Sal(ve)ford on these wounds

Jan 03, 2012, 08:56 IST | Amit Roy

While Salford a Manchester suburb, is still shocked at Anuj Bidve's murder, people say it is time to do something about 'gun culture' and violence that is endemic in certain pockets of the area

While Salford a Manchester suburb, is still shocked at Anuj Bidve's murder, people say it is time to do something about 'gun culture' and violence that is endemic in certain pockets of the area

Out of a group of five youths picked up for questioning after the killing of Pune boy Anuj Bidve in the early hours of December 26 in Salford, near Manchester, police released four on bail but on Sunday night charged the fifth, Kiaran Stapleton, 20, with the murder. But so far, it appears that police have not yet found the missing vital piece of evidence -- the hand gun with which the 23-year-old Indian electronics student at Lancaster University was shot at point blank range in the side of the head. Stapleton was produced in the City of Manchester Magistrates' Court. He was then taken away and kept in custody until such time as his trial is held --which won't be till late summer or autumn this year. Under Britain's strict laws on sub judice and contempt of court, the merits of the evidence against Stapleton can no longer be discussed by the media.

Tribute: Officers walk past flowers left at the scene of the murder of 
Anuj Bidve in Salford, northwest England. Kiaran Stapleton (22), charged
with the murder, appeared at Magistrates Court in Manchester yesterday.

A candlelit memorial service for Anuj was due to be held on Monday in Ordsall Lane, where he was shot on Boxing Day. There is heavy pressure from Anuj's family to have his body released so it can be repatriated home to Pune for Hindu rituals, proper grieving and an early funeral. But at the same time the gun, if and when found, has to be matched against the wounds for a successful prosecution. Nazir Afzal, the Crown Prosecution Service's chief prosecutor in the north west, announced the charge at a press conference at police headquarters on Sunday night--the police are well aware that although there have been several murders over the Christmas and New Year period, this is the most "high profile" case in the country.

He said, "I can now announce that the Crown Prosecution Service has authorised the police to charge Kiaran Stapleton, a 20-year-old man from Salford, with the murder of Mr. Anuj Bidve on Boxing Day. There is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction." This suggests that the group picked up for questioning --a boy of 17, followed by a 16-year-old, followed by a second 17-year-old, followed by a man of 19, followed by the 20-year-old who has been charged - were mostly likely part of the same gang. The suspects would have been questioned separately. Four were released on bail,which does not mean they are in the clear -- they can be rearrested at any time.  "Mr Stapleton will appear before the City of Manchester Magistrates' Court in the morning," Afzal had said on Sunday night. And he issued a warning the media will do well to heed. "Now that he's been charged I must remind everyone that he is entitled to fair trial and any reporting must not prejudice this trial." That means reporters cannot go knocking on his door, delving into his background. In the eyes of the law, he remains innocent until the prosecution proves otherwise at a trial.

"Finally prosecutors and police officers remain determined to deliver justice for Mr Bidve's family and friends," Afzal concluded. "They have our deepest condolences."

Under the overall supervision of Chief Superintendent Kevin Mulligan, Divisional Commander for Salford, the investigation is now headed by Assistant Chief Constable Dawn Copley, who said, "This remains a complex investigation and the fact we have charged someone does not mean the investigation is complete. As such, we are still asking for the public to contact us with any information they may have and there remains a �50,000 (Rs 4,131,853.54) reward outstanding."

Bereaved: Family members of Anuj Bidve grieve

She said, "Anuj's family, who are still in India, have been made aware that we have charged someone in relation to Anuj's murder and officers from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) are in India to support the family in person. We know that the family is extremely distressed that Anuj's body has not been released to them. We have been in close contact with the coroner, who is anxious to release Anuj's body to his family at the earliest possible time. The investigation is still very much ongoing," stressed Copley. "We will continue our high visibility presence in the area and again I urge the local community to continue talking to us. So far we have received a fantastic response and this needs to continue." This is not India -- the area where Anuj fell, has been microscopically examined by forensic specialists wearing white suits to avoid contaminating evidence. Police did not want to give information to Anuj's distraught family, especially his father, Subhash Bidve, and his brother-in-law, Rakesh Sonawane, 30, on the phone. This is why a conduit has been established. GMP announced that a senior officer, Chief Superintendent Russ Jackson, and a specially trained family liaison officer, who deals with bereaved families, have arrived in India to meet Bidve's family and representatives from the Indian authorities. Copley explained, "Our family liaison officers are in regular contact with Anuj's family but passing information and updates over the phone is not the best way to communicate in such difficult and tragic circumstances. It is important to me personally, and Greater Manchester Police, to have someone from the force meet with Anuj's family at the earliest opportunity and help support them at this time. Having conversations face-to-face is absolutely the right thing to do. We will, of course, also provide whatever support we can throughout the family's forthcoming trip to the UK."

The sense of despair expressed by Anuj's father and brother-in-law has added to the deep sense of collective guilt that has descended upon Salford. Norman Owen, leader of Salford's Liberal Democrats, said, "This is a disgrace. It is heartbreaking and unbelievable. What kind of city are we living in when we have a young man walking on the street with a gun and is ready to use it? If you look at the history over the last three or four years, we have had some severe shootings in this city. We are being dragged down by this issue and the police have got to get into gun crime." Asked if he thought this shooting had brought shame on the city, he responded, "It does. This city is trying to drive itself forward in many ways." But he said Salford needed to "rid itself" of the gun "culture" and work with police, parents and schools to address it. Ironically, Salford is closely linked with Sir Ben Kingsley, the actor who portrayed Mahatma Gandhi, apostle of peace, in Richard Attenborough's film. Kingsley grew up in Pendlebury, near Salford. He later studied at the University of Salford and at Pendleton College, which later became home to the Ben Kingsley Theatre.  Salford was not always synonymous with crime. The playwright Ayub Khan Din, author of East is East, was born in 1961 in Salford where his Pakistani father married his English mother and brought up their brood of 10 children in the 1960s and 1970s.

Watchful: Police officers stand guard as a vehicle carrying Kiaran
Stapleton arrives at Magistrates Court in Manchester yesterday

Residents have laid flowers at the spot where Anuj fell. One card read, "We don't think living here will ever be the same. We send our condolences to your family and friends. We hope you don't blame us all." Others have sent condolence cards to Lancaster University. Susan Wilson (57), who has lived on nearby Asgard Drive for 31 years with sister Evelyn Wilson (61), said, "This lovely young man has come here to further his education and people whose lives revolve around violence have killed him. For this to happen in our  neighbourhood is devastating and we're all very upset about it. It's like the whole country is looking at Ordsall now because of this. The area doesn't have a great reputation but we want people to know what's happened doesn't represent this area or the people living here."

Another neighbour who did not want to give her name said, "It's sick what has happened --absolutely disgusting." Regulars at the nearby pub The Bricklayers Arms on Ordsall Lane -- just yards from where the murder scene -- also condemned the violence. One 77-year-old man, who had lived in the area since 1999, said, "This is a very close-knit community. I really sympathise with this guy who has died. There's no control over the young people round here -- but that's no reflection on the older people who live here." 

Incident: Anuj Bidve (23) who was shot dead, a day after Christmas in Manchester

The waiting for the return of Anuj is adding to his family's agony -- something the police in the UK do understand. Sadly for the Bidve family, a speedy return of the body may pose problems. Even when Dev Anand passed away at the age of 88 from perfectly natural causes, it took a whole week before his body could be released to his son, Suneil, for the funeral to be held in London. Then it took another 48 hours before Suneil could collect his father's ashes.

With Anuj's murder, the family appear not to appreciate that premature return of his body "could harm the prosecution case -- and we don't want that," a source has explained. British newspapers have devoted more space to Anuj's murder than most of their counterparts in India. There is plenty of gun crime in Britain but an unprovoked shooting is rare.  Police have said the killing may have had a "hate" motive but detectives are also investigating whether the killer and his suspected accomplices had tried to "chat up" two of the Indian girls in Anuj's nine-strong group.

According to one report, officers believe that they became enraged after having their advances rejected when they propositioned the young women. "It appears two young women who were with Bidve had been eating at a nearby Subway restaurant on the night, when they were both accosted by two men. A brief conversation ensued and it appears the men had tried to chat them up. The girls, though, rejected their advances and walked back to join their group, who were standing outside a McDonald's restaurant along with Mr Bidve." The source said, "The girls said they felt scared by the men's attentions earlier and then they realised that the men had followed them over. They say that one of the men appeared to be drunk. The men followed the girls back to their group and then suddenly asked them for a light, which the girls declined. One of the men asked for the time, which one of the girls gave to them. At this point, the killer, who had been standing with his hands in his pockets, suddenly pulled out a silver pistol and placed it to the temple of Mr Bidve and pulled the trigger. As Mr Bidve slumped to the floor dying, the men allegedly laughed sarcastically and ran off."

Police are also investigating claims that the killers had made a deliberate decision that night to commit a murder but chose Anuj randomly; he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Officers suspect the killer may have carried out the shooting to elevate his status within the criminal fraternity and claim, "bragging rights". The source added, "Members of the Salford criminal fraternity have been appalled by the seemingly pointless nature of Mr Bidve's shooting." There are certainly pockets of Salford where violence is endemic. Two brothers given ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) as boys for a campaign of terror 10 years ago have just been jailed for an horrific attack on a woman of 22.  Jason and Craig Cox were among the first people in Salford to be given ASBOs, and the only brothers to be issued with one at the same time.  They were banned from parts of Salford in 2001 when, aged 15 and 12, they orchestrated 12 months of misery on people living in Broughton and Blackfriars estates. They damaged property, used abusive language and threatened residents. Now they have been locked up for dragging a woman from a car and breaking her jaw in two places by repeatedly punching her in the face. They yanked out clumps of her hair, which was later found in bins. The victim was attacked because she had been in a dispute a few days earlier in a nightclub with the girlfriend of Jason Cox. Jason Cox (25) was sentenced to seven years and Craig (22) five years at Manchester Crown Court.

In another  case, a masked man armed with a knife tried to force a pensioner out of his car after he stopped at traffic lights in Salford. The knifeman, who was with a second man, opened the 67-year-old's car door . He leant inside and tried to unbuckle the driver's seatbelt but both men ran off towards Manchester city centre after the pensioner refused to move. But there is a positive side to life to Salford. Holly Moore, 7, saved her pocket money throughout the year to help pay for bedding at a homeless shelter. "I was very sad to see the man was cold. I said to mummy, 'Why does that man not have any socks and why is he sitting on the street?' She told me why and I said I wanted to help keep him warm." It so happens Salford, which is a suburb of Manchester but likes to think of itself as a separate entity, is trying to promote itself as a tourist destination. "It's a great time to find out more about the fascinating history and exciting future of our vibrant city," the local authority says in its promotional pitch. "Ideally located next to our neighbour, Manchester, at the heart of England's Northwest, Salford offers enough arts, culture, sport, shopping, heritage, relaxation and stunning scenery to fill a day or a week.....Make Salford a place to visit, we look forward to seeing you in 2012." After Anuj's murder, the task of promoting Salford will not be any easier, even though by and large Indian students in the UK are perfectly safe.

Meanwhile, the Indian High Commission in London has said in a statement that it is "deeply saddened at the unfortunate and tragic killing of Anuj Bidve.  Following this unfortunate incident, senior officials from the Consulate General of India, Birmingham, have been in touch with the Greater Manchester Police authorities and also the bereaved family members in Pune. Our shock and concern at the horrific incident has been conveyed to the authorities investigating the case along with the strong expectation that the perpetrators of the ghastly crime would be brought to justice at the earliest. The concerned authorities have also been suitably sensitised about the family's wish to have the dead body repatriated to India at the earliest. The authorities have assured us of their fullest cooperation." It added, "The High Commission of India understands that in cases of this nature, a second inquest may be necessary, including with a view to strengthening the case of the prosecution. The High Commission of India hopes that this process will be completed at the earliest, so that the body could be released and repatriated to India in consonance with the request of the bereaved family." It went on, "The Lancaster University authorities have also been requested by the Consulate General of India to provide necessary support and care to the friends of the deceased who were present at the time of the tragic incident.  The response of the Lancaster University has been sympathetic and supportive. The Consulate General of India and the High Commission would be extending all possible assistance to the bereaved family, including for the repatriation of the body."

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