Islington crime summit: ‘Bad youth services are the enemy within’

Junior Smart, founder of the SOS Gangs Project, addresses the Islington crime summit in the Assembly

Junior Smart, founder of the SOS Gangs Project, addresses the Islington crime summit in the Assembly Hall today. Picture: James Morris - Credit: Archant

A reformed gang member today called for under-performing youth services to be “named and shamed”.

Junior Smart, now leader of the SOS Gangs Project in London, was speaking at the Islington crime summit in a packed Assembly Hall.

The meeting was called in response to the youth violence and knife crime that has plagued the borough. A moment’s silence was called at the beginning to remember Alan Cartwright, Stefan Appleton and Vaso Kakko - the three teenagers stabbed to death last year.

Mr Smart said: “There needs to be joined-up thinking between communities and authorities to close down these [crime] networks, but also support young people.

“I ask you: when was the last time you heard a young person’s voice? When have you seen young people at the centre of service delivery?

“Something needs to change in our culture. Bad youth services should be named and shamed - they are the enemy within.

“We need to deliver on promises to young people. They are living in a world that adults created. We need to show them the way.”

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Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, was behind its decision to inject £500,000 extra funding into youth services for 2016/17.

But he agreed that money alone is not enough: “The problem we have had in Islington is lack of integration - seeing life from the point of view of those young people struggling.

“I am not sure we are currently seeing the bang for our buck. But we have more of an idea of what we are doing to design services around young people and look forward to working with Junior on this.”


Speaking of the one-year anniversary of Alan’s death last Saturday, and the opening of Stefan’s murder trial in the Old Bailey on Tuesday, Cllr Paul Convery, Islington’s community safety leader, said: “This past week has been a challenging reminder of what happened in 2015, the violence that was almost chaotically happening among young people.

“We met last year just after Alan’s death, and it was very emotionally charged. We were trying to drag ourselves out of the hole we were in. We have got a grip of a problem that was out of control.

“But we need help in breaking down organised crime - the soft drug dealing, phone snatching - behind gang activity. Police presence can put a lid on it but it won’t turn off the tap. We need you to tell us what the problems are.”

Cllr Convery also listed six factors drawing Islington’s young people into crime.

•Widening social divide between rich and poor

•Poor role models

•Trauma and/or abuse within the home

•Attraction of earning money within gangs (he pointed to the name of Finsbury’s “Easy Cash” gang)

•Failure in schools

•Toleration of certain types of bad behaviour within communities (“kids being kids” and soft drug dealing)

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