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

Monday, 30 September 2013

War on illegal drugs 'failing'

Evening Standard

Medical researchers say street prices of illegal drugs, such as cocaine, have fallen in real terms since 1990

Published: 30 September 2013

The so-called war on drugs is failing to curb supply despite the increasing amounts of funding being ploughed into law enforcement, medical researchers have warned.

Street prices of illegal drugs have fallen in real terms since 1990 while the purity of the substances has generally increased, a sign of increased availability, according to the research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Most national drug control strategies have focused on law enforcement to curb supply despite calls to explore other approaches, such as decriminalisation and strict legal regulation, the report said.

It comes after Durham chief constable Mike Barton claimed decriminalisation was the best way to wrestle power away from criminal gangs.

Writing in The Observer, the national intelligence leader for the Association of Chief Police Officers also suggested the NHS should supply class-A drugs such as heroin and cocaine to addicts.

The BMJ Open study looked at data from seven international government-funded drug surveillance systems which had at least 10 years of information on the price and purity of cannabis, cocaine and opiates, including heroin.

The report said "the global supply of illicit drugs has likely not been reduced in the previous two decades" and added " the data presented in this study suggest that the supply of opiates and cannabis have increased, given the increasing potency and decreasing prices of these illegal commodities".

It concluded: "These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing."

Co-author Dr Evan Wood, scientific chair of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, said: "T hese findings add to the growing body of evidence that the war on drugs has failed.

"We should look to implement policies that place community health and safety at the forefront of our efforts, and consider drug use a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.

"With the recognition that efforts to reduce drug supply are unlikely to be successful, there is a clear need to scale up addiction treatment and other strategies that can effectively reduce drug-related harm."

The United Nations recently estimated the illicit drug trade is worth at least 350 billion US dollars (£217 billion) every year.

The BMJ Open study also reviewed the number of seizures of illegal drugs in drug production regions and rates of consumption in markets where demand for illegal drugs is high.

Among the findings, the report said in Europe, the average price of opiates and cocaine, adjusted for inflation and purity, decreased by 74% and 51% respectively between 1990 and 2010.

Danny Kushlick, head of external affairs at think-tank Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said: "This research should serve as a wake-up call to policymakers to legally regulate drugs as an urgent priority.

"It's way past the time for our political leaders in Europe to explore effective alternatives to the war on drugs, which has been proved a catastrophic failure. Billions of dollars and millions of lives are at stake if they fail to act."

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Frontline London: Gangbuster - 'It's not enough to lock people up... we offer them a way out'

EVENING STANDARD, Author David Cohen

Exclusive interview: Cdr Steve Rodhouse talks to David Cohen and Ian Walker

Game plan: Commander Steve Rodhouse aims to balance enforcement with prevention

Published: 26 September 2013

Tackling London’s 250 gangs, from violent street-level gangs to organised crime, is now the Metropolitan Police’s number one priority and this new urgency and focus has begun to have an impact on reducing violent crime. So said Commander Steve Rodhouse, the Met’s head of gangs and organised crime and charged by Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe 18 months ago with the responsibility to “up the Met’s game concerning gangs in London”.

Speaking exclusively to the Evening Standard at New Scotland Yard and giving his first newspaper interview in a year, Mr Rodhouse said the research by University College London about Londoners growing up with shootings, stabbings and murder as “the norm” (as published in yesterday’s Standard) came as “no surprise”.

“We are very much aware that there is a cohort of people growing up in London for whom extreme violence is normalised because of what they have seen,” he said. “It is also unsurprising that many of these young people, perhaps let down by their families and other institutions, turn to gangs as a sort of surrogate family. Gangs are responsible for half of all shootings and a quarter of serious violent crime. It was very much the Commissioner’s thing when he came in two years ago that we need to tackle gangs as our top priority and that by doing so, we would make a dent in wider criminality.”

But taking on the gangs has required the Met to directly address its past failure to grasp a problem that has bedeviled London for a decade. Part of the issue, said Mr Rodhouse, who wove a fine line between not criticising his predecessors yet being frank about the failed strategy of the past, had been the attitude of denial by the Met towards gangs.

“We have completely changed the language of the Met around gangs and that is really helpful, because until you acknowledge a problem, until you stop hiding it away, you’re not going to be able to resolve it,” he said. It is instructive that prior to 2007, teenage homicides were not even collated by the police, despite the fact that they had been a highly visible problem since 2001. A Freedom of Information request revealed that 95 teenagers were murdered in the six years from 2001-6, as compared to 124 in the seven years since. Clearly, he added, the London riots in 2011 helped focus minds in the Home Office that gangs cannot be ignored.

In order to deliver, the Met reorganised itself by widening the remit of Trident from gun-enabled homicides to gangs. The establishment of Trident Gang Crime Command meant that 1,000 Trident officers were deployed to tackle stabbings, responsible for two-thirds of the teenage homicides since 2007 and a high proportion of gang crime, and not just shootings as before, which account for barely a fifth of deaths. In a stroke, this “centralised and brought consistency to the fight against gangs” which until then had been “inconsistent and erratic on a borough by borough” basis, he said.

So with 500 Trident officers deployed centrally and another 500 in the worst 18 boroughs, are we any nearer to declaring victory over the gang problem than we were six years ago when 26 teenage murders in a single year forced this issue up the agenda?

“We have made a good start, but it is too early to claim victory,” said Mr Rodhouse. He pointed to a 28 per cent reduction in stabbings of under-25s and a 20 per cent fall in gun crime in the 12 months to April, the first full year under his watch and the most significant decline in youth knife violence since 2009.

Of the 250 gangs known to the Met, 54 have been the most active, accounting for two-thirds of gang crime. There are about 3,500 gang members identified by the police across London, of whom 1,000 are in prison, tagged or on probation.

But there was also an acknowledgement, he added, that more enlightened preventative strategies were needed to eradicate gangs and that ultimately “you only suppress the problem through enforcement”.

Mr Rodhouse, 42, who lives with his family in Surrey, said: “We recognise that you don’t tackle gangs just by locking people up and that a wide array of overt and covert preventative strategies are needed. Our approach is to identify the most harmful individuals and gangs and offer them a way out, making it clear that if they don’t we will fully enforce the law.

“Having kids myself, I appreciate the life chances they have versus the challenges these gang members face. It makes total sense that our game plan now is to balance enforcement with prevention.”

How successful has diversion been? So far 55 gang members, he said, have been re-housed with their families through their Safe and Secure scheme, run by the Met’s charity, the Safer London Foundation. They are asked to sever ties with their former life and in return are given mentors, job training, counselling and a new start.

“One former gang member from Newham is now a stockbroker. Some are quite entrepreneurial and can do well with the right help. Lots of groups have failed to protect these people before they come into our hands, including parents, schools, social workers, and health visitors. An exit route is preferable because we can transform the problem rather than suppress it. No gang prevention strategy has ever worked anywhere unless you get people into a job and help make them economically viable.”

The Met has taken its pro-active strategies to 800 youth engagement events in 18 months, reaching 22,000 young people. There is no “single worst borough” in London when it comes to gangs, he said, though Lambeth, Southwark and Hackney were consistently up there as among the worst affected.

Does he have a message to ordinary Londoners? “That tackling gangs is a long-term challenge, that it is the responsibility of London as a whole, and that the police on their own cannot resolve this problem. Londoners can help by making it clear that gang violence in their community is not supported, by coming forward as witnesses and by being active in helping transform crime hotspots into opportunity zones.”

He cautioned against quick fixes. “This is a deep societal problem and cannot be solved overnight. We welcome the light the Standard is shedding on an area that concerns us all and are proud of the progress we have made, but if in five years we have reduced gang crime even further, maybe then we can talk about this being a turning point and a successful model. Right now, we power on, but it’s too early to say.”
The facts

3,500 - gang members in London identified by the police, belonging to around 250 gangs

1,000 - Trident police officers charged with tackling gangs

54 - highly active gangs responsible for two-thirds of gang-related crime

28% - decline in stabbings of people under 25 in the year to April, from 1,905 offences to 1,380

20% - fall in gun discharges in the year to April, from 496 to 397

55 - gang members whose families have been given a fresh start and re-housed as part of the Met’s Safe and Secure scheme

2,800 - gang members arrested and charged by the police in the last year

124 - teenage murders in London since January 2007, of which 80 were stabbings, 25 were shootings and 19 assault, arson or other

4,968 - serious youth violence offences (including stabbings and shootings) in the year to April, down by 28% from the previous year

Evening Standard: The Gangs of London – Leap’s response

Wednesday 25th September 2013

Read our response to the Evening Standard campaign: The Gangs of London

On Wednesday 25th September, the Evening Standard launched a new campaign called The Gangs of London. I think it’s great that the challenge of serious violence by and between young people is given such a strong prominence in London’s leading newspaper.

However, there’s a real risk that the article presents young people as a lost cause. We work in an alliance of national and London youth organisations (listed below), who feel strongly that we best serve the interests of young people by highlighting their potential and ability to take control of their lives – not by presenting them as determined purely by their circumstances.

Ricky’s story, as told in the article, is tragically similar to many of the lives of the young people we work with – except in one respect. In Leap’s experience – in its training of young people who carry weapons, offend or are in gangs – they have untapped talents, potential and resources and can take very impressive responsibility for their lives and for those around them. Leap’s programmes really challenge them to understand their relationship with anger, fear and excitement. They learn how to respond instead of react – to become role models instead of ring leaders. After 26 years of work we continue to be surprised and delighted by the heights that young people can reach overcoming their challenges.

We applaud the Evening Standard for starting the debate and hope this is the beginning of a more coordinated response. Now let’s hear from some young people who have more positive outcomes.

Thomas Lawson
Chief Executive
Leap Confronting Conflict

Alliance members:
Street League
Youth at Risk
London Youth
UK Youth
Foyer Federation

We asked Clark Short, 21 an apprentice at Leap what he thought about the first article:

“I feel like this campaign is writing off young people who are involved in gangs; it doesn’t show much hope for them to change which is sad and it makes it all sound so hopeless. It portrays all young people in such a negative way when actually it’s only a select group involved in these activities – lots of young people are contributing to society and doing great things, even if they’ve had problems in their lives. I don’t think it’s right to group all young people together like this.

It’s good that the problem of youth violence and gangs has been given so much attention by a big newspaper like the Evening Standard, hopefully more people will take notice and support young people to get out of gangs.”

Clark, 21 Leytonstone
Quarrel Shop Graduate and Business Support Apprentice at Leap

Monday, 9 September 2013

The gangs of Britain: New TV series reveals 100 years of organised crime

THE news is full nowadays of the predominance of criminal gangs in our cities.
By: Neil Clark Published: Mon, September 9, 2013

Menace: New BBC series Peaky Blinders depicts historic mob warfare [BBC]

A study published in July found that one per cent of men between 18-34 in Britain are gang members. Though we may be shocked by such statistics, the presence of gangsters in the UK is nothing new and existed long before the infamous days of the Krays in the Sixties.

Major new BBC drama series Peaky Blinders tells the story of one such gang that operated in Birmingham, England's second city, a hundred or so years ago. The Peaky Blinders made money from illegal bookmaking, protection rackets, the black market and robbery.

They were ruthless if anyone stood in their way and got their name from the razor blades they kept in the brims of their caps. "The Peaky Blinders are like the Borgias in nail boots. These are highly intelligent people surviving the only way they know how," says the series' writer Steven Knight, whose great uncles were members of the gang.

The Peaky Blinders were formed in the late 19th century but the series is set immediately following the First World War, obviously a time of great chaos and turmoil. Soldiers returning from the battle-fields found that instead of the "land fit for heroes" promised by politicians there were no jobs. Guns smuggled home from the front were in circulation. Revolution was in the air.

Cillian Murphy plays Tommy Shelby, the violent young head of the gang, traumatised by his wartime experiences. Helen McCrory is aunt Polly, the matriarch of the Shelby family. Sadistic chief inspector Campbell, played by Sam Neill, is sent over from Northern Ireland to break up the gang.

That post-war world provided plenty of opportunities for gangs to make money in gambling and extortion rackets. Betting was only allowed at racecourses, leading to a large illegal betting industry.

Bookmakers, shopkeepers and publicans were expected to pay protection money or receive a visit from the heavy mob.

Other cities had their own equivalents of the Peaky Blinders. Sheffield has a long gangland history. "During the First World War there were the Gas Tank Gang and the Red Silk and White Silk gangs who wore coloured scarves to denote their allegiances," says James Morton, author of The Mammoth Book Of Gangs.

After the First World War the Mooney Gang, run by army deserter George Mooney, took prominence. Its specialisation was extorting money from local businesses.

A cut in miners' wages meant less profits for the Sheffield gangs and there was a battle between Mooney and the Park Gang.

In 1923 the Park Gang stormed Mooney's house at Christmas but he hid in a cupboard. Gangland wars continued in Sheffield for several years and it wasn't until 1928 that the police managed to break the organisations up.

In Glasgow the Redskin gang was more than 1,000 members strong but there were others too. "In the early Twenties there were the Cheeky Forty and the Black Diamonds, who could each muster 100 a side," writes Morton. Battles were common. "In one fight two hard men slashed at each other with razors, stopped and went to hospital together to be patched up. The loser, however, continued his quarrel but this time hired a man from the Gorbals to do battle for him."

The Billy Boys were a Protestant gang and fought Catholic gangs. One year the Billy Boys fought the Catholic Norman Conk razor gang on nearly every bank holiday or Catholic Saints Day. Some gangs "graduated" from fighting to becoming general criminal enterprises.

Morton records how Glasgow's Beehive Corner Boys went from being a fighting gang "to a team of housebreakers, safe breakers and armed robbers".

London was the world's first gangland capital, with gangs establishing themselves there before moving on to American cities such as New York and Chicago.

In 1931, Frederick Wensley, a former commander of Scotland Yard, wrote: "Any reader of the papers these days might come to the conclusion that Chicago is the only place in which organised bands of criminals ever existed. The public have a short memory. It is not so very long ago that we, in the East End and some other districts of London, were engaged in stamping out groups of criminals, many of whom waged a sort of warfare among themselves and against the public."

At the turn of the 20th century the leading gang in the East End was the Whitechapel-based Bessabarabian Tigers, a 40-strong group of Russian-Jewish immigrants who levied protection tolls on shopkeepers and engaged in blackmail. The Italian Sabini Brothers dominated the London crime scene in the Twenties. Bottle parties, clubs, public houses, even ordinary shops had to pay protection money to the Sabini extortionists.

"No one dared to refuse," recorded Fifties crime journalist Duncan Webb. "If they did the Sabinis gave information to the police which compelled the law to act for some broken petty regulation.

Individuals connected with the premises were attacked in the streets. Proprietors of businesses finished up in hospital."

The Sabinis also made vast sums extorting money from racecourse bookmakers, taking as much as £20,000 on Epsom Derby day.

Charles "Darby" Sabini, like other gangland bosses, had his dos and don'ts. Women were to be treated with respect. He didn't like Italian youths to drink before they were 20. He also didn't like to witness too much violence himself. "Darby Sabini had a dislike of razor-slashing and even though he was to send razor teams in pursuit of his many enemies he always walked away when the cutting began," one of his sidekicks was to recall. In the Second World War and its aftermath food shortages and rationing meant rich pickings for black market gangs. With the internment of the Sabinis as enemy aliens, the Whites, a gang run by five brothers, took over. It was said no one could open a drinking club or illegal gambling den in the West End without their permission.

Brutal: The consequences of violence are common in the new series [BBC]

London was the world's first gangland capital

Shortly after the Second World War, the Whites' control was challenged by Jack Spot, the son of Polish Jewish immigrants who teamed up with fellow black marketeer Billy Hill. Spot and senior gang members tracked one rival leader to a bar off Piccadilly and hit him over the head with a bottle, while his minder was slashed with razors and stabbed. "I was the first man to realise that criminals could be organised, each crook becoming a small part of a master plan," Spot later boasted. He wasn't, because as we have seen, criminal gangs have a long history.

The gangs operating in Britain today may not wear flat caps with razor blades sewn into the seams but, clothes apart, they are merely the successors of the likes of the Peaky Blinders, the Sabinis and so many other nefarious associations which for so long have plagued our major cities.

Channel 4’S Top Boy Slammed For Reinforcing Hood Stereotypes

Viewers complain BAFTA-nominated drama does not offer a different narrative about the black experience in Britain
Written by Juliana Lucas
09/09/2013 12:14 PM

HEARD IT ALL BEFORE: Critics say black Brits deserve more alternative stories to shows like Top Boy

ANGRY TELEVISION viewers have taken to social media sites to complain about the new series of Channel 4’s Top Boy, starring Ashley Walters.

The widely-anticipated drama, which relied heavily on social media to promote the first season, returned to TV screens on August 20, but left some viewers unimpressed by its “one dimensional” representation of ethnic minorities.

When the show aired last month, author and blogger Dear Rob said: “Top Boy: another great series showing us black folk in a positive light. Drugs, guns, police and robberies. Fantastic.”

Many took issue with the depiction of poverty, gangs, and drug dealing on an east London estate, fuelled by lead character Dushane (Walters) and his friend-turned-rival Sully, played by Grime rapper Kane ‘Kano’ Robinson.

Young director Ola Masha argued that the BAFTA-nominated drama was an example of “lazy” storytelling because of “a one-sided narrative”.

The budding filmmaker added that the much-publicised stampede that occurred following an open casting call for season two had also discouraged him from tuning in.

He said: “I had to switch off in the midst of watching it because I believe it is a reinforcement of a negative stereotype that I cannot engage with.

“There is a problem with the lack of variety of films and TV shows depicting the lives of black people in Britain. When you see ethnic minorities portrayed on TV what do you see? Do you see them in positive or negative light? It is usually negative.

"This reinforces false perceptions and stereotypes and limits the opportunity to have different stories. The result is that this is how some people will view black people and expect us to behave.”

Echoing Masha’s sentiments, 23-year-old aspiring film director Rakheem Noble urged producers to create “positive alternatives about black families”.

He added: “I think the show offers one version of how life is in Hackney for some but not all…It does not show ambitious black people fulfilling education or pursing a career.”

But not everyone was panning the flagship TV programme. UK rapper Sway, who had a role in the first season, said: “So glad we have a show like Top Boy, despite what people might say it gives some insight to what really happens out here.”

Olivier Award-winning director Bola Agbaje said: “Always a debate when a show with black folks is out. We need to celebrate more. This happened to me with my second play Off the Endz. People reviewed it before it even came out.”

Gangsline - Targeted Against Gangs

Gangsline is one of a handful of organisations in the UK that has a proven track record of working and engaging with real gang members, on average we have engaged with 800 gang members per year since 2009, using our T.A.G Outreach Response Team (Targeted Against Gangs). T.A.G root out gang leaders by targeting the most deprived estates and often no go areas in London.

Our response team is mainly made up of former gang members and those who have been involved in the drugs trade, Gangsline's operation is now in Newham, Barking & Dagenham, Redbridge, Hackney, and by October will be expanding to Lewisham, New Cross, Deptford, and Peckham.

Gangsline's product has already been tested in Kingston Jamaica in 2008 in Tivoli Gardens, Rema, Trench Town and Maxfield Avenue, where violence is at its most extreme and over 100 predominantly young men die each month. Working with gangs in Kingston laid the foundation for what T.A.G does on the streets of London.

Gangsline is unique and is respected by many of the gangs in London and founder Sheldon Thomas has gained the respect of gangs in other parts of the UK, such as Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool where he built up a reputation during the early the 1980s and 1990s whilst engaging with gang members. As a former gang member of the 1970s Sheldon Thomas' gang came from Brixton, they fought racists, police and the National Front before we getting involved in sounds systems, drugs distribution and violence, they were called the Blackmerier.

Professor Gary Armstrong ( has assessed the work of Gangsline from an academic perspective. The professor has been going around with T.A.G for over a year and has seen and experienced first-hand how we work with gang members, dealing with the mind-set and challenging emotional trauma with a spiritual dimension.

Further information can be found at, which has information that will help both parents and gang members, there is also a Gangsline helpline service 0800 032 9538 for anyone involved in this lifestyle to ring us, especially girls being sexually exploited and parents struggling to understand gang culture.

RISE Project (Respect, Inspire, Support, Empower)

The RISE project launched in August 2009 is an initiative designed by young people for young people. It responds to specific communities needs, developing young people’s skills and helping them to contribute positively to their community. The young people involved with the project will be supported to pass on their valuable skills via a peer mentoring system.

The project uses ‘Stick-it’ an innovative first aid programme (based on the Young First Aider package) which reaches out to communities affected by knife and gun crime as a recruitment tool to engaged with young people disengaged from mainstream education and training to teach them basic first aid skills to save lives. The unique feature of the project is that it is outreach focused, which sees the existing St John Ambulance opportunities taken out into the local community and tailored to meet the ever changing needs of local young people. This has proven successful to date as the take up of the project has been fantastic.

“Stick it” is a programme created by St John Ambulance youth members to develop young people and provide them with new first aid skills. Launched in 2008 the workshops raise the awareness of how to deal with an injury inflicted by a gun or a knife and challenges the opinion that carrying a weapon is acceptable.

As the nation’s leading first aid charity we knew we had something special to offer young people with am aim of discouraging them from carrying a weapon, which we to help young people. The programme is trained by young people for young people, this element of the programme is the one I believe is the most important, peer to peer learning enables young people on the course to both feel relaxed and have the ability to relate to the trainers but also to see what young people of their age can do, to help stimulate and motivate them. The first aid training delivered on the course involves a range of emergency aid from CPR to dealing with stabbing and gunshot wounds, this element of the course allows for interactive learning by the young people whilst discussions surrounding their own experiences can be heard in a safe environment.

“Stick it” is unique in its structure and delivery, we aim not only to deliver new skills to young people but also to help them through discussions on knife and gun crime, sharing experiences and providing new opportunities to get involved with the organisation. To date the “Stick it” programme has trained over 2500 young people, this is 2500 young people in East London which are now more likely to save a life than take a life and this is the culture amongst all young people we want to create.

If you would like to take advantage of the programmes offered (see here) and are able to provide access to between 15 to 30 young people please contact or telephone 020 7780 9859.