The Legacy of Gunchester

In a recent blog post I described the Gunchester Era of 90s Manchester when violent crime soared in the city. This is the backdrop to my forthcoming novel and if you haven’t already read my previous post, you can view it here. I would like to follow on from my previous post by looking at how the Gunchester Era has affected Manchester.

After the 1990s Manchester continued to experience gang related violence, and in the last decade the number of shootings across Greater Manchester peaked at 146 in 2007. However, an October 2013 newspaper article reported a reduction in the number of incidents to just 11 shootings in a period of six months. To put this into perspective, this is one of the lowest rates recorded in Greater Manchester, which is a county of two and a half million inhabitants. This level is also lower than the neighbouring county of West Yorkshire.

Graph

So how did Manchester manage to turn things around?

It is the result of a multi-faceted approach involving the community, the police, local councils and a number of other agencies all working together to tackle violent crime. The needless loss of young lives left family members devastated and led to various initiatives by relatives of deceased youngsters. Amongst these were Peace Week, Mothers against Violence and Fathers against Violence. The stand taken by communities meant that witnesses were given the courage to contact the police, leading to key arrests. This was a brave move as people had previously been too frightened to report gang-related crime.

The police also set up a specialist task force called Xcalibre whose function was specifically to tackle gun-crime and other gang-related crime. Xcalibre has been so successful in reducing the level of violent crime in Manchester that it is now held in high regard worldwide and hosts conferences for other forces so that they can follow its lead.

Community

However, it is the cohesive approach between the community, the police and other agencies such as youth offending services, probation and local councils that is responsible for the ongoing reduction in violent crime. This was acknowledged by the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner, Tony Lloyd, who stated in a newspaper article in October 2013 that one of the aims was to provide alternatives for young people who might otherwise have joined gangs.

As the Gunchester period progressed it was recognized that gang members were becoming younger and younger and that children in schools regarded gang culture as their best option in life. At one time children as young as 13 were joining gangs but now that the police are working with schools and other agencies to raise awareness of alternatives, the typical age of gang members has become older.

People Working Together

The work of some of these groups has been so successful that it is now being taken up by other cities in the UK. Here is some further information on some of the groups that are still working to tackle violent crime and gang-related crime in Manchester:

Mothers against Violence (http://mavuk.org/) – This organisation was founded in 1999 by two women who had lost sons as a result of gang-related violence. It started out as a peer to peer support group for victims of violent crime or for those who had lost family members because of violent crime. It now runs a Community Counselling and Emotional Support Service Programme (ACCESS Programme) and offers a range of other services.

Fathers against Violence (http://fav-uk.org/) – This group is sponsored by a number of bodies and provides guidance to youngsters, giving them the confidence and awareness to seek out alternative opportunities to crime. Fathers against Crime works in partnership with schools, parents, local authorities and community groups and encourages positive male role models.

Manchester City Council – Integrated Gang Management Unit (http://www.manchester.gov.uk/info/200030/crime_antisocial_behaviour_and_nuisance/6134/integrated_gang_management_unit) – This is a multi-agency team, which includes the Xcalibre task force. Its aims are to safeguard people affected by violent gang-related activity, and to support gang members that want to leave the gang lifestyle. It also encourages young people to follow alternative pathways to gang crime, and enforces the law related to gang crime.

In a news report on 14th February 2015 the latest figures showed a slight increase in gun crime from the previous year in the Greater Manchester region, but this was nowhere near the number of incidents when Gunchester was at its peak. This is an indication though that for Manchester, like many cities, the fight against violent crime is an ongoing battle.

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The Gunchester Era

I am due to release my second novel, “A Gangster’s Grip”, in the next few months, and it is currently with my beta readers. It will be the second part in “The Gunchester Trilogy”; Slur is the first part. All three books are set during the Gunchester era, an infamous period in Manchester’s recent history when gang-related gun crime escalated. This was, in fact, the reason why the press dubbed Manchester, “Gunchester” during the 1990s.

Slur features many of the same characters as the following two books and takes place at the beginning of the Gunchester era, in the 1980s. However, the 80s was the prelude to what was to become Gunone of the most dangerous periods in Manchester’s recent history. It was during the 90s when things really got out of control. My second book, “A Gangster’s Grip”, is set at the height of the Gunchester period and I will be giving more details about the novel in a future blog post. Firstly, though, I would like to tell you about the Gunchester era, which provides the backdrop for “A Gangster’s Grip”.

Manchester, like any major city, has always had its share of crime and organized violence. Even in the 19th century there were gangs such as the Scuttlers and the Bengal Tigers who would be involved in fatal knife battles.

Since the 1970s, Moss Side, an inner city area of Manchester, has been known as a place to purchase illegal drugs such as cannabis. The drug scene changed during the 80s though when heroin started to arrive on the streets of Manchester. At the beginning of the same decade, the police received reports of a gang war between rival gangs from Moss Side and Cheetham Hill. Up until that point the gangs had maintained good relations but something had caused a major rift.

At the start of the hostilities the weapon of choice had been the machete. Gang members also used knives to settle disputes. However, as time went on guns were increasingly being used in gang violence. The incidents of gun related crime soon escalated, reaching a peak in the 1990s. During a five year period when gun violence was at its worst there were 27 gang-related deaths and 250 injuries.

MacheteApart from the rivalry between Moss Side and Cheetham Hill, there was also rivalry between two Moss Side gangs whose members lived in close proximity to each other. Youths as young as 15 became victims of the violence and, as well as the nickname of “Gunchester”, Moss Side was also dubbed “The Bronx of Britain”.

In an attempt to rid the area of gangs, the authorities redeveloped the estate in Moss Side where the two local gangs were based. However, as a result, some of the gang members moved to other areas where they formed new gangs in places such as Longsight and Rusholme.

At the same time the city was experiencing problems with gangs from other parts of the city, mainly Salford, which controlled nightclub security in the city centre, and demanded a percentage of the income from nightclubs. At one point no nightclub was safe, and gangs loaded up with weapons would move in as soon as they heard about a new nightclub opening.

Eventually the police managed to bring the problems under control by carrying out ‘stop and search’ operations on cars entering the city centre on Friday and Saturday nights, and confiscating weapons. Manchester also set up a multi-agency task force to tackle gang-related problems. Nowadays, there is still gang related violence but the number of casualties has been vastly reduced since the figures reached their peak at the height of the Gunchester period.

“A Gangster’s Grip” features three rival gangs. Although I have set the book during the Gunchester era, and based the gangs in Moss Side, Cheetham Hill and Longsight, the gangs featured in the novel are fictitious, as are the pubs that are mentioned. The book is scheduled for launch around September/October and I will be including further details on this blog in the lead-up to the launch.

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