Newham police chief says deadly gang rivalry linked to rising youth stabbings in borough
- Credit: Archant
Newham’s borough commander tells EMMA YOULE why he believes knife attacks on under-25s are on the rise in Newham - and what the police force is doing to tackle this.
Rivalry between gangs in Newham and social media posts of crews goading their enemies online are contributing to escalating knife violence, the borough’s top police officer has said.
Newham’s borough commander has called on the community to galvanise to prevent knife crime, as he admitted: “We’ve had real gang rivalry across the borough, we can’t get away from that.”
Chief Superintendent Ade Adelekan says he believes prevention rather than enforcement is the best way to tackle the rise in violence - which has seen knife attacks on under-25s in Newham soar by 21 per cent in the last year to the third highest of any London borough.
“Any knife crime is one too many,” he said. “People lose their lives through knife crime, which is totally unacceptable to me and it really puts you in a sombre place. We are placing all our efforts in trying to prevent it from happening and trying to educate people appropriately.”
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The police chief says knives are used in many types of crime, from robbery to drug dealing and assaults, but for every stabbing in Newham police are now also looking at potential links with gangs.
“We have very indigenous gangs here, for want of a better phrase really,” said the borough commander. “With every investigation we are trying to establish whether there are any links with gangs and we’re actively doing that. There has been in recent times some real gang rivalry that has resulted in some really serious injuries.”
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Police enforcement action to crack down on knife offending has included use of weapons sweeps and Section 60 stop and search powers - sweeping legislation which allows police to stop anyone within a designated area without reasonable grounds for suspicion.
Officers are also targeting known gang offenders in intelligence-led raids.
But the borough commander says he is determined to work with the council, faith groups, schools and young people in Newham on preventative action to combat the issues.
“I think we’ve gone past that position where we go ‘We know it all’, because we don’t,” he said. “Yes, I live very closely in the community and so do my colleagues, but the bottom line is there are people that are living this day to day. There are real gains to be had by saying ‘This is what we’ve done, now over to you, what do you think we should be doing and where are the gaps?’”
Last November 140 people, including some who had been involved in gangs, attended a Community Call to Action organised by police, the council and local voluntary agencies.
In an innovative session, people used computers to submit anonymous feedback on the issues that were important to them.
Knife crime and youth violence were raised as issues of concern, along with the negative influence of rap videos posted by gangs on social media.
“I would say the amount of stuff that appears in social media which serves to be provocative and goading towards other gangs members, I think we need to find a way of making sure we can take those down and do it fairly quickly,” said the borough commander. “But ultimately we can only make that request, we can’t turn those off.”
His calls were echoed by the Scotland Yard chief leading Operation Sceptre, the Metropolitan Police’s specialist taskforce tackling knife crime.
Acting Detective Chief Superintendent Sean Yates told the Recorder social media posts going viral had increased the potential for retaliatory offending among young people.
“Ten years ago, before social media, if you were disrespected, or you were a victim of something on your patch as a young man - two, three, four, five, six people got to know about it,” he said. “It never went viral.
“What we’re seeing now is social media goes completely viral very quickly and then suddenly hundreds and hundreds of people know you’ve been disrespected, and that feeds-in in terms of ‘Now I’ve got to illicit a response or I’ll lose respect’.”
Since April this year Operation Sceptre has regularly deployed in Newham as part of its work patrolling knife crime hotspots, which alter depending on peaks in crime.
“The Stratford Centre is particularly an area where you will see a disproportionate amount of knife crime [in Newham],” said Det Ch Supt Yates. “You just have to see there on a Saturday at about 8 or 9 o’clock, that thoroughfare between Stratford and Westfield attracts a lot of young people and for me that was always a concern.”
Newham’s borough commander says he has visited mosques, gurdwaras, churches, schools, youth groups, youth offending teams and pupil referral units to open up the conversation about tackling youth violence.
He stresses his desire to work with young people to prevent knife crime.
But he also sends out a simple message: “I want to make this really clear to young people, if you carry a knife you may go to jail, these are the consequences.”
What is Newham Council doing to help tackle knife crime?
Police have praised Newham Council for its innovative approach to tackling knife offending and youth violence.
Borough Commander Ch Supt Ade Adelekan told the Recorder: “We’ve probably got one of the best councils, if not the best around enforcement. So the council are absolutely fantastic. Some of the things they do with crime and disorder are really groundbreaking.”
Some of the council’s initiatives include work with young people who have convictions for possession of a weapon about the legal repercussions of their choices and dealing with conflict.
StreetDoctors, a group of junior doctors, also visit fortnightly to lead workshops with young people on how to deliver first aid if someone is injured with a knife.
And the council works with Newham General Hospital and the Royal London Hospital to identify anyone admitted as a result of knife or youth violence.
Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, said: “The safety of our residents is the highest priority of this council, therefore we take the issue of knife crime extremely seriously.
“Despite extreme budgetary pressure caused by government cuts, this council continues to fund an extra 40 Metropolitan Police officers - the Enforcement Partnership Team (EPT), who are using intelligence-led stop and search operations to tackle street crime including the possession of knives.
“Forty per cent of stop and search operations carried out by the EPT in Newham result in the discovery of weapons, and/or drugs, carried by individuals. The high success rate is the result of intelligence sharing and collaborative working between police and the council.”