Nursing Home Care Helper Is Shot Dead

A Polish care worker shot in the head when she walked into a gangland fight in London was talking to her sister in Poland on her mobile phone when she was hit.

{mosimage}Magda Pniewska’s sister listened in horror, from their home town of Brzeg, as two gunshots rang out before the line cut out. She spent the next hours trying to get a reply.

Miss Pniewska, 26, who left Poland about four years ago to take up opportunities when her native country joined the European Union, had become another crime statistic.

She was killed when two young men traded gunshots from 50 yards apart near her home in New Cross, southeast London, on Monday evening.

Moments earlier Miss Pniewska had closed the door behind her at the BUPA nursing home where she worked with mentally ill patients to walk 150 yards home to the flat she shared with her Polish boyfriend.

As she approached a set of steps on the housing estate, where one of the men was standing, the gun battle started. She had no time to take cover and was hit in the head by a bullet. She was pronounced dead at King’s College Hospital.

An old friend, Tomasz Dragan, 26, told The Times last night that her family was “in deep sadness and cannot believe media reports”.

“She was a sunny girl, optimistic and kind to other people. She was always smiling — the pictures say it all.”

He said that Miss Pniewska’s father, who runs a souvenir shop in their hometown in southwestern Poland, had thought she would be safe in London and was planning to visit her.

Another friend, Maciek Stepien, 26, said that Miss Pniewska had moved to London with her boyfriend and was planning to marry him.

“They were a happy couple and were working so hard in London,” Mr Stepien said. “Magda told me they had saved a little bit of money and would one day come back home.”

Miss Pniewska’s nephew was quoted on a Polish website describing how his mother was on the phone to her when she heard several loud bangs and the line went dead.

Her boyfriend, who has not been named, and staff at the Manley Court Nursing Centre were said to be distraught at the loss of Miss Pniewska, who was a dedicated carer.

The shooting is being investigated by Operation Trident, the Metropolitan Police unit that investigates black-on-black gangland gun crimes.

Detectives are trying to establish whether the shoot-out was linked to a failed drugs deal or was a planned ambush by one gang on a rival gang member.

One witness, who was too scared to be named, said the gunmen were aged just 17 or 18 and had met over an unpaid debt.

“One was leaning into a red Volkswagen Polo and talking to some people. Suddenly the other guy came down the stairs with a bandana covering his face but you could see his eyes change in a split second, like he thought he was being set up.

“He pulled out a 9mm handgun from his trousers and fired two or three shots at the car. The other guy got out a similar gun and shot back, using the bonnet for cover. There were about five shots.

“I don’t know where this woman came from — she just came from nowhere. The two guys hit an innocent bystander.”

Another witness said the violence was linked to the local Ghetto Boys gang.

Miss Pniewska had left the nursing centre, where she had worked ever since moving to Britain shortly after 6pm when her shift ended. At 6.19pm about five gunshots were heard.

Armed police were sent to the scene but the red Polo, believed to contain two other people, had been driven off. It was later found abandoned a mile and a half away.

A spokeswoman for BUPA said: “We are deeply shocked and saddened by the tragic death of Magda. She was a truly lovely person and one of our most dedicated carers. She will be hugely missed by both her colleagues and residents.”

Detective Chief Inspector Tony Boughton, from the Operation Trident unit, said: “From witness accounts the gunmen opened fire on each other and caught in the crossfire was an innocent woman walking home after working at the care home.”

He added that extra officers had been put on the streets in the area to reassure the public, but he said that the killing was a “one-off incident”. He appealed to anyone who saw the gunfight or the red Polo being driven from the scene to contact police.

Three men and a woman were arrested in connection with the shooting.

A member of staff at the care centre where Miss Pniewska worked said: “She was a lovely person, that’s all you need to know. We are all shocked, as you can imagine.”

Last night a blue tarpaulin covered the spot where Miss Pniewska fell. Two streets were cordoned off as scenes-of-crime officers searched for evidence.

Metropolitan Police documents leaked this year showed that police were monitoring at least eight violent gangs based in the Lewisham borough.

A Polish woman who lives in the street where Miss Pniewska was killed said that she heard several shots fired and saw two black men running from the scene.