This blog is all that remains from the former website which was closed after 8 years of providing a 'wiki' of urban street gangs in London.

An unfinished history of modern urban street gangs in London has been used to replace some of the content of the original site, beginning here

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Osmani Trust’s East End gang warfare mediators open their new community centre

London 24
Mike Brooke Tuesday, February 14, 2012
9:11 PM

Hundreds of supporters and visitors packed a new youth centre—which mediates to reduce street gang wars in London’s East End—for its official grand opening.

Among the VIPs joining Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman cutting the ribbon yesterday (Monday) was Zara Brownless, winner of the BBC’s Young Apprentice contest who had turned up to address a Young Women’s conference being held at the new four-storey centre.

The Osmani Trust has long been making its mark with its gang mediation project tackling ‘turf wars’ which have plagued East End neighbourhoods for years.

Its gang mediation project visits schools to involve teenagers and aims to take the glamour out of youth conflict.

“We offer mediation and try to deglamorise youth conflict,” the Osmani Trust’s operations manager Jobrul Islam told The Docklands & East London Advertiser. “We get referrals from social services, schools, youth offending services and even the police.”

The trust has built up a team of 38 professional youth, advice and support workers and 70 community volunteers. Projects include youth and adult educational and employment support.

The centre uses a school sports hall next-door in the evenings to stage boxing, badminton, basketball, football and other sports which involves 1,000 teenagers and adults every week. It manages seven football teams in Sunday and Saturday leagues.

Last year’s Lord Mayor of the City of London, Sir Michael Bear, returned as its patron after having launched the original fund to build the centre.

He said: “I’ve done many speeches as Lord Mayor. The highlight for me last year was seeing this being built—now I’m here as you embark on you future.”

A series of events over five days to mark the centre’s official opening kicked off last Thursday with a health seminar bringing together professionals from industry and the NHS, then a women’s conference yesterday (Mon) and a mental health awareness day today.

But media attention is on tomorrow’s convention looking into riots, gangs and racism which examines approaches to youth conflict and the motivation behind it.
See more at:

Aasha Gang Mediation Project

Join Aasha on Facebook and see images from the Inspiring Changes event

Also follow Aasha Gang Mediation project on Twitter @gangmediation

Monday, 20 February 2012

Gang crime: another approach

Following a meeting in the East London Mosque, the young gang members turned into youth workers.

New Statesman

Following a meeting in the East London Mosque, the young gang members turned into youth workers. Photograph: Getty Images.

Posted by Alan White - 20 February 2012 17:16

Charities like Aasha Gang Mediation provide the things that working parents and the state can't.

A short walk east from the gleaming glass of the RBS building by Liverpool Street station, through Brick Lane, through the low rise red brick and concrete blocks of flats that make up the Spitalfields Estate, there's a big Victorian building, which looks like an old school. Outside, there's a small football pitch, and there are kids of all ages and races playing on it, with a crowd gathered round, screaming encouragement.

Next to this old building is a newer one. At the top floor of this, three Bengali men are talking to a room full of local youths, housing professionals, youth workers and others. Harun Miah is a short, stocky man in his 30s. Next to him is Abu Mumin, a slightly taller, bald man with a beard, and beside him Udjal Kamrujzaman. None of them look like criminals. But they have a fascinating story to tell.

Abu moved to England aged seven, and as an 80s child remembers a tough childhood - bricks through the window, kids riding through his estate on bikes looking for Pakis to bash. His friend would stuff copies of the Yellow Pages in his shirt when he walked down Brick Lane. His gang was originally formed to combat racists, but as the years went by it started to get involved in other things - drug dealing, battles with other gangs. One of the gangs with

whom there was a particularly vicious rivalry was Harun's: "I wanted to track him down and do him some serious damage."

The Bengali gangs of Tower Hamlets became increasingly territorial and violent. One night in 1997 it all came to a head. Udjal describes the aftermath of a brutal clash between the main five gangs: "All of the tendons in my hand were cut with a meat cleaver. My friend's ear and fingers were hanging off. I wasn't sure if I was going to live. In hospital my mother and sister were crying over me, but I was already plotting my revenge. Harun came to me and offered a new perspective: it was time to forgive. The community set up a meeting between the different gangs. I didn't want to go: I was crying because all I wanted was revenge. But I sat down, and we talked, and we forgave each other."

Following a meeting in the East London Mosque, the young gang members turned into youth workers. At first they were based in a Portakabin; then they squatted in the Victorian building next to the one in which they're talking. Aasha Gang Mediation, as the group was now called (Aasha means hope in Bengali) began to work with gang-involved youths - mediating in disputes, holding excursions and doing outreach work. Now it does much the same work and much more, in far more opulent surroundings, thanks to a council grant. It's half term, and Aasha's facilities keep the local kids out of trouble. Besides the football tournament, on the ground floor the kids are playing Playstation 3, on the floor above that pool and table football, and on the floor above that there's even a boxing tournament taking place.

This is what voluntary sector groups do up and down the country: they provide the things that working parents and the state can't. It's not really the kind of work that can be quantified - you can walk around Aasha's building and see it in action, but how do you know how many stabbings or shootings they've stopped?

This is one reason why, year after year, charities like Aasha find themselves struggling for money. About a third of their funding comes from the council, but for the rest they have to apply to others like Comic Relief or the National Lottery. The Gherkin and the shimmering lights of the Square Mile loom over Aasha's centre, but very little funding comes from private equity - at the last count, they'd managed £10,000 for the "Canary Wharf room". The group's building, which keeps hundreds of kids busy every week - and will for years - cost slightly less than Operation Trident's gang initiative. I was recently talking to a senior civil servant who said to me: "I'm amazed the banks aren't getting involved in funding projects in Tower Hamlets. There's so much poverty there, it's right on their doorstep and if ever there was an institution that needed the positive publicity it would bring, it's them."

The problem with the kind of funding a charity like Aasha gets is sustainability. At most, a voluntary body gets money for a project for one or two years. Let's say you want to employ a gang member, because he's got a good insight into the culture you're trying to subvert. How easy is it to employ someone like that on a six-month contract? What future employment prospects does he have once that's ended?

There's another problem with how the funding is granted - more often than not it involves the filling out of huge, abstruse forms, rather than monitoring in person. But a quick walk around Aasha's base reveals that the work they do isn't easy to express in terms of concrete aims - one day it's stopping a fight breaking out, the next it's talking a kid through his employment prospects.

Aasha's work will never generate the headlines that a police operation will. But in the long run, early intervention isn't just the best way to banish gangs for good: it's the only way.

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, the Times, Private Eye, The National & TLS. He lives in London and tweets as @aljwhite. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture, republished this year.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Positive Ways to Beat Gangs


Sunday Express

Theresa May admits the gang problem won't go away

Sunday February 12,2012

By Patrick Regan

POLICE and ­local authorities were last week ­given new powers to ­apply for gang injunctions for 14- to 17-year-olds. They are intended to stop young people going into ­certain areas and to force them to take part in rehabilitation ­activities.

While there is growing doubt that these measures could be ­effectively implemented, of more concern perhaps is the ­Government’s increasing emphasis on tactical-enforcement-type ­measures that they have already ­admitted cannot bring about a sustainable solution to gang ­culture.

As Home Secretary Theresa May freely admits: “We can’t ­arrest our way out of the [gang] problem.” So why then do they seem to be trying to do just that?

Tough enforcement alone may appear to work in the short term but it does not tackle why young people get involved in gangs in the first place. There is no denying that it was ­enforcement that ­returned order to our streets in the summer and, as recent experience has shown, there are certainly times when it is needed.

However, it is naïve to think that tactical ­enforcement measures alone will offer a ­strategic solution to the complex multiple causes of the violence and stop young people from leaving school and joining gangs.

There was no single cause of the violence and riots, and there is no single, ­quick-fix solution.

For the thousands who took to the streets it seemed as if there was nothing holding them back: no relationships and no future prospects to be put at risk . Indeed, of those brought before the courts two-thirds had special educational needs, more than one in 10 had been permanently ­excluded from school and 70 per cent lived in some of the most ­deprived areas of the UK. Many of the rioters felt that they had nothing to lose.

For too many youngsters anger and frustration is a default ­setting. The question we need to ask is: Are we giving our young people something to live for?

If your only experience of “community” for the most part has been a combination of poverty, poor housing, family breakdown, addiction, educational failure, crime, violence, gangs and unemployment, then you lose the ­normal ability to trust, any hope for the future and your perspective on right and wrong.

There is no excuse for unlawful behaviour but from my 18 years of working with young people in inner cities, the key to ­ bringing about sustainable change is ­“relationship”. Relationship can ­restore a young person’s trust in people, it can nurture the belief that things can change and an ­alternative ­future is possible, and it acts as a reference point for ­determining right and wrong.

I have witnessed courageous life decisions made by young ­people emerging from tragic and hopeless situations, because of a strong and trusted relationship.

Through such a ­relationship a young person realises that change is possible and in order to see that change happen they ­begin to work hard and alter their behaviour and ­attitudes.

It takes time and for the other party in the relationship it can be tough: young people can change but they don’t always change quickly or easily!

Don’t misunderstand me. I know enforcement is necessary and I support the aims of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe’s raid-and -arrest campaign to deal with gang culture and criminality.

Yet as the Commissioner ­ acknowledges, that is dealing with the consequences. What I ask is that the Government invest in the people and organisations working to divert or prevent young people joining a gang in the first place.

Free those working in our statutory youth organisations from the endless process and paperwork that steals away valuable time that they would so dearly love to spend developing relationships with young people.

Focus more resources on third-sector organisations that have proven track records of working with young people in a relational way and steering them away from or back from gang culture.

Invest in creating real jobs and apprenticeship schemes. Then, if we do these things, maybe we will not need to be debating the rights and wrongs of raid-and-­arrest campaigns. We will not need them.

Patrick Regan is CEO of the youth charity XLP ( and is on the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice.

You can also follow Patrick and XLP on Twitter at @PatrickReganXLP and @xlplondon

Friday, 10 February 2012

Girl gangs warned of rape risk

The Guardian
Press Association, Friday February 10 2012

A network of 13 Young People's Advocates, which will work in areas most affected by gangs, will provide direct support to young people who have been victims of sexual violence or exploitation or are at risk of becoming victims, the Home Office said.

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone on Thursday visited the Lilian Baylis Technology School in Kennington, south-west London, where pupils were learning about gangs and sexual violence.

Speaking afterwards, Ms Featherstone said: "It's quite clear that everyone would be entirely shocked by the level of violence girls and young women have to experience if they get involved with gangs and it has been a very hidden issue.

"The fund for advocates is about putting in specialised, expert, sensitive support to work with these young girls so they can be helped. They will form a network across the country to share information and best practice to make inroads into such a horrific issue."

In the school session, specialist youth workers and serving and retired police officers from the Growing Against Gangs and Violence project discussed what being in a gang is like and how it can involve rape and violence. The project, which has received £30,000 from the Home Office, aims to raise awareness and change attitudes to gangs.

Detective Allen Davis, of the Metropolitan Police, said: "Girls need to know they are used and abused within gangs, that they are passed around and are second class citizens.

"Ultimately girls are disposable, it's the boys that gain status and respect by putting in work and that means committing crime and hurting people. Girls get status in this world by who they have sex with and it makes them very vulnerable, the boys have the power to use and abuse them."

Youth workers also warned the teenagers about what can happen if they become involved in gangs and criminal activity.

Mr Davis added: "We talk about the idea that girls are setting up other boys to be hurt and other girls to be raped, that the girls are there to conceal the drugs and the guns. They are there unfortunately to be used for the sexual pleasure of gang members."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Anti-gangs strategy risks becoming attack on young people, adviser warns


Claudia Webbe says she fears police have not done enough to build trust, as Scotland Yard launches crackdown
Vikram Dodd, Wednesday 8 February 2012 15.22 GMT

Boris Johnson and Bernard Hogan-Howe launch the gang crime command. Photograph: Tony Kyriacou/Rex Features

A Scotland Yard initiative that aims to double the number of officers tackling gang crime could become "a wholesale attack on young people", according to an adviser given the task of bringing together the police and community.

Claudia Webbe, who chairs the Metropolitan police's independent advisory group for Trident – which has worked with the police to boost community confidence in the Met and generate information about gun criminals – said she feared the force had not done enough to build the trust of young people.

The new Trident gang crime command will tackle gun crime and spearhead the fight against gangs. The measures are the Met's response to demands from the Tory mayor of London, Boris Johnson, for police to do more to tackle gang crime.

The initiative was launched with police raids on more than 100 addresses across the capital, involving around 1,300 police staff, with cameras in tow, in the hunt for alleged criminal gang members.

Police said 171 warrants had been executed and 231 arrests made. Half a kilogram of heroin and a "large amount" of cash were seized from an address in Southwark and a kilogram of heroin, crack cocaine and £10,000 cash were taken in Bexleyheath, with four arrests made there, police said.

The Met said there were an estimated 250 active criminal gangs in London, comprising about 4,800 suspects, mostly aged between 18 and 24. Of these gangs, 62 were considered "high harm".

The force said gangs – which ranged from organised criminal networks involved in class A drugs supply and firearms, to street-based gangs involved in violence and muggings – were responsible for approximately 22% of serious violence, 17% of robberies, 50% of shootings and 14% of rapes in London.

Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Met commissioner, said: "We want to prevent young people getting involved in gang offending, so we and other agencies are offering ways out to support young people. However, those who refuse our offer of help will be pursued and brought to justice."

The initiative will cost £60m a year, at a time when the Met is facing large budget cuts, and the force said it was a long-term commitment. Trident officers were increasingly finding the shootings they were investigating were gang-linked, so it made sense for the unit to expand to tackle the issue, the Met said.

Officers also believe the Trident "brand" is feared among criminals. Thursday's initiative was the latest anti-gangs plan produced by the Met in recent years. The new anti-gangs strategy will require local councils and other services to help divert young people away from gangs. There is not yet a London-wide plan in place for such work, and privately police say some councils' plans are better than others.

Hogan-Howe said: "We're not concerned with peer groups or just friends who may hang around, and we have no intention of criminalising an entire generation. Our focus is on violence and criminal behaviour associated with gangs and gang members."

Community involvement will be key to the strategy's success, but some are sceptical. Webbe said a key to the success of Trident's earlier work had been police working with communities and listening to them, and she feared the Met had not done that work with young people.

"The danger now is moving the resources of Trident away from tackling organised and serious crime into a wholesale attack on young people. There is no evidence that any work has been undertaken by the [Met] to build trust and confidence with young people," she said.

"I am concerned about the headline-grabbing approach and the political gamble taken by the mayor and implemented by the commissioner."

The launch comes two months before a tightly contested mayoral election. Last month, the mayor assumed control for policing strategy in the capital. Johnson said: "I made it clear when appointing a new Met police commissioner that this was the top crime priority for our city, a view shared by Bernard Hogan-Howe."

Brian Paddick, the former police chief who is the Liberal Democrat candidate to be London's mayor, also criticised the plan, saying the move could be politically driven. After last summer's riots, David Cameron blamed gangs, a claim undermined when police forces released figures showing only a minority of those arrested for offences belonged to known gangs.Paddick said: "There appears to be a deliberate attempt by some politicians to blame gangs for an increase in violent crime, which is just not justified. There were the riots where gangs were blamed, which was not borne out by statistics. Now we're seeing disproportionate resources being focused on gangs."

Last month, the prime minister's adviser on gangs, the American former police chief Bill Bratton, said gangs in the UK were less of a problem than in the US. "The firearm problem in England is almost laughable in the sense of how small it is," Bratton said. "The gangs here, I would describe as basically wannabes. They're heavily influenced by American gangs – in dress, in language, in the stupid signs they use." Ends

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Gangs in the dock: change or we'll keep coming after you

Evening Standard

Stark message: former gang member Jermaine Jones-Lawler asked youths at Wood Green court: "Is your life worth more than a postcode?"

David Cohen
1 Feb 2012

The members of the Get Money Gang sat in the dock smirking and fidgeting.

These 10 Enfield teenagers, sporting bristling haircuts and suspected of GBH, robbery and carrying knives, blithely ignored the heavy police presence inside Wood Green crown court and joshed among themselves.

You would not have guessed from their menacing swagger that this was to be a defining moment in their lives. Yet within the next electrifying hour, their demeanour would become more sober as a stark choice was hammered home.

That choice was delivered by police officers, in front of a judge, at the first "gang call-in" ever held in England. It was this: change and we will help you change; carry on as you are and we will come after you. They would hear from former gang members and listen to the raw testimony of the mother of a murdered teenager.

To their credit, these 10 were the smart few in their crew of 50. They had been wise enough to accept a police invitation to attend this American-imported initiative, which was tried successfully in Glasgow in 2008, leading to a 50 per cent fall in violent crime among a 500-strong target group.

Four hours earlier, with timing that only heightened the urgency of the capital's gang problem, a teenager was stabbed after being chased into a barber's shop, yards from the court.

Yet while forensic science officers from Haringey cordoned off Lordship Lane to comb it for evidence, inside the court police were attempting something pre-emptive and proactive, never before tried in London.

The proceedings began bizarrely at 6.30pm, with some blaring Eminem-style rap mood music. A vigilant police officer removed the water decanter from the dock because "it could be used as a weapon".

Minutes later Judge Shaun Lyons entered and addressed the youths, mostly white and aged 13 to 19, telling them: "Listen very carefully to what you hear today. It may change your life."

First up was Chief Inspector Ian Kibblewhite of Enfield police. He had just begun his speech when he suddenly broke off. "Is it funny?" he shouted, glaring at a couple of sneering gang members. "You may think you belong to a big gang, you may be 50 people, even 100, but we have 32,000 in our gang. It's called the Metropolitan police."

He told them: "You have a straightforward decision. If you choose to change, everybody in this courtroom will help you. If you don't we will come after you. We know where you live, who your families are, where you go to school. And as the Stephen Lawrence case showed, we have long memories, 18 years long, and we will come after you until we get you."

Next came Frank Cross, former consultant surgeon at the Royal London Hospital, who showed gory photographs - including a man with a meat-cleaver embedded in his chest - to clinically illustrate the devastating impact of a knife on the human body.

But it was the brave testimony of a grieving mother that transfixed the court. Nicola Dyer's 16-year-old son Shakilus Townsend was stabbed to death by seven teenagers in a notorious south London honeytrap murder three years ago. The mother of five spoke of the devastation his death had wrought: "I still remember the comments at my son's funeral when people said, 'Oh, he's a soldier.' But there is nothing soldier-like about being run down like an animal in the street and stabbed and beaten to death.

"My younger ones, six and seven, have lots of questions about how their older brother died. His sister is so depressed she wants her life to end. Sometimes I can't sleep. The other day, I had a dream and my son was in trouble. My first thought when I woke was, 'He's okay, he's in his bed.' It took a bit of time to dawn: he hasn't slept in his bed for three years. He'll never sleep in his bed again."

Ms Dyer, 36, had to pause several times, breathing deeply to regain her composure and to deliver the final message she wanted the youths to hear. "You might think that because you carry a knife, you will be the one who kills, but you might be the one who is killed, and your family will go through the nightmare that we did."

Jermaine Jones-Lawler, 20, from east London, was one of three former gang members to give the boys a piece of his mind. But instead of addressing them from the centre of the court like the others, he stood inches from the bullet-proof glass wall of the dock, looked into their eyes and said: "I've sat where you sit, in cuffs. I was looking at seven years for GBH, robbery, carrying a knife. I stabbed people.

"A lot of my friends got killed. I know men in prison who cry themselves to sleep every night and are doing life for murder.

"You are lucky - I wish I had been given the chance you have today. I'm not going to lie and tell you leaving [the gang] is easy, cos it ain't. But if you don't, next time you hear these words you will be in prison, or dead, and we'll be leaning over your coffin and saying, 'What a waste.' First step to leave this bullsh*t life is to ask yourself: is your life worth more than a postcode?"

You could have heard a pin drop. A former member of the Hotbloods gang in Florida, Ashton Dacosta, 24, spoke. "I was making two-and-a-half grand a day selling class-A. If you messed with my gang, we kidnapped your mother, your little sister," he said. "One guy got shot and his brain landed on my lap. I saw 10 people die. Now I see all my dead friends every time I go to sleep. It's not about area codes. When people ask me where I'm from I say, 'My mum.' You're at a pivotal point. Make the change."

It was riveting stuff, a mix of carrot and stick. At the end, each of the youths was given a card with a number to call that would "change their life".

An Enfield council officer said: "Contact us and we will work with you, there are lots of groups waiting to help you." Judge Lyons sent them away with one thought. "When you leave tonight, you will be led through the cells and out onto the street, but next time you're in that dock, you may lose years of your life. You have heard. Now you have a choice to make. Go away and think about it."

So how had it gone? Were the police disappointed to have only got 10 attendees when in Strathclyde they got an average of 40 at each call-in? "No," said Enfield's borough commander, Chief Superintendent Simon Laurence. "The turnout was similar to the pilot in Scotland. We see this as the first step of several call-ins over coming months."

The Get Money Gang, he added, are one of two serious gangs in Enfield responsible for 30 to 40 per cent of violent crime in the borough.

Will it work? With 400 gangs in London, including 60 "high-harm" groups engaged in serious crime, borough commanders will be watching closely.

Meanwhile, in Enfield, the police are waiting by their phones, hoping the Get Money Gang make the right call.