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Monday, 16 April 2012
Ex-criminal Danny battles to stop Fulham teenagers using knives
Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle
By Adam Courtney
Apr 16 2012
As knife crime continues to devastate families in London and beyond, the issue of teenagers carrying blades remains very much to the fore. Reporter ADAM COURTNEY caught up with an extraordinary group of adults and children who are trying to persuade youngsters to: DROP THE KNIFE AND GET A LIFE
THE REFORMED CRIMINAL: Danny Davidge, 31, from Fulham. Twitter:@dannydenerosw6
Danny grew up on the tough Clem Attlee Estate and it wasn't long before he was causing trouble. "It's a tough place to live because there is a lot of peer pressure," says Danny, "I started burgling cars because I thought I was impressing the girls - there are so many of them that like a tough guy. But then I got locked up."
He spent three years in prison, came out and promptly got put inside again for driving without a licence. It was then that he realised he had to clean up his act after his family warned him any further jail time would lose him their support. Losing his friends to knife and gun crime rammed home the point.
"If you mix in certain circles, you are lucky to make 30 in Fulham. I'm serious. My friends were dropping like flies when I got to 25. I know people from both sides."
After working for the St Giles Trust, a charity for offenders, for six years, he turned his attention to the knife wielding youngsters which he says are growing in number.
"My generation used to take pen knives to school and would use them to pick our nails - we would never have stabbed people with them," said Danny, who is dad to Leon, 12, Daniel, five and Billy, three. "It's amazing how many have got them now and they are doing it for the same reason I used to burgle cars - to show off."
He is raising money to buy equipment to make three short anti-knife films, one of which is entitled Sharp Knife, Short Life, with his friend Harry Nudge, 29. The pair will recruit local school children as actors and will then show their work in classrooms.
"Naughty kids can relate to me because I have lived their lives. I have already persuaded a few to throw away their weapons and tell them there's another life. There's an idea that prison is glamorous in some way but there's nothing glamorous about being in confinement for 23 hours. Yes, you get a TV - but it's just a TV at the end of the day.
"They all want to be footballers and if they don't make it they think there's nothing else - but they can be anything, actors, artists, whatever. They don't need a knife to look cool."
THE TIRELESS CAMPAIGNER: Danny O'Brien, 46, from Ilford. Twitter: @milesnotknives
What makes a man suddenly devote his life - and his benefit money - to a tireless campaign to stop knife crime? Danny O'Brien can't really say why he's doing it - he just feels compelled to.
Through his Anti-Knife UK campaign he has organised a march for 5,000 people, raises awareness through social media and has just produced a series of emotive posters which are to be displayed by 30 football clubs and at schools up and down the country.
Danny said: "I remember in 2008 I was reading about kids dying on an almost daily basis - I looked into it and discovered there was even more of this happening than was getting reported. Families are being devastated too often."
Police numbers are a constant source of debate, but Danny says more officers on the streets is only a small part of the fight and sees prevention as the only cure.
"Officers can't be everywhere, no matter how many there are. Let's say you patrol the Clem Attlee Estate - the kids will just go off somewhere else," Danny said.
"The schools need to do more. How great would it be if someone like Danny, someone kids relate to, talked to them. You have to grab them early, when they're 11 and 12,"
Parents could also do more, says Danny. "Kids go to their rooms, go on their computers and get recruited by gangs in online chat rooms. Before they know it, they are leading that life - and it's difficult to get out."
Danny sometimes feels like giving up because of a lack of response to his ideas from government, but won't rest until he has made some progress.
"I would be stupid to say I can stop knife crime entirely but if I can stop one child carrying a knife it's worth it. We can't bury our heads in the sand."
THE PARENT, HER SON, HIS FRIENDS: Debbie Phelps, Tyrone Phelps, Stephano Chagas and Leonard Herbertson, all 12
Perhaps the most striking words come from Henry Compton pupil Leonard. "I always have to look over my shoulder, and I just think what's the point of even going out if there's a risk of getting hurt."
Leonard and his friends say most of their peers are carrying blades. They look like 12-year-olds but talk like they're older and more hardened than you think they should be, They talk about robbery and stabbing as if it's an everyday occurrence which, sadly, it seems to be.
But they are determined not to become part of it and Tyrone, a pupil at Hurlingham and Chelsea School, has penned a series of poems, which he hopes gain national recognition.
Mother Debbie, who has joined the two Dannys in promoting the poster campaign, said: "It's not easy and you have to watch them like a hawk but with the right direction you can keep them out of trouble."