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Knife crime: Ex-gang member lifts lid on Newham youth violence as stabbings soar

PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 December 2017 | UPDATED: 17:29 14 December 2017

Former gang member Raheel Butt has spoken out about youth violence and his own past to raise awareness of the consequences of knife crime. Picture: Emma Youle

Former gang member Raheel Butt has spoken out about youth violence and his own past to raise awareness of the consequences of knife crime. Picture: Emma Youle

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A former gang member who has seen friends shot and murdered has spoken out about the devastating impacts of youth violence in Newham - as the Recorder today launches a special series of reports.

Raheel was brought up in Newham and progressed through the ranks of crime from a young age. Picture: Emma Youle Raheel was brought up in Newham and progressed through the ranks of crime from a young age. Picture: Emma Youle

Figures have revealed a 21 per cent rise in knife attacks on under-25s in the borough in the last year - with an attack taking place the equivalent of once every three days.

Ex-offender Raheel Butt told the Recorder drug dealing is luring kids as young as 10 or 11 into violence, with some children even volunteering for “work experience as drug runners” so they can progress through the ranks to become paid dealers.

Once involved in the lifestyle carrying a weapon is a must and young people are prepared to use them, we have been told.

Newham borough Commander Ade Adelekan said: “This is about safeguarding young people and preventing them joining gangs.”

Raheel’s own life has been scared by violence, criminality and the devastating consequences of bloodshed.

Newham Borough Commander Ade Adelekan has been praised for his innovative approach to tackling knife crime. Picture: Emma Youle Newham Borough Commander Ade Adelekan has been praised for his innovative approach to tackling knife crime. Picture: Emma Youle

He has talked openly about his chequered past and the lure of drug dealing and weapons for some youngsters in Newham, in a bid to shine a light on the causes of youth violence in the borough.

Raheel and other ex-gang members told the Recorder:

- The lure of earning thousands of pounds of cash every day is tempting youngsters from deprived areas into drug dealing.

- Once involved in the lifestyle, carrying a weapon is a must and kids are willing to use them.

- Social media posts are glamorising bloodshed and ‘de-sensitising’ some young people to violence.

The rap lyrics in the music video appear to glorify gang and knife violence The rap lyrics in the music video appear to glorify gang and knife violence

- In one shocking example, a YouTube rap video filmed on the streets of Forest Gate shows a balaclava-clad gang appearing to glorify knife and gun attacks and has been viewed more than 1million times online.

Raheel, who has turned his life around and now works with other youngsters at risk of criminality, said drug dealing is hard to resist for young people in Newham who have few prospects and cannot get jobs.

“If someone’s going to make a couple of grand a day from selling drugs, and they are using knives or weapons as enforcement techniques to allow them to continue to make those types of financial revenues, how do you encourage that person to turn away from crime?” he said.

“It’s become so lucrative and so accessible that there isn’t any alternative that will be feasible.”

In surgeries held with young people in Newham he has heard stories of teenagers volunteering to be drug runners to gain “work experience” in order to rise up the ranks to be paid drug dealers.

A screen-shot from the YouTube video filmed in Forest Gate, which has been viewed more than 1million times A screen-shot from the YouTube video filmed in Forest Gate, which has been viewed more than 1million times

Raheel says young people have become de-sensitised to levels of violence once considered unacceptable. He believes this, in part, is responsible for spiralling numbers of knife and acid attacks in Newham.

“They are using violence as the actual method of first resort,” he said. “And the level of de-sensitisation is from a very young age.

“We’ve seen people from as young as 11, as young as 10, who are willing to carry a knife and are willing to use violence against others. That’s in this borough, particularly in this borough.

“People are trying to build reputations for themselves, to come across as a person not to be messed with.

“But we also have seen drug dealers using levels of enforcement so they can take over other people’s patches and that may overspill into postcode areas.”

Raheel Butt has turned his life around and now mentors other young people at risk of violence and criminality. Picture: Emma Youle Raheel Butt has turned his life around and now mentors other young people at risk of violence and criminality. Picture: Emma Youle

The 32-year-old grew up in Newham and says he was known as “one of the hardest to reach kids” from primary school age.

He first carried a knife as a school pupil, claims he was radicalised from a young age in Madrasas in Newham many years ago, and by his early 20s he was jailed for grievous bodily harm for carrying out a violent assault.

“I’ve been in trouble since I was a youth,” said Raheel. “My mum worked two jobs to look after me. The door was there, so I went outside and was thrown in the deep end, I was exposed to a lot of problems in the area.

“I was one of the only Asian kids in my housing estate, so there was a lot of victimisation, a lot of racism, a lot of turf beef and turf wars, postcode wars. I progressed through the ranks of crime from a young age.”

It was on his release from prison in 2012 that he decided to change his life, partly as a result of having seen friends shot and murdered and others jailed for knife and drug offences.

Raheel has called for a deeper look to at the social problems linked to knife violence. Picture: Emma Youle Raheel has called for a deeper look to at the social problems linked to knife violence. Picture: Emma Youle

He now works with other hard-to-reach youngsters, “those most at risk of taking lives” as he puts it, through his Newham-based social enterprise Community and Rehabilitation Solutions.

Raheel believes it is vital to channel young people from council estates away from the streets “where they will be indoctrinated, or their vulnerabilities picked up by other gang members”.

He is now working with police on a community-led drive to tackle knife crime and has praised Newham’s borough commander for his innovative approach.

But he also called for a deeper look at the social problems driving youth violence.

“I was that kid that would have weapons in my bag, I could see that many could forecast that I was destined to fail, hence why I didn’t get much intervention, and that’s where the provision was completely missed,” he said. “We need to ask have we done enough in the community to provide opportunities for these youngsters to turn away from crime. Everybody has a duty to do something about this.”

Newham Borough Commander Ade Adelekan said: 'This is about safe-guarding our young people'. Picture: Emma Youle Newham Borough Commander Ade Adelekan said: 'This is about safe-guarding our young people'. Picture: Emma Youle

* Next week: A 28-year-old who survived being viciously knifed multiple times says Newham has been forgotten since the Olympics - and young people are suffering for it

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Data shows youth violence in Newham has risen sharply

The Recorder’s research has shown a steep rise in knife crime affecting young people in Newham.

Figures from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime show the number of under-25s injured in knife attacks has gone up by 21 per cent in the last year - and by 59 per cent compared to five years ago.

The year-on-year rise outstrips the London-wide increase of 17 per cent.

Statistically, a knife attack on an under-25 takes place once every three days in Newham, based on figures for the last year.

And Newham has the second highest level of total knife crime in London, with 702 offences recorded in 2016-17.

Southwark topped the tables with 840 crimes.

Newham borough commander Chief Supt Ade Adelekan said: “The numbers would suggest that knife crime predominantly is affecting our young people and that’s where my concern lies for the borough.

“We have got lots of preventative activity which targets our young people in relation to knife crime but also in relation to youth violence in general. This is all about safe-guarding our young people and preventing them from joining gangs.”

* The third of the Recorder’s special reports will focus on how police are tackling knife crime.

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