Police took to streets in armoured cars 'to fight fire with fire' after dad's brutal assassination

The brutal assassination of a dad-of-three sparked a bloody battle that saw gun-toting police officers deployed in armoured cars to patrol the streets.

The murder of David Ungi, 36, who was shot dead by a hitman on North Hill Street, Toxteth, on the evening of May 1 1995, left an enduring mark on the city. The murder shook Liverpool to its core and saw the local area become a tinder box with masked men torching cars and brandishing weapons in the street.

Fighting fire with fire, police officers took unprecedented action to tackle the violence and deployed armed patrols on the streets. Despite the shocking violence, nearly 30 years on from Mr Ungi's murder, no one has been brought to justice. As part of the ECHO's unsolved crime series, we have looked back at the murder that changed Liverpool forever.

READ MORE: Man fighting for life after 'vicious assault' in city centre

READ MORE: Murder investigation launched after man stabbed repeatedly

On the evening of May 1 1995, Mr Ungi - a dad-of-three businessman who continued to live in the Toxteth community that he was brought up in - was driving along North Hill Street in his VW Passat. A black VW Golf GTi pulled in front of his car and a man jumped out brandishing an automatic weapon before opening fire.

Mr Ungi tried to escape, but was hit twice - with one of the bullets hitting a main artery. He collapsed and died at the scene. While the facts of Mr Ungi's murder are relatively well known and accepted, the reasons for his brutal street execution are harder to pinpoint.

It wasn't the first time Mr Ungi had been the target of an assassination attempt - and just 24 hours after his murder, police would confirm there had been another recent attempt on his life. In an article published in the ECHO on the tenth anniversary of Mr Ungi's murder, an anonymous source said: "There is no doubt that this was an organised hit.

"Someone, somewhere had decided that David Ungi was going to be killed and that was the time they were going to do it." But Mr Ungi's death had far-reaching consequences, with an outbreak of violence in its aftermath and unprecedented police measures in response.

In the days after the shooting, the then Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, James Sharples, promised his officers would fight fire with fire and deployed the force's armoured estate cars. The ECHO reported by May 5 armed police officers were patrolling the streets of Liverpool and detectives had to hold meetings with underworld bosses in a bid to keep the peace.

In his book 'Drug Wars', Neil Woods describes how each of the armoured estate cars carried a team of police armed with Heckler & Koch semi-automatic carbines. This was the first time routine armed patrols had been deployed on the streets of mainland Britain in peacetime, instead of armed teams being dispatched for specific operations.

'Drug Wars', which was co-written with JS Rafaeli, tells of how "military style checkpoints were set up at key locations", and major suspects were stopped and searched "several times a day". By May 23, it was announced that all police officers on duty in Dingle, Toxteth and the city centre were to be issued with bullet-proof vests. But while Merseyside Police's bold new tactics may have disrupted some of the violence erupting in the area, it didn't lead to Mr Ungi's killers.

The day after his death police confirmed Mr Ungi had survived a previous attempt on his life six weeks before, when he was shot on Morton Street on March 21. In an appeal for witnesses issued on May 17, Mr Ungi's grieving widow, Jean, revealed her husband lived in fear after the incident.

She said: "He was frightened and was very concerned for the safety of his family. He would wear a bullet-proof jacket all day, even when he went for a run in Princes Park. I do not know why he wasn't wearing it on the night of his death."

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. 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 tinderbox, and the spark was the arrest of Mr Ungi's brother Colin for possession of a firearm on 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 Ungi 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.

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.

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."

David Ungi's family weren't able to lay him to rest until November 20, more than six months after his death. When the day finally came, 1,000 mourners gathered at Our Lady of Mount Carmel RC Church in L8. There were so many floral tributes that a flat bed lorry had to follow the funeral cortege, filled with flowers. Among the tributes was a 5ft high tableau from Mr Ungi's three sons, depicting his picture with a dove.

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

Floral arrangements shaped like boxing rings and gloves followed the procession, with "Dad, Uncle, Brother and Gent" all dedicated to the Toxteth family man. The funeral cortege consisted of 31 stretch limousines and took five minutes to pass by, making its way from the church to Allerton cemetery where all other funerals had to be cancelled for the day.

Two days after Mr Ungi's murder, detectives linked an arson attack on the bar Cheers in Aigburth Road to the killing. Reports from the time, and in the years since Mr Ungi's death, talk extensively about a fist fight the former Golden Gloves boxing champion had with another man, Johnny Phillips, the previous March.

On June 8, 1995, a major police security operation was mounted as Mr Phillips appeared in court charged with the attempted murder of David Ungi in Morton Street on March 21. He was not charged in connection with the murder of Mr Ungi six weeks later.

Nick Evans, prosecuting, told the court there was a feud between Mr Phillips and "his associates" and the Ungi family over Cheers bar in Aigburth Road. Mr Evans said on March 20 Mr Phillips contacted David Ungi's brother, Anthony, and asked for a "straightener" to sort things out. The fight is understood to have taken place on Byles Street, Toxteth - and David Ungi won. But Mr Phillips felt the fight was unfair and alleged Mr Ungi used a knuckleduster.

The case was eventually dropped - and Mr Phillips was later found dead having suffered a heart attack. Speaking to the ECHO at the time, Chief Superintendent Peter Currie said: "The murder of David Ungi is still very much an open investigation. Merseyside Police has not wavered in its determination to find those responsible and bring them to justice. We are keen to talk to anyone who may have information but has not yet come forward."

The shooting was not the first street execution in Liverpool, but experts believe it marked a change in gun crime on the city's streets. Rumours swirled that he may have been killed over a seemingly minor feud. An anonymous source quoted in a 2005 ECHO article said: "It used to be that guns were used as a last resort. Anything minor was usually settled with a straightener.

"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 happens over women, over bets and even over arguments about football. It never used to be like this. You couldn't say exactly when it all changed but, as far as I'm concerned, things were never going to be the same from the moment David Ungi was shot dead because of an argument over a pub."

In April 2005, a senior Merseyside Police officer responded to questioning about two shootings in one day and the availability of guns by admitting: "Determined criminals can obtain firearms and there have been instances where they've been used to settle what most people would call petty disputes."

The high-profile murder has remained in the public eye for 30 years, as has the Ungi name. Mr Ungi's son David Jr spent seven years in Spain, before he was cleared of involvement in the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Vinny Waddington and of conspiracy to supply heroin in two high profile trials. However, to this day, his dad's killer has continued to walk free.

A spokesperson for the Serious Crime Review Unit at Merseyside Police said: "The investigation into the murder of David Ungi Sr remains ongoing. The enquiry is subject to a regular review which will take into consideration any new information or developments in forensic science.

"I would like to take this opportunity to appeal once again to the community for their help with the investigation and would urge anyone with information to come forward either directly to the force or anonymously through Crimestoppers in the strictest of confidence. No matter how small the piece of information is, it may prove vital to the investigation.

"You can contact us either via DM @MerPolCC or, if they don’t wish to speak to police, contact the Crimestoppers charity anonymously on 0800 555 111."

Don't miss the biggest and breaking stories by signing up to the Echo Daily newsletter here.