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The Way of the Gun

1 August 09 words: Carl Fellstrom
illustrations: Chris Askham

In the wake of the shooting of Bernard Langton, the first in Nottingham for three years, Hoods author Carl Fellstrom sent us this open letter to the Nottingham public...

In the early hours of Bank Holiday Monday back in May, after what had been a particularly busy Sunday night around the clubs in the centre of Nottingham, a tragic reminder of what this city has been trying to move on from reared its ugly, brutal, senseless head once again. A young man made the mistake of entering a club where members of a rival posse were enjoying themselves. Bernard Langton was 27 and had a good deal to look forward to in life, not least watching his two young children grow up. Instead at around 2am he was left to die in a dark alleyway with a bullet in his back.

What preceded this shocking crime remains unclear, but it appears Bernard had been bottled as he and two friends entered the newly-opened Paris nightclub in the Lace Market. Bernard responded by pulling a knife and slashing the person he thought was his assailant. Gunshots rang out in the club and Bernard and his two friends ran for their lives. The gunmen pursued their prey down the streets of the Lace Market, firing several shots -one of which hit Bernard in the back as he ran away. On seeing his injuries, his two friends decided it was better to leave him in an alleyway to get medical attention while avoiding their pursuers and the questions of the police who were by now on their way to the scene.

Despite the best efforts of attending paramedics, Bernard was already dying on the street. His life ended officially in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Shockingly, it appears that the gang members responsible for his murder attempted to prevent ambulances from getting from the scene and raced down to the Queens Medical Centre where Bernard had been taken, in an attempt to block the entrance to the A & E department.

Bernard was, according to those who knew him, full of the vitality of life and always had a smile for friends. He was also no stranger to crime. Originally from Liverpool, he had come to reside in Nottingham some years ago and had become involved in the highly profitable distribution of drugs across the city. He and close friends involved in the trade in the Lenton area of the city had disputes with rival posses before. A few years ago one of Bernard’s friends was shot in the back near Isis nightclub and in the months leading up to the ill-fated visit to Paris, there had been escalating friction between the two groups.

What has emerged from this dark episode tells me that the authorities in charge of this city have learned little from the last few years, during which Nottingham’s name was dragged through the mud - eventually becoming a literal byword for escalating gun crime and violence.

The legend of ‘Shottingham’ is still lurking in the shadows. Since the much-publicised jailing of members of the Bestwood Cartel, the authorities have been keen to stress how much progress they have made tackling the gangs and gun crime problem and that the shooting of Bernard is the first gun crime murder for three years. As the police and council have been keen to shout from the rooftops, this is nowhere near the levels experienced in 2003-04. But there is something ultimately depressing about this stance.

There are accusations of a serious under-reporting of gun crime incidents in Nottingham - to the extent that even when witnesses hear what are undeniably gunshots, the police are loathe to place them in their statistics because they have not been able to verify it with the remnants of a discharged round. Paranoia lurks behind this misplaced exactitude. The authorities are rightly fearful of a return to ‘Gun Crime Capital’ headlines, the impact of which has only recently begun to subside. But are they therefore guilty, yet again, of sticking their heads in the sand by failing to be open with the public - about the shocking nature of Langton’s murder, witholding information such as the number of shots fired that evening, where they were shot and the inhuman attempt to thwart emergency services’ attempt to save a life?

It was only pure luck which prevented some unfortunate and innocent reveller being hit by a bullet that night. I was as shocked as anyone to discover there is no CCTV coverage in the Lace Market. Why? I understand a few club owners in the Lace Market had installed CCTV some years ago on their own initiative (only for the cameras to be stolen), but why haven’t the authorities installed cameras in this blind spot? Secondly, why have some club owners allowed criminal elements to thrive in their establishments, to the extent that some gangs seem to think they are in the offices of their own criminal organisation when they walk through the doors? I said sometime ago in an interview with LeftLion that people who love this city need to hold their heads high and reclaim the streets, clubs and pubs back from the gangsters in the city centre. But that battle is difficult when irresponsible club owners do the opposite and allow the villains of the piece into their domain - because they have wads of cash in their back pocket, as well as firearms and knives.

It is welcome to hear that scanners will now be used to check those going into clubs, but this is too little too late and raises the issue of whether the doormen will check everyone, or give a nod and wink to certain people who are then let in without being searched or queueing like law-abiding punters. At the heart of the problem is this depressing fact: there is not nearly enough money being contributed by the City Council towards charitable
organisations and groups, such as the No Gun Organisation and the Unity football team, who are trying to change the attitudes of young people involved with guns, gangs and drugs. This needs to change if there is going to be any positive and lasting effect on this ‘no future’ culture.

On a final note, three people have been charged with Langton’s murder. It came as no surprise to me that one of those charged, possibly the man who fired the fatal shot, had already been featured in my book Hoods as a former associate of the Bestwood Cartel. I really hope that justice will be done in this case. I really don’t want to be writing a sequel to that book in a year’s time.


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