Bereaved mothers' plea over gangs
The mothers of two teenage girls who were shot dead outside a new year party have used the 10th anniversary of their daughters' deaths to urge young people to think before getting involved in gangs.
Charlene Ellis, 18, and her cousin, Letisha Shakespeare, 17, were killed when a semi-automatic sub-machine gun was fired from a car outside the Uniseven hair salon in Aston, Birmingham, in the early hours of January 2 2003. Charlene's twin sister, Sophie Ellis, and cousin, Cheryl Shaw, were injured in the shooting but survived.
Speaking on the 10th anniversary of their daughters' deaths on Wednesday, Beverley Thomas and Marcia Shakespeare called on young people to think about the devastating effect gangs can have.
In an interview with the Birmingham Mail, Mrs Thomas said: "My message to youngsters is to think about the impact it has on families, the community, and how it affects people closest to the victims. Burying your child is something you never expect to have to do as a parent. You expect your children to bury you."
Mrs Shakespeare 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."
Mrs Thomas and Mrs Shakespeare have fought tirelessly to help rid the city's streets of gangs and weapons since their daughters' murders. West Midlands Police have described the two mothers as "inspirational" in their impassioned fight against gangs and gun crime.
Detective Chief Inspector Simon Wallis, head of West Midlands Police's gangs taskforce in Birmingham, said: "Trying to get the message to friends and family to leave this lifestyle is something Beverley does so well. Marcia spoke to some excluded kids recently and the talk was so well received that the parents asked her back to talk to them. They are making young people realise there's a real choice of not having to become involved in gang culture. It can only lead to a small number of places - to a hospital, to a prison, or at worst, a funeral."
Mr Wallis said gun and violent crime had fallen in Birmingham in the last 10 years but stressed the force was not about to rest on its laurels. "Gun crime and serious violent offences have fallen but we can't relax and there is still a problem with gangs in Birmingham," he said. "It's not about kids on street corners. We are talking about criminal gangs into drugs who use violence and intimidation and have access to guns and knives."
Four men were convicted of murder and attempted murder over the shootings following a five-month trial at Leicester Crown Court. Nathan Martin, 26, Marcus Ellis, 24, Michael Gregory, 23, and 20-year-old Rodrigo Simms were all jailed for life.
An appeal by all four men was turned down at Woolwich Crown Court in 2006 and they were refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords. Ellis, Martin and Simms also saw their claim that they did not receive a fair trial dismissed by the European Court of Human Rights.