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Charities say rise in knife and gun attacks is linked to cuts in youth work

Council leader tells recreational drug users: "You support exploitation of children"

12 October, 2017 — By William McLennan

Armed police respond to a knife attack in Queen’s Crescent

CHARITIES working with children in Camden have warned of a “massive increase” in street violence and gang crime which includes a string of new gun and knife attacks.

Leaders of the grassroots organisations providing youth services in the borough told the New Journal of their growing concern over the levels of violence and called for proper investment in projects to keep youngsters away from crime.

In one night last week police were called to reports of a shooting in Kentish Town at around 7.30pm and an hour later to a fight in Queen’s Crescent, captured on CCTV, in which a teenager used a baseball bat to fend off three attackers armed with a large hunting knife.

A short time later armed police were filmed pulling a group of men from a car in Queen’s Crescent, while they searched the vehicle for weapons. None of the men were arrested.

Just over 100 metres away, an evening youth club, run by the Queen’s Crescent Community Association, provides a safe space for around 60 children, but chief executive Foyezur Miah believes they are not doing enough.

He said: “What youth services do is engage young people and keep young people busy in positive activities. We provide that, but I don’t think we provide enough, to be honest. There has been years of cuts to youth intervention work and youth centres and the increase in crime we are seeing is an inevitable result.”

Describing the latest spate of attacks, he said: “I think there is this great confidence of groups of young people from other parts of the borough to come into an area armed with offensive weapons. That is the shocking bit.

I’m not quite sure what’s giving them that confidence. Certainly I believe having more community policing in the area would deter that.”

Police and Town Hall officials are in urgent talks with community groups over how best to respond to the problem, with pressure growing after the fatal stabbing of 20-year-old Mohamed Aadam in Hampstead Road last month.

The Somali Youth Development Resource Centre (SYDRC), based in Kentish Town, were called into the emergency meetings in the days after the killing of Mr Aadam, whose cousin Mohamed Abdullahi was murdered in York Way in 2013.

Abdikadir Ahmed, a youth work co-ordinator at the SYDRC, said he had been shocked by the brazen nature of the killing which took place in a public place in the middle of the day.

He said: “It’s been quite bad this year in particular, with incidents involving guns. It’s become more and more violent. The Rambo-style knives that people are being caught with is quite devastating.”

Mr Ahmed said he believes that cuts to youth services is making it more difficult to engage with young children before problems arise.

“A lot of universal youth work has diminished,” he said.

“Young people used to drop in, play games, you’d have a chat with them. There isn’t much of that anymore, because there isn’t much funding for that. A lot of the work is more targeted, dealing with the issue once it’s already arisen. I’m a strong believer that work needs to start earlier, in primary schools. I think you should get to the problem before it becomes an issue. When you are working with a 15 or 16- year-old, they can be quite heavily entrenched in that and it’s hard to divert them away.”

Mr Ahmed said that videos posted online that show one gang taunting another is a big factor and he believes more needs to be done to remove them rom the internet.

“There are a lot of negative homemade crime videos that promote drugs and gang warfare,” he said.

Abdiwahab Ali, youth development co-ordinator with SYDRC, said: “I think we cannot underplay the link between cuts to resources in the youth sector and young people becoming involved in gang crime and anti-social behaviour.”

Shelagh O’Connor, the chief executive of the New Horizon Youth Centre, based in Somers Town, said that there had been a “spike in youth violence” across London.

She added: “There’s been a number of incidents both in Islington and Camden recently.

“It is an absolute tragedy to see young people, 15 or 16 years old, being stabbed. Not only is it a tragedy for the victims, it’s a tragedy for the perpetrator who’s a kid themselves and for both their families. Anything we can do to address that, we are trying to do. We actively have a project here, working with young people who have been involved, trying to create different opportunities and pathways away from being involved in gangs and youth violence.”

According to a Town Hall report, entitled “preventing youth crime and victimisation”, the level of youth violence has more than doubled in the past six years.

Camden Council have made cuts of £1.6million to youth services in the past three years as they looked to make savings in every area after funding from the government was slashed. They have continued to fund charities working with teenagers in the borough.

Council leader Georgia Gould said she was “really concerned” about the rise in violence, adding that she was “deeply affected” by Mr Aadam’s murder, which happened “in the middle of the day on a street that I walk down every day”.

She put the increase in violence down to a combination of factors, including cuts to the Met police budget and an increase in the drugs trade, some of which is linked to a rise in rough sleepers and some to Camden’s night life.

Cllr Gould said: “Anyone who is buying drugs in Camden is more than likely buying them from a chain that includes the exploitation and grooming of young people. I think it’s really important that people are aware of that.”

She said tackling the rise was a priority for the council, adding: “We know that we need to do more because these issues are still happening, so we are trying to think about how we can deal with this and work differently. We have set up a youth safety taskforce that is going to be looking at this across social work, youth services and the police.

“We have won a bid for £1.3m to work with young teenagers who are at risk of getting involved in offending.”

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