CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Vulnerable children groomed by drug dealers, council taskforce finds

‘I am living with a stranger,’ says mother as £500,000 is pledged by Town Hall to combat explosion in knife crime linked to drug gangs

27 September, 2018 — By William McLennan

Athian Akec, Camden Youth MP, with Sir Keir Starmer, Abdul Hai and Georgia Gould

VULNERABLE children in Camden are being groomed by adult drug dealers, a council report into the underlying causes of a rise in knife violence has found.

The investigation, which took place over a 12-month period in which five young men were fatally stabbed, found a lack of understanding of the issue, stating that the public did not show the “same distaste” for ex­ploitation by drug gangs as other forms of child abuse.

The mother of one 14-year-old boy who had been coerced into running drugs, told the New Journal: “I am living with a stranger. It is a nightmare. He’s so badly been groomed that he can’t see it. Everyone older, he thinks they’re God.”

Camden Council leader Georgia Gould has pledged £500,000 to help deliver the report’s recommendations within the borough. Her commitment came just 24 hours after London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced a £500,000 investment in a “violence reduction unit” for the whole of the capital, which aims to take a similar “public health app­roach” to solving the issue by drawing together different agencies.

Camden’s Youth Safety Taskforce was set up shortly after the death of Mohammed Aadam Mo­hammed in Mornington Crescent in September last year amid rising violence.

A further four young men from Camden aged 20 or under – including Mr Mohammed’s brother – have since been stabbed to death. Experts interviewed as part of the probe, including police officers, youth workers and teen-trauma psychologists, reported that: “The illegal, damaging and dangerous [drug] trade is profiting from the exploitation of children.”

The report says: “There is no doubt among the professionals who spoke with the taskforce that young children in Camden are being exploited by older criminals, specifically in the drugs trade.”

Council leader Georgia Gould comforts Aydarus Ahmed, uncle of two knife victims

The council-commissioned Youth Safety Taskforce, unveiled to a packed church in Kentish Town on Thursday, also revealed a “striking” distrust of police and the council among some young people and their families which was under­mining attempts to tackle youth violence. It recommends a “whole Camden app­roach”, with lessons highlighted for the council, police, schools and other services.

The report says: “During focus groups, it was made clear to the taskforce that many young people in the borough distrust the police. This is especially, though not exclusively, the case among those from BME [black and minority ethnic] communities”. The taskforce also learnt that some parents, particularly mothers in the Somali communities, do not seek support from public services due to mistrust.”

It adds: “This reported distrust is detrimental to efforts to tackle youth violence, and efforts must be made to improve relations.”

Among the report’s other findings are:

    • A lack of support for those aged 18 to 25 at risk of violence or being involved in gangs. l A need for more youth services, particularly targeted at the “transition” age of 10-14.
    • More focus on targeting those “at the top” of the drugs trade.
    • A need for more support for children who have been excluded from school, or may be at risk of exclusion.

The taskforce was commissioned by council leader Councillor Georgia Gould and co-chaired by Councillor Abdul Hai and Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer.

Its significance grew after Abdikarim Hassan, 17, and Sadiq Aadam Mohammed, 20,  were stabbed to death in a series of linked knife attacks on one night. Mr Starmer, speaking at St Luke’s Church, a short walk from the scene of Mr Hassan’s death in Bartholomew Road, recalled the heated response to the killings.

He said: “I’m glad we had those rollercoaster nights, I’m glad people felt able to come and shout at us and tell us it was our responsibility to do something about it.” “Inequality of almost every sort is hard-wired into this equation, particularly inequality of opportunity”, he added. The focus must be on developing “clear action plans now”.

Cllr Gould said the report’s recommendations “are serious ones that will genuinely save lives”.

The £500,000 investment will “make sure this isn’t a report that just sits on the shelf”.

‘His gang elders are so important to him’

THINGS  started to fall into place for Alice when she found a train ticket to Worthing among the possessions of her 14-year-old son, who had just returned home to Bloomsbury, having run away for three weeks.

“I knew straight away that nobody would be looking after him for free,” she told the New Journal.

She noticed a change in his behaviour and phone calls to men who sounded far older than his peers. She believes he was selling drugs, both in Camden and further afield outside London – a practice known to police as “county lines” and to participants as “out there” or “OT”.

While she always strived to provide a stable home, she believes her son was an easy target due to a lifelong disease that left him eager to prove himself to the so-called gang elders.

“His elders are his life. They’re so important to him,” she said. “He has gone in there with his eyes open. He says: ‘I’ll do it’, but they’ve groomed him for it to be that way. He sees them with money. He sees them able to get a car and book a hotel.”

Things came to a head when her son, then aged 15, was brutally stabbed, leaving him in hospital for weeks.

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