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pounds little it can cost to have someone killed on Merseyside; Day 2 of our exclusive series . . .THE GANG BUSTERS.

GANGSTERS pay between pounds 500 and pounds 5,000 for a murder on Merseyside, the ECHO can reveal today.

The cheap "hits" can be ordered through one of the region's three professional contract killers - or a number of lesser criminals.

One man known to police lives in Holland and travels over specifically to murder for cash. He and two local men, all well known to police and gangland bosses, are among the elite whose fees are at the top end of the scale.

But an underworld source has told the ECHO: "Today for just pounds 500, or half a kilo of cocaine, you could get some drug addict to kill somebody for you.

"Or you can get a Moroccan in from Europe, normally Holland, who would kill somebody for pounds 500 and then be gone, never to be seen again."

Other petty crooks are so desperate to get close to the "glamorous" world of organised crime that they will do almost anything for recognition.

A police source said: "There are probably about half a dozen hitmen working at any one time. For the most part they charge between pounds 2,000 and pounds 5,000."

Detectives know about three men in particular in Liverpool because their names have been linked to shootings time and time again.

However, there has never been enough evidence to prosecute them.

Another suspected gunman was murdered last year.

The police source added: "These people were definitely implicated in a few shootings but there is a temptation to put it down to them every time there is an incident.

"There is a lot of speculation about how many people are into this type of thing and how much they are paid each time. A lot would depend on the particular job."

Six years ago, detectives named two suspected contract killers believed to be responsible for shooting Liverpool businessman David Ungi, a 35-year-old father of three who died after being shot as he sat in his car in Toxteth in May, 1995.

Police still want to quiz Barry "Bunji" O'Rourke and Darren Jackson about the killing, which sparked a gang war.

They are believed to have fled the country.

Rumours are rife in the underworld that the pair shot Mr Ungi for just pounds 500 each.

Police have received information that O'Rourke and Jackson were shot dead in Jamaica a few years ago but the claims are thought to be bogus. Bunji O'Rourke was almost certainly the mystery man shot six times at close range in Amsterdam last June.

The victim's jaw was shattered and he was hit in the head, arms and body - but he survived. Using the name "Mr Parris", he discharged himself from a Dutch hospital before detectives from Merseyside were tipped off.

EIGHT MEN were shot dead on Merseyside in 2001. Shootings reached a level not seen since the bloody gang war days of the mid-nineties, with 57 confirmed shootings against 15 in 1998.

It reflects a dramatic national increase of 35%-40% in firearms related incidents.

Clamping down on the gunmen remains one of the main priorities of the Major Crime Unit. When former Chief Constable Sir James Sharples famously pledged to "fight fire with fire" after David Ungi's murder sparked a surge of shootings, guns had become a designer accessory for city criminals.

Today, getting your hands on a gun still poses no problem for a determined crook prepared to pay the price.

But the days when every third division villain trying to make a name for himself casually sported a revolver tucked into his wasteband have gone.

That reflects concerted police intelligence efforts to make firearms a commodity too hot for gangsters to handle on a regular basis. If the word is out that you carry a gun, you are likely to find yourself frequently stopped and searched by police armed response teams.

DCI Andy Cooke, formerly of the major crime unit, said: "We take a proactive approach to firearms offences and those involved in the commission of firearms crime, to keep them on the back foot.

"Any intelligence that a person is in possession of firearms is actively and forcibly investigated.

"Firearms certainly aren't a fashion accessory on Merseyside or commonly available and that is mainly due to our proactive investigations and the tactics employed by armed officers in combating such instances."

Police believe the level of firearms activity on Merseyside to be comparable with other metropolitan forces.

But the number of firearms incidents is difficult to quantify. When an armed robbery takes place, it is often hard to tell if a real gun, a replica or an air weapon has been used.

When a call reporting a shooting is received from a member of the public, it is sometimes impossible to find evidence of it at the scene.

But that does not necessarily mean the call was a false alarm.

DCI Cooke says firearms are not widely available on Merseyside, but they are available at a price.

A new top quality revolver can cost up to pounds 3,000, and even an old rebored weapon might set you back several hundred pounds.

DCI Cooke said: "Illegal firearms are an expensive commodity - particularly handguns. They remain too expensive for an average petty criminal - but sadly, money is no object for some criminals.

"The penalties for being caught in possession of a gun in the course of crime or otherwise are extremely severe.

"Handguns can come into the north west from a variety of different places. A number come in from Eastern Europe. Others are recommissioned weapons which have been rebored by a skilled gunsmith.

"You get people who lend and hire firearms out, but it's not common any more."

DCI Cooke says the fearsome Uzi automatic weapons that were a trademark of the mid-nineties have now become a rarity.

"Mainly now it is sawn off shotguns and hand guns, that are more easy to hide, " he said. "The sight of a sawn off shotgun is terrifying. They get stolen in burglaries from legitimate and responsible owners. Once shortened they become criminal weapons, as that's their only use."
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 22, 2002
Previous Article:On the trail of Mersey gun deal.
Next Article:Innocent victims; THE GANG BUSTERS.

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