Wrong place, wrong time – the tragic chain linking three young men’s killings

The families of Halton McCollin, Louis Brathwaite and Giuseppe Gregory were each robbed of a much loved son by gun crime on the streets of Manchester. The killings were linked, and 14 years, two of those families – Halton’s and Louis’s – still haven’t seen anyone brought to justice. As police make a new appeal for information,the Manchester Evening News looks at the tragic connections between three senseless deaths.

In a bloody 14 month period on the streets of Manchester, three young men were murdered by gunmen.

A tragic chain links each of the killings.

Each victim was not the intended target. Each victim was shot in error – simply because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

All of them lost their lives to a tit-for-tat cycle of violence involving two of the country’s most notorious gangs – The Gooch and the Doddington.

Halton McCollin, 20, a popular amateur footballer who worked for an insurance company, was shot dead in a takeaway on the A56, near Old Trafford stadium, in January 2008.

Halton McCollin

Ten days later, in a reprisal attack, Louis Brathwaite, 16, who hadn’t long left Chorlton High School, was shot dead as he played fruit machines at a south Manchester betting shop.

Then, in May 2009, teenage partygoer Giuseppe Gregory was killed outside the Robin Hood pub, in Stretford.

Three young lives lost to the gun – and, near a decade-and-a-half on, the men who took two of them have still not been brought to justice.

All of them were caught in the crossfire of a long-running war – a street war which began in Thatcher’s Britain.

a long shadow

In the mid-1980s, against a backdrop of post-industrial decline, systemic racism, and high inner city unemployment, rival groups of drug dealers began operating in south Manchester.

The gun crime of the late eighties and nineties developed against a backdrop of high unemployment. As drug addiction in the city increased, Moss Side’s Pepperhill pub became home to a gang of heavily armed dealers

They hardened into two heavily-armed cliques – named for the streets on Moss Side’s Alexandra Park estate which they claimed as their own – The Gooch gang, and the Doddington gang.

By the first decade of the 21st century these gangs were diminished as a force in serious organized crime in Greater Manchester, with so many of the original gangsters having been killed, jailed, or moved on.

But the gangs left a toxic legacy.

The availability of firearms from European conflict zones, rows over respect and territory, the huge profits to be made by selling crack cocaine – and the impulsivity associated with the drug – fueled a subculture of gun violence.

GMP’s weapons store, where guns seized from the streets and police issue firearms are stored

This cast a shadow over younger generations.

Not just petty criminals and drug dealers, but those young boys who grew up on streets under their influence, and became, knowingly or unwittingly, identified with Gooch and Doddington splinter groups which fanned out of the inner city, and into the council estates of the inner suburbs.

In this febrile atmosphere, violence could erupt at unlikely times and places.

Like a summer’s afternoon in 2005, in Manchester city centre’s legal district, when two groups of men crossed paths.

Manchester Crown Court

One group, who prosecutors claimed were associated with the Doddington gang – although each denied it – were leaving the city center when the Peugeot 406 they were in was overtaken and boxed in.

Blocking their path was a VW Polo, driven by members of the Gooch gang.

The brawl that followed was witnessed by scores of office workers.

“(The Gooch) started kicking the doors of the car and one man jumped on the bonnet and began jumping up and down on it.

“He then jumped at the windscreen with two feet which immediately shattered.

“The defendants got out of the Peugeot and started violently fighting,” Manchester Crown Court was later told, by a prosecutor in a violent disorder case.

Among the men jailed after admitting violent disorder following that incident was a one-time Manchester United starlet who was hated by the Gooch.

This young man would be repeatedly targeted by his enemies on the street. And this feuding would have fatal consequences – for someone who had nothing to do with it.

On the evening of January 19, 2008 Halton McCollin had been ordering food in the Chinese Garden takeaway on Chester Road, Stretford.

Halton McCollin’s father, Halton McCollin Snr, outside the takeaway where his son was murdered with MEN chief reporter Neal Keeling

He had nipped in to get a bite to eat on the way home from his shift at the Norwich Union Insurance call centre.

But a chance encounter was to cost him his life.

A young man Halton knew from playing football in south Manchester was also in the takeaway that day.

This young man, who was in the company of another, had connections to the Doddington gang.

He was also associated with the former Man United hopeful who had been involved in the city center fight with the Gooch years earlier – a marked man.

In the first few days of January 2008, this marked man had been shot at, but he and his girlfriend had escaped injury.

Halton McCollin: Well-loved
Halton McCollin: Well-loved

Tragically for Halton, he bore what detectives called a ‘strong facial resemblance’ to this man – and now by chance, he had found himself in a takeaway with one of his associates.

On that fateful night, the other two young men in the takeaway got a phone call that someone was after them. But Halton, who had no reason to fear for his safety from him, was oblivious.

Nearby, in a car park behind the Gorse Hill pub, a stolen blue Vauxhall Vectra was parked up.

Three of the four men inside the vehicle got out and walked down an alleyway between the pub and the gable end of another takeaway.

One turned left, but two turned right and walked into the China Garden takeaway. One fired a .357 Magnum revolver three times.

The revolver used in the murder of Halton McCollin

Already on the alert, the two other young men in the takeaway vaulted the counter and fled into the rear of the premises with the owner.

Bemused, Halton did not react as quickly, and one of the 9mm bullets hit him in the back of the head. A detective would later describe it as a ‘cold blooded execution’.

The gunmen wrongly believed their intended target would be at the China Garden takeaway on the night of the shooting and then mistook Halton for him.

Halton, aged 20, died three days later on January 22nd.

The case remains unsolved, but there are key clues.

The Vauxhall Vectra involved in Halton McCollin’s murder

The gun had previously been used in a Gooch gang shooting, supporting the idea that whoever was responsible was associated with that gang.

And there are key witnesses – namely the people who made the call tipping off the other young men in the takeaway that an ambush was afoot.

That call is thought to have been made by three young women who were sitting in a vehicle in the car park of the nearby Gorse Hill pub at the time.

It’s thought they saw the killers get out of the Vectra, which was later found burnt out, before pulling on balaclavas.

Halton McCollin pictured at the grave of his son Halton (Junior) at Southern Cemetery

Police know who those young women are – it’s even believed that they have left flowers on Halton’s grave.

But they have yet to make a statement to this day.

The shooting which caused Halton’s death was not only a tragic case of mistaken identity, the senseless loss of a promising young life.

It was the catalyst for two more killings, and the next shooting was within 48 hours of innocent Halton’s death.

Click here for the second in our series of special features, which looks at the unsolved murder of Louis Brathwaite. The third tells the story of the killing of Giuseppe Gregory, while the fourth looks at the legacy of those appalling crimes.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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