Gun crime comes to Milton Keynes as two teenagers shot dead

Police and estate residents shocked by brutality of city style killings while locals fear violence in retaliation attacks

On a suburban estate in Milton Keynes two teenage boys were shot in the head at close range as they chatted in an alleyway. One died instantly. The second was slumped over the bloodstained body of his friend – but he was still breathing, despite the two bullets lodged in his head.

He died 14 hours later under police guard in an intensive care unit.

Gabriel Farah, the brother of one of the victims, said it was nothing short of an execution. "Whoever did this was aiming to kill these boys," he said, struggling to understand why his younger brother's life was ended by such a callous assassination.

The killings, on Thursday night last week, shocked not only local people but also seasoned detectives, raising fears that the kind of teenage violence associated with inner-city areas of London, Manchester and Birmingham is migrating to smaller towns.

Until the killings the residents of the Fishermead estate had suffered their share of crime and antisocial behaviour. This development was built 40 years ago in a grid of leafy squares, boulevards and avenues, as an answer to high-rise blight. It is a little rough around the edges now.

Some homeowners, worn down by repeated vandalism, have installed CCTV cameras. Rubbish is piled outside boarded-up properties and people talk despairingly of groups of teenagers dealing in cannabis a few metres from their front doors.

But there had been nothing like the murders of 19-year-old Mohamed Farah and Amin Ahmed Ismail, 18.

"There is crime here," said Simon McGill, a resident. "But the only weapons we have seen used in the past are things like golf clubs, not knives and never guns."

Detectives say this is a difficult inquiry whose findings have exposed stark contradictions. The Guardian understands that the boys were killed with a small-calibre weapon, something like a .22 or .32 handgun – an illegal firearm which only reaches the streets as a result of gun trafficking by organised criminals.

Yet police sources say they have found nothing to suggest the boys had crossed any criminal gangs, were killed in a gangland feud, had dealt drugs in any major way or owed any money to someone who might collect their debts in such a violent way.

Sources said the only criminal history between the pair involved minor public order issues. "What has happened is completely and utterly out of proportion to any level of criminality they might have been involved in. That's what's so shocking," said one source. "It is the nature of it – shots to the head at close range with an illegal firearm – which is so uncomfortable."

What is becoming apparent, as detectives piece together the lives of the two seemingly ordinary young men, is that the motive for their murders may lie in something far more prosaic than retribution by a drug gang.

Police are focusing on something detectives in London and other cities are accustomed to – the willingness of some young people to use extreme levels of violence to settle even minor scores.

"Sadly, it could be that this is the result of just a commonplace dispute, a slight, which on the face of it doesn't amount to anything, but which has been dealt with by violence which is off the scale," the Guardian was told.

Mohamed Farah's brothers, who flew in from their home in Norway after his death, said they knew of nothing in his life that could have led to such a demise.

"This was our little brother and what has been said about him about drugs and drug debts is a lie and it is insulting," said Gabriel Farah. "It doesn't reflect the brother we know."

In the alley where the boys died three small candles and a few bunches of flowers mark the place they were gunned down. On one bouquet a note reads: "RIP 'Mo'. You will be missed. Sleep tight". Another says, simply: "So young."

Most residents knew Mohamed Farah well. One of five children, he was born in Norway, where his family made their home after leaving Somalia in the 80s. He moved to Milton Keynes with his mother and two siblings in the late 90s and attended local schools.

He moved later to Birmingham with his family and, his brothers said, he had intended to study for a BTec at university. "He just hasn't been here long enough to get to know any drug gangs or get into debt," said Gabriel Farah. "These are the kind of lies we have read in some of the papers about him, and they are insulting."

"We were very close, he used to tell me everything and he mentioned nothing of having any problems," said Hakeem, another brother. Farah had only recently returned to the UK from Somalia, on 26 April, where he was visiting his father. He then spent time in Birmingham and London, where the second victim, Ismail, lived, before both boys arrived on the estate, where Farah still has family.

One friend, known as J, said he had been with the two before they were killed. "We played PS3 together and then they left. I knew 'Mo' [Farah] best. I knew the other guy as Mustafa. There was nothing wrong with them that night, they weren't scared or nothing. It's all bollocks what has been said about him, about gangs and stuff. We don't have those kind of gangs around here. It's not the New York 'hood round here, it's the Fishermead and Mo was peaceful."

At 9.35pm a CCTV camera filmed the boys five minutes away from the Fishermead at the Xscape entertainments centre – home to the town's snow slope and 16-screen cinema.

At 9.50pm they were seen back on the estate near the X-Trim Barbers. Shortly afterwards J was at a kebab van a few blocks away. "I heard two shots," he said. "I got my food and sat down with it and heard another shot."

The first gunshot hit Farah in the head, killing him almost instantly. The gunman then turned his weapon on Ismail, aiming at his head, and firing twice. Police have not recovered the weapon.

A few days ago the families said their goodbyes in the hospital mortuary, supporting each other in their grief. "He was the only boy in the family and grew up with his four sisters who he loved very much," Ismail's family said. "He will be missed very much."

Back on the estate there was talk of the kind of retaliation police had hoped would not spring from the killings. "Two innocent people have been killed, something has got to happen, man," said a friend of Farah.

"A beating is one thing around here, a stabbing even, but being shot in the head is just something else and something has to happen."

In an effort to stimulate information a £5,000 reward has been offered through Crimestoppers. Six people have been arrested and released without charge.

Detective Superintendent Rob Mason, who is leading the Thames Valley police investigation, said: "I am aware that the fact we have not charged anyone yet may start to cause frustration within the community.

"Investigations like this are complex and include a large amount of forensic analysis which inevitably takes time. Each and everyone one of us is focused on bringing charges against the person or people responsible."


Sandra Laville

The GuardianTramp

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