Gangs: what you need to know

In the first part of this ELL series on gang crime, Henry Longden looks at how gangs are defined, the rise in youth violence in the ELL boroughs, and recent changes in policy and funding.

Government policies have failed to curb the recent rise in youth offending across London, an ELL investigation can reveal, as the government pulls funding from one of its landmark programmes to cut “gang crime”.

In London last year there were 173 more victims of serious youth violence than in 2014, one of the main indicators used by the police to calculate “gang crime”.

The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) use such indicators to measure the success of their major anti-gang enforcement scheme, Operation Trident. These indicators include knife crimes, knife injuries, gun crime, gun discharges and serious youth violence.

Knife crime injuries in Tower Hamlets have almost doubled over the past two years, from 57 to 109, while Hackney and Croydon have seen recent increases in gun discharges. Other offences that have been flagged by police officers as being gang related also saw steep increases over the past year in Tower Hamlets and Lewisham.

These boroughs join Lambeth, Westminster, Haringey and Newham in what is known to police as a North/South corridor of gang crime. There are fears that this is spreading out across London, and traditional local battlegrounds are being replaced by new territory outside of the city.

There has been an increase in each indicator over the last year, with some campaigners voicing concerns about a return to the peaks seen in 2011 and the London riots. Last month Chuka Umunna, MP for Streatham, warned that major steps needed to be taken to tackle the problem.

However, in an unexpected and mostly unwelcome move, the Ending Gang Violence and Exploitation Peer Review Network – a programme set up by the Home Office following the 2011 riots – was stripped of its funding. It had brought police, academics, former gang members and experts together to aid local areas in tackling gang violence.

2011 Croydon riots. Pic: Raymond Yau

2011 Croydon riots. Pic: Raymond Yau

In a leaked letter to local authority staff, the Home Office said: “Frontline team support and associated funding will be ending at the end of March” and that it would not be “offering any further centrally funded peer reviews or local assessment processes in the next financial year”.

Meanwhile, the judiciary is having to rethink its response to “gang crime” following a landmark ruling in the Supreme Court last month, when joint enterprise decisions were declared to have been “wrongly interpreted” for 30 years.

Pressure groups, such as the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, had campaigned against such use of collective punishment, claiming that it can lead to the disproportionate criminalisation of certain groups when applied to what the police class as “gangs”.

Joint enterprise had allowed people to be convicted of a crime, even if they did not directly commit it. All that was required to be proven was that someone involved could have foreseen the crime, and therefore shared responsibility.

It was often used to convict members of gangs for simply being linked to the offender (the assumption being that they could therefore foresee violent acts). However, research has suggested that evidence providing association between defendants was often racialised in the process of joint enterprise.

Reporting team: Tara Dein, Annie Gouk, Henry Longden and Marianna Manson

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