The city of Liverpool in the North West of England is a vibrant place to live and do business. His economic growth spurt is expected to continue well beyond 2022, and the population is expected to grow by 0.6% to over 900,000 by the end of the year.
But the tragic death of a child from gun violence last month revealed a dark side that has shaken Liverpudlians and the rest of the country.
A port city that has been a historic hotspot for gun and drug trafficking, particularly as a base for the Irish Republican Army, Liverpool was a laboratory for new digital law enforcement tools to counter the threat of organized crime.
Many of the mainstream gangs involved are family-controlled and district-based. and used very young men to achieve their goals. Targeted policing by the National Crime Agency and Merseyside Police – the force responsible for Liverpool – had a significant impact.
The first victory came in 2020 when police accessed a social media communication tool known as EncroChat, widely used by criminal gangs for encrypted communication on modified smartphones to plan criminal activities.
The police operation “had a seismic impact on criminal networks”, said Professor Simon Harding, director of the National Center for Gang Research at the University of West London. in a recent interview for Sky News.
Two-thirds of UK-based posts about gun crime came from Liverpool, Harding said.
According to Harding, the UK investigation into the use of this tool gave police access to the inner workings of organized crime groups globally.
Until August there had been no fatal shootings in Liverpool for over a year. Inspectors from Her Majesty’s Constabulary have even awarded Merseyside an ‘outstanding’ rating in the fight against organized crime.
But since the police entered the network, there has been a “vacuum at the top [of the criminal gangs],. a lot of recrimination and revenge, and a lot of suspicion – and that’s where the guns come out,” Harding added.
Three fatal shootings were reported in Liverpool last month. None of this would normally have caught the attention of the national media were it not for the fact that one victim, Olivia Pratt-Korbelis a nine-year-old girl.
She was caught in the crossfire during a gang shootout. When a fugitive gang member broke into her home while being chased, bullets fired by his pursuers killed Olivia and injured her mother.
In the weeks that followed, a crackdown by Merseyside Police led by Det. Chief Superintendent Mark Keemen fascinated the country.
The crackdown resulted in some 200 arrests. Since this weekend, four men have been accused in connection with the girl’s death.
“We will leave nothing to chance” in exploring the matter, Keemen pledged, adding that the force’s resources have been “significantly augmented” by officers from across the UK.
The UK is a small country – it would fit in with Texas – and it’s not used to seeing child murders as collateral damage to gun violence.
Most British citizens think such things only happen in the United States, in violence-ridden cities like Chicago and New York, like reported by the Children’s Defense Charity.
But Olivia’s death makes it clear that no one can be happy with gun violence, no matter where you live.
Gareth Bryon is a former Detective Chief Superintendent who worked as a senior officer in South Wales Police and British Transport Police, where he led major crime investigations and forensic science services during over 30 years.