High profile murder that left the streets of Toxteth burning

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It is almost 40 years since the Toxteth riots left an indelible mark on the fabric of Liverpool.

Most people thought the carnage of 1981 was a once in a lifetime type of event, but as prominent businessman David Ungi collapsed onto the streets of Dingle a chain reaction had begun.

Mr Ungi, 36, would have known he was a marked man after a recent failed attempt on his life.

However as he sat behind the wheel of his VW Passatt on May 1, 1995, there was nothing to suggest he was making his final journey.

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As his car travelled along North Hill Street on that unseasonably warm evening, a black Volkswagen Golf GTi suddenly cut in front of his vehicle and he was ambushed by a gunman.

The killer unleashed a volley of rounds from an automatic weapon and the dad-of-three was struck twice as he tried to flee, the fatal bullet severing a major artery and ensuring a rapid death.

The crime remains unsolved to this day, and has been described as a watershed moment for the Liverpool underworld.

David Ungi, who was gunned down aged 36 on North Hill Street, Dingle, on May 1 1995.

Boiling point

As May turned into June, violence and tensions were rising and the family of Mr Ungi were becoming increasingly upset by the fact they were unable to lay him to rest.

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Relatives and friends told the ECHO that his body could not be released until the killers had been caught, as any defence team would need the chance to carry out a second post-mortem.

Toxteth had become a tinder box, and the spark was the arrest of Mr Ungi's brother Colin for possession of a firearm on Tuesday May 30.

The Ungi home in Malta Walk, Toxteth, was raided early the following day and later the same morning Colin was produced at the old Liverpool Magistrates' Court building on Dale Street in the city centre.

His solicitor, Julian Linskill, told the court Colin admitted carrying the weapon when he was arrested while taking his 11-year-old nephew to buy a bike.

But he said his client was in fear for his life after the murder of his brother and did not feel police could keep him safe.

Police at the scene of the shooting of David Ungi on North Hill Street, Dingle, on May 1, 1995

He told the court: "It is a testament to my client’s fear that he felt it necessary to carry a weapon on such an innocent expedition to buy a bicycle for an 11-year-old boy.

"He was wearing body armour and was not carrying the gun to carry out an armed attack but to save his own life.”

According to reports at the time, when bail was refused members of the Ungi family screamed abuse and four-letter words at the magistrates – while some said "we have lost a brother".

Streets of Rage

That afternoon violence erupted near the Ungi home by the Royal George Pub, known locally as Black George's, where a gang used petrol bombs to torch three cars.

According to an ECHO report at the time: "One man, wearing a red stocking mask, was openly brandishing a pistol".

The incident led to scenes of chaos as riot police, brandishing batons and shields, held back a crowd of around 600.

A firefighter responding to the blaze was injured when the windscreen of his fire engine was shattered, and another man was pulled from his vehicle and beaten by masked men who stole his phone and stoned his car.

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Mr Ungi's family said frustration had boiled over, with one relative speaking to a reporter outside the pub claiming: "It all goes back to this morning in court. That was the problem".

The next morning's ECHO also carried a plea from Mr Ungi's mum, Vera Ungi, to "end the madness."

The then 59-year-old said: "What happened last night was very disturbing and I would ask people to be calm.

"Violence does no good. I am terrified and broken hearted by all that has happened. It is making me ill.

”There is no revenge in my heart just a wish for peace.”

How the ECHO reported the disturbances in Toxteth on May 31, 1995, four weeks after the murder of David Ungi

Unsolved

The reasons for the murder and the months of violence that followed are unclear.

One theory, outlined to ECHO reporters by underworld sources in the years following the hit, was that it related to a dispute between Mr Ungi and a well known local hardman, Johnny Phillips, over an Aigburth bar called Cheers.

A straightener was arranged between the two men in Dingle, which former Golden Gloves amateur boxing champion Mr Ungi won.

Mr Phillips later claimed the fight was unfair and his rival had used a knuckleduster, and on March 21, 1995, Mr Ungi narrowly escaped with his life after being shot at in Morton Street.

Mr Ungi's wife Jean later said her husband had taken to wearing a bullet proof vest every night after he was shot at, but for an unknown reason had not been wearing it on the night of his death.

After the murder in June, Mr Phillips was charged with attempted murder over the Morton Street incident, but the case was later dropped and he was not charged in relation to Mr Ungi's death.

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Whatever the truth, Mr Phillips, a friend of notorious Toxteth drugs baron Curtis Warren, was later found dead having suffered a heart attack.

One underworld source said previously: "It used to be that guns were used as a last resort. Anything minor was usually settled with a straightener (fist fight).

"But it's not like that any more. Some people use guns as soon as they have a bit of a falling out. I've known it happen over women, over bets and even over arguments about football."

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