Hackney and Islington stabbings: Why has gang violence erupted and what is being done to stop it?
- Credit: Archant
Existing tension between gangs on the border of Hackney and Islington has erupted in a fortnight of worrying attacks. We found out what has caused it, and what is being done to stop it.
A teenager stabbed four times on Friday night has said half the people he knows have been attacked in the last fortnight.
There have been seven stabbings, a shooting and two more close calls around the Hackney and Islington border due to tensions boiling over between rival gangs.
Things are so bad worried parents have set up a community group to chat and keep tabs on their children. But from his hospital bed the boy spoke matter-of-factly and without fear about what is going on.
The 17-year-old, whose name the Gazette has chosen to withhold, was walking along King Henry’s Walk with friends when he was attacked with a large hunting knife.
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“I got jumped,” he said. “A car drove past and must have seen me and three other people leaving my estate [Tudor Court].
“They waited on the corner while we walked past and then one got out and punched me. Another one stabbed me in both legs, my hand and my bum.”
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The boy ran into a nearby pub and was taken to hospital where his hand, which the knife had gone through, was operated on. Despite his attackers calling his name before stabbing him, he says he has no idea who they were or why he was attacked, and is not in a gang.
“I don’t know why it’s happening,” he said. “Half the people I know have been stabbed or shot in one week, but I’ll never be scared in my area. They’ve done their worst already.”
Just a day earlier, the boy had attended an emergency meeting at the Mayville Estate Community Centre where worried locals met police and councillors and established Team – a community group to encourage families to speak to one another.
Cops believe the estate is the epicentre of the violence, which stems from existing tensions between the Red Pitch gang, who meet there, and the Essex Road gang.
Pressure is often cranked up by rap videos posted on YouTube taunting one another, a trend highlighted earlier this year when Hackney gang members were convicted of murdering Hoxton boy Marcel Addai.
Mildmay ward councillor and Islington’s young people’s chief Cllr Jor Caluori said a police operation targeting both the Red Pitch and Essex Road gangs last month could have sparked the violence of the last few weeks. That raid saw 14 people arrested and five charged with drug offences.
But Det Supt Stuart Ryan stressed the raid was just one trigger in a perfect storm that has ignited tensions (see below). The Gazette spoke to one, older, insider, who said children as young as 13 are getting sucked into gang life, but many of them are scared and looking for a way out.
“A lot of them don’t want to be affiliated with it,” he said. “It’s a kingpin thing – who is telling who to do what? These kids are scared.
“It’s like when all the youth clubs closed in the early ’90s, it’s happening again. Kids do madness, especially in the holidays. They have nothing to do. They make little music videos and it escalates.”
Last week’s meeting was called on the back of four stabbings and a shooting in nine days – all but one during half-term.
All the victims were aged 17 to 20; three were stabbed or slashed and one shot with a pellet gun. All are recovering from their injuries.
Hours before the meeting on Thursday, a bloodsoaked teenager had stumbled into Tesco Express in Kingsland Road after being stabbed.
Store manager Maz Mohamed told the Gazette: “Everyone started shouting. There was lots of blood. He was losing consciousness and we held him and let him lie down.
“Some people were talking to him but he didn’t say anything the whole time about being hurt or in pain. According to the ambulance and police he was stabbed three times.”
Then, on Friday morning, a man was found in Albion Road with stab wounds. On Tuesday night, another man was knifed in Hoxton.
Cllr Caluori said identifying who is involved and knowing how to stop others being recruited is tough because of the circles the boys move in: “It’s less to do with people living on the estate and more to do with a group who congregate there. People move house or meet at school or a youth club.
“We have to be more proactive about getting these boys involved in positive activities so they realise they can get into training and work.
“We have to be a bit clearer in showing them what a successful positive life can look like.”
‘Team’ meets again on December 2. To contact them, visit the Woodville Road community centre or firstname.lastname@example.org
What do the police say?
Islington’s Det Supt Stuart Ryan said the violence had erupted for a range of reasons, including historical tensions between rival gangs resurfacing.
He believes the drugs raid last month has played a part, but doesn’t think people are fighting for power. “If you were taking a drug area you would target individuals,” he said. “These haven’t been like that, and the people involved are younger than we would expect if that was what was happening.
“You’re always going to get a rub between young gangs. One gang will go around someone’s house and threaten to smash a window when their mum and dad are in and it escalates.
“But it’s fluid. Not all identify as being a member of one gang. Some will rob with one lot on a Monday and another on a Wednesday.”
He said even non-gang members get attacked, because they are friends with someone who is.
But after a number of arrests and increased police presence, he expects things to calm down. “Most of the time that takes the steam out of things,” he explained.
Det Insp Will Lexton-Jones of the Integrated Gangs Team said extra teams, both uniform and plain clothes, were being stationed in the area to stop further attacks.
What is the council doing?
Following four fatal stabbings in Islington last year, the town hall is spending £500,000 annually on mentoring young people at risk of offending.
An Integrated Gangs Team launched this year, while ex-offenders charity St Giles Trust has been brought in to mentor teens and New Horizon youth club will work to help them make positive choices.
Cllr Joe Caluori said the recent victims will have access to the services. But at the community meeting he realised more needed to be done.
He said: “A lot of parents hadn’t heard of the services. Some said they search their sons when they go out, and others said they count the knives in the drawer. So there are parents doing a lot, but we need to do more.
“The Mayville hasn’t had a Tenants’ and Residents’ Association for ages; there’s no sense of community that other estates have.
“We are looking at holding events so neighbours can meet and have their eyes opened to what is going on.”