Guns, Gangs and Knives, Radio 4

Can we stop this moral squalor?
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The Independent Online

Perhaps the most important programme of the week, if you're worried about kids in gangs carrying guns and knives, was Radio 4's Ganges, Guns and Knives. One was grateful that the producers did not try to play clever buggers with the title.

It made unsettling listening. The Radio 4 demographic and that of the kids being interviewed and discussed rarely intersect, except in each others' bad dreams. Meet Jay, a young Liverpudlian lout whose family makes the cast of Shameless look like the upstairs family in Upstairs, Downstairs. If you do not earn a prison sentence in this family, you suspect, you are looked on as something of a black sheep. He talks casually about inflicting and receiving violence in a Scouse accent which does not recall the cheeky, endearing accents of, say, the Beatles, but sounds instead like someone trying to clear something phlegmy from the back of their throat. At times I yearned for some kind of way of having subtitles on the radio, and I'm good with accents. Still, one got the gist.

Attempting to address and redirect the likely trajectory of Jay's life, and the lives of others like him, is Bob Croxton, who has himself served nine years for heroin dealing, and so not only knows whereof he speaks but can gain the respect of those he is speaking to. He gives classes to groups of youngsters at risk from submerging themselves in a sea of violence and crime.

"What's the best way to protect yourself from a knife?" He asked.

"Carry one?" Suggested one lad hopefully. Wrong answer.

"Run. Just run." I think I could have got that one.

"To be a good criminal," said Bob, and you can imagine his audience pricking their ears up at this, "you've got to understand what you're involved in." He then gave them a multiple-choice test. It was like being at school, but with exams rigged for relevance. What is the maximum sentence for carrying a knife? How many ounces in a kilo? Jay, who struggles with literacy at school, proved himself to be something of a whizz at maths, shot back with 38, which was accepted as the right answer (I make it 35.27, but then I'm not going to argue with Jay, or indeed Bob). Do I have to explain why Jay might find himself obliged to convert imperial into metric in a hurry? Oh, you sweet country mouse, you.

The encouraging news was that, according to Bob, 95 per cent of gang members, given the right guidance and information, will realise the dead-end nature of the life. And while not shirking from portraying the moral squalor of ratbags like Jay, the programme managed to undermine the knee-jerk reaction most commonly felt when contemplating knife-wielding gangsters; it was "crystal clear", said one knowledgeable interviewee, that enforcement was not the solution to the problem. Reduce poverty, unemployment, pay more attention to education, and do something about parents who are either too indifferent, scared or actively involved in criminality – that kind of thing. Of course, sometimes children are intractable. Jay was offered a job interview to evade the probability of a prison sentence. Only he didn't show up. The idiot.