Birmingham & Black Country

Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis shootings: 10 years on

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Media captionBeverley Thomas (left) and Marcia Shakespeare continue to campaign against gangs and guns

The mothers of two girls killed in shootings 10 years ago have called on young people to think carefully about the choices they make and the impact gangs can have on communities.

Best friends Letisha Shakespeare, 17, and Charlene Ellis, 18, were the innocent victims of a drive-by shooting in the early hours of 2 January 2003.

Charlene's twin sister Sophie, their cousin Cheryl Shaw and friend Leon Harris were also injured.

The teenagers died in a hail of machine gun fire as they stood outside a new year party in Aston, Birmingham.

Mothers Marcia Shakespeare and Beverley Thomas have campaigned tirelessly over the past decade to try to rid the city of guns and gangs.

Revenge killing plan

"My message to youngsters is to think about the impact it has on the families," Ms Thomas said.

"Think about the community and how it affects people closest to the victims."

Charlene's mother clearly remembers the day 10 years ago when she sat in City Hospital waiting for news.

"I'd got two girls and the first thing I was thinking was that two of them were going to die," she said. "And you get down there and you find that one of them has passed and the other is fighting for her life... it was hard, really hard."

Time has not healed the mothers' pain as they recalled the loss of their daughters.

Ms Shakespeare is still scathing of the young men who had armed themselves with a machine gun and planned to exact a revenge killing on a rival gang member - but instead fired into the crowd of new year party revellers.

Image caption Letisha Shakespeare (left) and Charlene Ellis were shot outside a new year party in 2003

"Knowing that someone can be that hyped up... to go out and buy a Mac-10 machine gun and plan to use it on the streets of Birmingham, that's just evil," she said.

Both mothers have helped create a peace garden in the city and have worked with successive governments to raise awareness about the dangers of gang culture.

Ms Shakespeare has been into schools and taken part in a programme highlighting issues surrounding violent crime.

She said: "We have made young people realise, and will continue to make them realise, that there are choices, alternatives to violent crime.

"Young people need to know how being with the wrong people can affect them."

Gang culture

The Aston shootings were a pivotal moment in Britain's recent history.

In 2003 Birmingham had one of the most hardened gang cultures in the UK with up to six shootings a day.

The year the two girls died, City Hospital dealt with 142 gun crime victims.

But December 2011 saw the lowest number of recorded gun offences - 15 - since the monthly number peaked in October 2002 at more than 80.

The shock of two innocent young girls killed on Britain's streets by gangsters armed with a machine gun galvanised the politicians, the police and the justice system.

Det Ch Insp Simon Wallis from West Midlands Police's gangs taskforce described the two mothers as inspirational.

He said: "I think the event has never gone away from the Birmingham memory.

"I think this is obviously a key moment to actually stop and remember what happened on that very dark day.

"But for the police it is still a very big event and we are blessed to have Marcia and Bev work with us and doing all we can to try to set about avoiding any further such tragedy."

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