Gang culture: Significant falls in recorded knife and gun crime give hope, but 'things are still tough'


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The Independent Online

Ministers today claimed that an initiative set up to tackle gang culture in the wake of the 2011 riots was "working" with significant falls in recorded knife and gun crime.

The Home office said that the number of knife-related wounding offences involving 10 to 19-year-olds in areas covered by the programme fell by around 25 per cent in a year.

But community groups and charities working with gangs said they were sceptical that the programme had addressed any of the underlying problems.

"People keep telling me things are getting better," said Patrick Regan from the youth charity XLP.

"But I'm looking out my window and seeing that actually things are still really, really tough."

Campaigners said they were worried ministers had failed to see the whole picture because they did not have "knowledge and understanding of urban life".

Shaun Bailey, a former adviser to the Conservatives on youth and race issues, told the BBC: "If you are close to the gang situation, then violence hasn't subsided. It's probably worse."

The initiative - which aims to offer support rather than "top-down direction" - covers 33 priority areas where gang crime is considered a major problem.

In its second annual update on the programme the Home Office highlighted numerous initiatives which it said had helped tackle the problem.

These included the introduction of "dedicated gang prosecutors" in London and new "gang advisers" in job centres helping more than 600 young people into employment, education or training.

New initiatives, likely to be rolled out next year, include offering immediate help to young people who are admitted to hospital with knife or gun wounds to escape gangs.

Longer sentences for knife possession will also be considered, along with new moves with retailers to "limit access" to blades and other weapons.

The Home Secretary Theresa May said a crucial part of the programme's work was offering gang members "viable alternatives to a self-destructive and violent way of life".

"The initiative is working, the crimes that the programme aims to tackle are diminishing," she said.

But Sheldon Thomas, a former gang member and founder of the charity Gangsline, said: "The tension amongst gang members has never changed in the last seven to eight years."

He criticised "bureaucrats and public sector workers" who he said were driven by statistics and targets.

"It doesn't reflect the feelings of the community," he said.