'Media's British Bronx obsession harmed efforts to fight gun crime'

The national media's depiction of Manchester's Moss Side as "the British Bronx" is undermining attempts to restore its image by the local community, according to a Manchester radio news veteran.

Key 103 head of news John Pickford said the local community was always keen to talk to a local reporter after a shooting such as that of 15-year-old Jessie James in September last year, but the national press was too intent on branding the deprived inner city "Gunchester".

Pickford, who has worked as a journalist in Manchester for more than 30 years, said: "Every time there's a shooting, the national media descend and seek to justify this story of Moss Side as ‘Gunchester'. Being branded as the British Bronx by the national media has taken years to repair, and when something like the Jessie James killing happened, it is completely deflating for the people of the area."

Pickford said that, despite black gun crime being top of the news agenda in Manchester and Birmingham, it only became national news and was addressed by the Government when it began happening in London, after the spate of teen murders in the capital since January.

Pickford spoke to Press Gazette after picking up the award for best news coverage on behalf of Key 103 at the IRN'sAwards.

The Key 103 entry included Pickford's coverage of the Jessie James murder and its aftermath.

Prompted by the concerns of local residents, Pickford began investigating how guns were getting into ManchesterHe went on patrol with armed police and was the first journalist in the city to be allowed into a confidential police briefing to talk about the latest intelligence on guns and gangs.

"I didn't tell anyone back in the office what I had seen or heard, because potentially I had been given information that could have had deadly consequences,"

said Pickford. "I knew who carried guns, who was after who."

The reporter's investigation discovered that gas-powered pistols were being bought legally at a factory in Germany, which the gangs then smuggled into Manchester where an engineer was paid £50 to convert them into deadly weapons.

As a result, Key 103 had the issue of inconsistent gun laws across Europe raised by MEP Arlene McCarthy in the European Parliament. The company implicated in the story promised to tighten up the ways it manufactured the guns so they could not be so easily converted, and looked at identification for the guns so they could be traced back.

Pickford said of the coverage: "As a result of this latest shooting of an innocent teenager, we looked at the whole issue of gun smuggling, at the work of the armed police and it was a big campaign.

We worked with Greater Manchester Police to launch a gun hand-in. In the space of four weeks about 270 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition were surrendered."

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