealing with. When I leave home for work, it's like I'm going to a different planet."
Trident intelligence officers trying to keep track of their targets' movements are confronted with men who use different street names depending on which part of the country they are operating in. Gang structures and allegiances are fluid, and feuds and tit-for-tat shootings can start and end for no apparent reason. Trident crime is seen as disorganised and chaotic, largely because of the lifestyles of those involved. Good intelligence comes from registered informants, phone taps and bugs, but according to one senior detective it can be a gamble: "Our targets can change their minds in seconds, and that's very difficult. You can have really good intelligence that someone is going to be kidnapped. You hear the plans being made, the meeting points, who's involved and even where the kidnap will happen. You would bet your life savings on it being correct. But then you learn that instead of doing the kidnap, they've gone somewhere else. Then you have to decide: do you call it off, or do you stick with it, because it could still happen soon? Making the wrong decision can cost us dearly."
Until 2000, most gun crime was being committed by young men from Jamaica. Now British-born blacks are estimated to be involved in 80% of black-on-black gun crime. All of those involved in Brissett's murder and its violent aftermath were born in London and brought up by their mothers. With their fathers either in prison or with other women, they had no positive male role models. All had underachieved at school, had few if any qualifications and had no job. They saw the only way of getting money, girls and respect was through drug-dealing or robbery — often both. Like the others, Brown, the youth shown disrespect by the LFB, had a disturbed family background. He presented serious behavioural problems at four different schools, eventually being shunted off to a special-needs boarding establishment and returning home to Holly Street during holiday times.
From 2000 onwards he was committing serious violent crime. He stabbed a man three times during a fight at a party and was sent to a young offenders' prison for a year. Then came a conviction for abusive behaviour, assault and knife possession. Later, he was one of 20 youths arrested in connection with the stabbing to death of an Asian at the Notting Hill carnival. Brown had been "steaming" — one of a pack running through the crowds, stealing as they went and fighting or intimidating anyone who resisted. Found guilty of violent disorder, he was given 21 months — reduced to 12 after he gave evidence at the trial of the boys charged with murdering 10-year-old Damilola Taylor. He said he heard some of them discussing the stabbing while they were on remand in prison.
Several weeks before Brissett's murder, Brown was caught up in a dispute which may have contributed to the shooting at London Fields. It was between his Holly Street gang and the LFB and involved the earlier shooting of an LFB man. During an argument outside a court, Brown was stabbed in the back. Seeking shelter, he ran across the road to a police station. Fearing a further attack from the LFB, Brown asked for police and local-authority help in moving out of the area. He got it and moved to south London, where he started dealing in cars. He bought "write-offs" in scrapyards and patched them up with the help of a friend in a garage who passed them off as roadworthy by giving them MOT certificates. Brown paid no tax and, despite owning a Volkswagen Golf, had no insurance and had never passed a driving test. He carried and used false identification papers, and also dealt drugs.
Recruiting in Clapton Square for the attack on the LFB, Brown and the other leader of the pack, Salmon, told potential foot soldiers they were armed. Showing a rucksack containing guns, he said: "I'm strapped" (carrying a gun). Brown was wearing a glove on his right hand, recalled a witness: "It means he's carrying a firearm — that's the hand you're carrying a gun in, so you don't get fingerprints on it." Salmon had a different motive for hitting the LFB. He had been dealing crack cocaine with three others, with each of them making about £1,000 a week in profit. Salmon dealt under the name King, using three mobiles on which he referred to crack as "food". His relative wealth and girlfriends led to trouble from rivals. He was arrested twice for carrying a knife as protection.
A few weeks before Brissett's murder, Salmon was flaunting his money, wearing a large platinum chain round his neck. He was out driving one evening in Hackney with a girl when an armed gang of about 10 black youths ambushed him, surrounding his car. The driver's window was smashed, and a youth reached in, tearing the chain from his neck. He saw another youth with a gun in the passenger seat. When he got out, Salmon was stabbed in the chest, and his car and mobile phones were stolen. He was taken to hospital and the police were called. He said he recognised Brissett and two other LFB members as his attackers, but did not want police to pursue it because he was making his own attempts to have the car and chain returned. He had phoned one of his stolen mobiles and spoken to one of his attackers, who told him he had been hit because he was "boastie" — too flash. After threats of violence from Salmon, the chain was given back to him at a cafe and his car was left outside a police station with the keys in the ignition.
Joining Salmon and Brown for the London Fields attack was another drug dealer, Mark Lawrence, 21. He had moved to Hertfordshire, where he lived with his girlfriend and child, and dealt drugs. He was tough, arrogant and had a violent record, including convictions for robbery and assault. His first offence was at 18, when his car hit another. He chased the driver, a 70-year-old, and beat him savagely. The man was so frightened that he refused to give evidence. Nevertheless, Lawrence was found guilty and given a six-month sentence. Recalling events before the Brissett murder, Lawrence said Brown had invited him to the fight, saying: "It's beef — we're rolling, are you coming?" Lawrence said, "What's going on?" and Brown replied: "The Field Boys have been following my girl." Lawrence, driving his new black Renault Megane, led the three cars in a convoy.
Within hours of the attack the retaliation began. Heading the LFB's list of culprits to be hunted down was Brown, recognised at the shooting because of his hulking size and lumbering gait. He had disappeared after torching the Escort car he used in the murder to avoid being linked to it. But his relatives were around. Two days after the killing, his half-sister was confronted in the street while pushing her baby in a buggy. Holding a gun to her head, a man demanded to know where her brother was. She was told: "Your brother is an idiot and has to pay for what he did." One of Brown's Holly Street gang had bullets fired at his house. Another of Brown's associates was shot dead a few months later. A gunman walked up to him in his Mini Cooper and shot him in the head. Within hours of the Brissett murder, Salmon learnt the LFB were after him. He bought a bulletproof vest. One week after the killing, the avengers struck. But it appeared to be a case of mistaken identity. A friend of Salmon's, driving the same type of car, was shot and injured.
Another boy, Danny Williams, who was 18, had driven one of the three cars to London Fields. The following day, knowing the vehicle would be traced, and worried it would provide the police with clues, Williams gave it to a friend to get rid of. With revenge shootings taking place, he wanted to escape the area. To raise money to get away, he joined others in a robbery at a car auction, snatching £5,000 from a dealer.
Another in the pack who had been in Williams's car got away — Jermaine Allen, 19, aka Faghead. He was attending a college, where he heard that the LFB were looking for him: "I heard there's three cars in the square looking for me. They're all tinted. Just parked out with boys looking to kill me. Then, the next day, I thought, 'My mum's gonna get hurt.' I was thinking, 'Oh man, what am I gonna do?'" Then he received a threatening call on his phone. He changed his mobile and fled to Nottingham.
When police arrived at the scene of Brissett's murder on June 9, 2003, they faced a hostile crowd, with some accusing the authorities of contributing to his death by delaying an ambulance because the victim was black. Over the next few days, the names of at least three suspects, including Brown and Salmon, were given to the 30 or so officers working on the case. But it was the usual story in such cases. Not wanting to be seen as grasses or to be co-operating, nobody was prepared to name them in a statement, let alone appear against them in a court of law.
The detectives needed evidence, and they got it after eyewitnesses told them of three cars arriving in convoy at the Fields. In the lead was a black Megane, followed by a green Escort, while a white Orion brought up the rear. A trawl through footage from Hackney's many CCTV cameras turned up video of just such a three-car convoy right before the killing time of 8pm.
The registration number of the Escort matched that of a car reported missing four days after the murder. The owner gave police an important break. He told detectives that their main suspect, his friend Brown, had taken it on the afternoon of the murder. When police arrested Brown in south London on suspicion of murder, he said: "What murder, you f***ing pussies?"
Two weeks after the murder, police spotted Lawrence in his black Megane. Calling up reinforcements, they followed him to a housing estate, where a police car blocked the only exit. After a struggle, he was arrested and found to be wearing body armour. "That's the sort of life I lead," he explained. In the boot was clingfilm used to wrap "rocks" of crack. Under the armrest in the car's back seat was a blue ski mask, which Lawrence said he used to hide his face when drug-dealing: "When I go into crack houses, and when there's cameras there, I put it on. When I sell drugs, if I go into a crack house, I'll put it on because of the smell, and sometimes I don't want to show my face — some of them know my face and there's CCTV everywhere."
Lawrence appeared to be equally open about events leading up to Brissett's murder, claiming he thought it was simply going to be a fist fight. Knowing he was in serious trouble because his car had been at the scene, Lawrence answered questions, minimising his role. He gave police the names of a number of people involved in the hunting party. Williams, the Orion's driver, was arrested eight weeks after the murder. He maintained that Brown, Salmon and Lawrence forced him to join the convoy, along with three friends. Of Brown, Williams said: "He's not someone to mess around with. He's like a god in Hackney. Everyone is scared of him. I didn't want to go, 'cause London Fields has got a reputation of shooting people, and I didn't want to go there at all." Describing the shooting, he said someone got out of the Escort wearing a mask and carrying a gun. "He was crouching down with a silver gun. As I drove past, everyone was running." He saw three youths run from the cars towards the flats — among them was Brown. One of Williams's passengers, Allen, told police he saw four people get out of the two other cars, some wearing balaclavas and carrying guns. "I see Pepe with a gun — a long one — eight or nine millimetres," he recalled. "Another one came out of Pepe's car — he was kneeling. I goes, 'Blood.' I said to Daniel [Williams], 'Them boys got guns. We're going. Hurry up! Breeze, 'cause I'm not getting shot again.' Breeze means go."
With Lawrence, Williams and Allen confessing to having driven to the murder scene, detectives made more arrests, including Robbie Thomas, 20, who admitted being there in the black Megane. One of the arrested men was found with a gun. The extra evidence meant detectives could move against the second main suspect, Salmon, who had been released after coming up with an alibi. He was re-arrested while in a car with a friend, with body armour and crack. This time, he too refused to answer questions. Salmon, Brown, Lawrence, Thomas, Williams and Allen were all charged with the murder of Brissett.
In many Trident cases, powerful corroborating evidence comes from suspects' mobiles, and analysis of Brown's and Salmon's showed calls to and from the others before the murder and in its aftermath. The cell-sites used showed they had been in the London Fields area.
During the trial the defendants were separated by security guards. Three of the accused — Lawrence, Williams and Allen — had broken the "no grassing" rule by naming others. Throughout much of the prosecution evidence the main suspect, Brown, behaved strangely in the dock. He was the closest of the defendants to the public gallery above, where members of the Brissett family were sitting, including Brissett's mother, Lana, who never missed a day of the trial. A powerfully built man, Brown sat there for hours, sucking his thumb. Those in the public gallery complained that Brown was not displaying signs of immaturity but, with his thumb in his mouth and his index finger resting on his nose, was making the sign of a gun. He said he felt threatened by those above and that some of them had been making gun signs at him. Last into the witness box was Salmon. He described how gangs in northeast London were named after the estates where they were based. There were the Pembury Boys, Jack Dunning Boys, Stamford Hill Boys, and those from Tottenham. The Holly Street Boys were also known as the Rowdy Bunch. He talked about having sold cocaine and crack since he was 16.
Brown, Lawrence and Salmon were found guilty of murder and Williams and Allen were acquitted. Following the verdicts, Lawrence's lawyers said he would give evidence against Thomas, his friend and fellow dealer, who had not yet stood trial. By co-operating he could expect up to a third off his prison sentence, but he would have to serve his time in a segregated unit to avoid reprisal attacks, not just from friends of the murdered youth but from his own gang.
Thomas's trial ended with a guilty verdict. Brown, Salmon and Thomas were sentenced together, each receiving life sentences with a recommendation that they serve a minimum of 15 years before being considered for parole. Having expected longer sentences, Salmon and Thomas were led away smiling, Salmon saying: "That's nice." To avoid the three turning on Lawrence, he was sentenced later, receiving life with a minimum of 10 years behind bars. None of the killers has expressed any remorse for taking the life of young Jadie Brissett.