‘Black widow’ murder plotter tried to frame two notorious gangs for her crimes

An underworld arms dealer jailed for her part in a botched murder plot tried to implicate two Manchester crime gangs in order to win her freedom, it can now be reported for the first time.

Constance Howarth was locked up for life for acting as a “spotter” in a planned hit on David Totton engineered by Bobby Spiers, right-hand man of notorious underworld figure Paul Massey.

Fourteen-and-a-half years ago would-be hitmen Richard Austin, 19, and Carlton Alveranga, 20 were shot with their own guns after walking into a Manchester pub called the Brass Handles.

Totton and his friend Aaron Travers were also shot, and the identity of Austin and Alveranga’s killer has never been established.

But now Howarth’s appeal rests on an entirely different version of events – claiming that Alveranga and Austin died as a result of feuding between the Gooch and Doddington gang.

Howarth applied to the Court of Appeal in June for leave to appeal against her conviction, reports the Manchester Evening News

And her lawyer told the court that in 2006 the Doddington and The Gooch were at war, resulting in a series of fatal shootings.

These included the killing of Ramone Cumberbatch, who was shot dead by a known Gooch member in September 2005, and the killing of Jonathon Cawley, also shot dead by a man with ties to the Gooch.

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Howarth's appeal bid rested on the argument that Ian McLeod was the leader of the Doddington and that Austin and Alveranga were members who had lost pals to the Gooch – and that they were out for revenge.

Her lawyer told the Court of Appeal that there had been a "major failing" by her original legal team to make relevant requests to disclose material to suggest that the Brass Handles shooting was inter-gang related violence, with Callaghan as the target.

It was claimed that such a plan did not need her as a spotter, that she did not know Callaghan, and that her first legal team had failed to advise her to the need to call Spiers at her trial as a witness.

At the time time Howarth worked for Salford hardman Paul Massey's security firm.

She was convicted alongside Ian McLeod, who received a life sentence and a recommendation that he serve 21 years.

Jailing the pair at the time, Mr Justice Andrew Smith said : "Two men died, they were not innocents, but they were young, their lives were not expendable.

"In view of the calculating nature of this offence," Justice Smith continued, "I consider there is every danger you are incorrigibly involved in violent crime. You will always present a danger to the public.

"You both have previous offences and have been to prison before, you have both had previous involvement in firearms. I consider that in both of your cases there is significant risk to the public of serious harm as a result of you committing further offences."

Bobby Spiers, who fled to Spain in the aftermath of the shooting was extradited in 2009 and convicted after a second trial. He was jailed for life and must serve at least 23 years.

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