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British Gun Crime Triples (after ban on handguns)

GUN crime has almost tripled in London during the past year and is soaring in other British cities, according to Home Office figures obtained by the Telegraph newspaper. Police chiefs fear that Britian is witnessing the kind of cocaine fueled violence that burst upon American cities in the 1980s. Cocaine, particularly from Jamaica, now floods into Britain, while the availability of weapons - many of them from Eastern Europe - is also increasing.

Detectives in London say that the illegal importation of guns started after the end of the Bosnia conflict and that they are changing hands for as little as £200. During the 10 months to January 31, there were 939 crimes involving firearms in the Metropolitan Police area compared with 322 in the 10 months to the end of January, 2001 - an almost three-fold increase.

In Merseyside, there were 57 shootings during the 12 months to last December compared with 15 in the same period the year before. Greater Manchester also recorded a 23 percent increase in gun crime and there have been rises in Nottinghamshire, Avon and Somerset, West Yorkshire and the Northumbria Police area which covers Newcastle.

Gun crimes during the first 10 months of the annual period have trebled in most of the urban areas which have so far submitted statistics to the Home Office. Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said gun gangs were spreading across the country whereas, until recently, they were confined to a handful of London boroughs.

Sir John said: "We have to stem the large number of guns coming in. We know you can buy a gun in London for £200 to £300, and that's frightening. The price of hiring or buying a gun has come down because there are more guns circulating. We are having success; we are taking out about 600 guns a year."

The new gun crime figures also show that handgun crime has soared past levels last seen before the Dunblane massacre of 1996 and the ban on the weapons that followed. The ban on ownership of handguns was introduced in 1997, the year after Thomas Hamilton, an amateur shooting enthusiast, shot dead 16 schoolchildren, their teacher and himself in Dunblane, Perthshire.

It was hoped that the measure would reduce the number of handguns available to criminals. According to internal Home Office statistics, however, handgun crime is now at its highest since 1993.

From Sunday Telegraph, 24 February www.telegraph.co.uk