Tottenham's post-riot regeneration hampered by gang violence

But a crackdown on London gangs is working and serious violence among the young is down, says the Metropolitan Police. By Jerome Taylor
  • @jerometaylor

In front of the burnt-out remains of a shop front on Tottenham High Road that was torched during last year's riots, the local authorities have put up signs listing all the ways they are trying to change the area.

The pledges are written inside a heart alongside the slogan "I love Tottenham", and include bringing in £4 million for local jobs, more activities for a nearby youth centre and a dedicated team to "tackle grime".

For Jennifer Jane, out for a walk with her daughter, there is one thing she wants to see happen more than anything else in her neighbourhood. "They have to get rid of the gangs," she says. "I moved here a year ago, just after the riots, and I don't feel safe. It's rough, especially in the evenings. You have loads of kids and young men and you have loads of cops. Every night it's the same."

Mrs Jane lives at the top end of the High Road, towards Edmonton. To an outsider, it looks like any other part of a bustling, inner-city suburb. But her neighbourhood is a crossroad for competing gangs who go by names such as Young Dem Africans, the Get Money Gang and NPK.

Although gangs were not the only reason for last summer's riots, they were a catalyst that helped make the violence both worse and more organised. Realising regeneration is pointless without a concerted attack on the gangs, both the Government and police pledged a crackdown.

But a new report released today suggests that campaign may be faltering. According to the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a think-tank set up eight years ago by the current Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, the Government's anti-gang strategy appears to be "losing commitment".

Despite a £10 million fund, a number of charities that work in gang prevention said the problem had either stayed the same or worsened since the riots.

Many felt gangs had in fact got more violent as "elders" with a stricter honour code were arrested and replaced with more unpredictable and anarchic "youngsters" who are keen to earn their stripes on the streets.

A London-wide crackdown on gangs does seem to be working. According to the Metropolitan Police, serious violence among young people is down since the Trident Gang Command, a centralised collection of detectives and officers with gang experience, was set up in February. Knife injuries involving those under 25 are down by 29 per cent and the number of times a gun has been fired is down 21 per cent.

But the CSJ report says many charities – who are crucial for intervening once senior gang members are arrested – are hampered by the lack of long-term funding. Many of those who work trying to persuade kids away from gangs are not surprised by the latest findings.

"We commend the efforts of the police in tackling the problem. However, they could be repeating the exercise in a year or so as there will be a further cohort of gang leaders emerging," said Junior Smart, a former gang member who now works with the St Giles Trust's anti-gang SOS Project.

For many Tottenham residents there is still a strong feeling that the area has a long way to go before it can really say it has turned a corner.

Niche Mufwankolo, landlord of the Pride of Tottenham pub, was on his way to the cash and carry yesterday to prepare for a party that night. His pub was trashed during the riots and it took months for Mr Mufwankolo to get back on his feet. His bar has a new paint job and looks vibrant. But, he says, he's having doubts.

"The politicians came here after the riots and said everything would change, but it hasn't. I've lived around here for 20 years and, you know what, I'm really thinking about selling up and getting out."