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You are in: London > Features > My London > London Life > Teen deaths on London's streets

Billy Cox

Billy Cox, shot on Valentine's Day

Teen deaths on London's streets

2007 is the worst year on record for fatal street violence amongst young people with 26 teenagers murdered across the capital.

by Kurt Barling, BBC London's Special Correspondent

The murder of 15-year-old Billy Cox on Valentine's Day brought to six the number of killings of teenagers in the first six weeks of 2007 (Stephen Boachie, Dean Lahlou, Jevon Henry, James Smartt-Ford, Michael Dosunmu).

People did not expect things to get worse.  Two other murders of young people on the same day elsewhere in the country only compounded the sense of crisis.  It proved a turning point in the public response to the problem of teenage violence. 

Within a week a Gun Crime summit had been convened at No 10 Downing Street to work out what urgent measures could be taken to avert a crisis.  Many of those attending, like Rev Nims Obunge, told the government that more laws were not what was necessary, but rather greater investment in those communities most prone to this type of street violence.

"..five principle recommendations to help tackle what by now was widely recognised as a major national issue confronting young people"

Kurt Barling

By April it seemed like a new murder was being reported every fortnight.   Two murders in March (Kodjo Yenga, Adam Regis) meant a new murder was being committed every fortnight. 

In April the Prime Minister Tony Blair made a keynote speech in Cardiff using the Gun Summit as evidence that there was a consensus emerging that there needed to be an “intense police focus” on the minority of black Britons who were seen as being behind the increasing levels of gun and knife attacks.

He said laws on knife and gun-gangs needed to be toughened and the ringleaders "taken out of circulation".   He went further and urged black communities to take responsibility for diverting young people away from this type of violence. 

An immediate public outcry from many people prominent in trying to tackle the problems at community level said that PM Blair had got the wrong end of the stick.  More needed to be done to identify the source of the problem and the nature of the solutions.

There was no such consensus on adopting the “big stick approach”.  Many felt new laws could only help if there was also a recognition that the resources had to be found to tackle the problem at local level.

In July the House of Commons Select Committee reported on the disproportionate numbers of black boys and men that found themselves within the Criminal Justice process.   The report focussed on the deeper causes of failure both of the young men themselves but also a system which was founded on the principles of equality before the law.  

But there was an increasing gloom surrounding the debate.  Nine more murders had been committed since the PM’s speech in Cardiff  (Paul Erhahon, Dwayne Douglas, Daniella Johnson, Sian Simpson, Annaka Pinto, Ben Hitchcock, Martin Dinnegan, Abu Shahin, Abukar Mahamud).

The Select Committee’s recommendations were broad ranging and the government response in November conceded much of its analysis was right.  It had focussed on a “web of disadvantage” that trapped many young black men in a life where a criminal lifestyle was often a practical response to tough circumstances.

Michael Dosunmu

Michael Dosunmu, shot at his home

As yet there have been no changes to government policy but the Home Office has promised that they will announce a raft of operational changes some time later this month.   These, it is said, will reflect the concerns noted in the Select Committee report that not enough is being done to keep young people out of harms way.

One of the problems in the capital is that there is a lot of good work going on but no-one has a sense of the big picture.   What works and what doesn’t work.  It’s often been the case that across London, different local authorities have no clue what’s going on in a neighbouring authority.  

The GLA has set up a Gun and Knife Crime Forum to try to establish a network of professionals and voluntary sector participants.   There is hope that through a practitioners forum, sharing best practice can become the norm.

The bigger problem is that in an ever changing funding landscape good projects often find themselves threatened with closure through lack of funds.  For example, in November the Boyhood to Manhood foundation, which has been widely praised and awarded, for its interventions with vulnerable young men has seen its potential funding dry up.

It’s been a year of reports and another one commissioned by the government in the wake of the murders earlier in the year looked at raising the aspirations and attainment of black boys and young black men.

A further seven London teenagers had lost their lives by the time the “Reach” report was published in November (Nathan Foster, Mohammed Ahmed, Edvin Johnson, Rizwan Darbar, Philip Poru, Etim Celebi, Bienda Litambola).

It proposed five principle recommendations to help tackle what by now was widely recognised as a major national issue confronting young people. 

Last week Communities Minister Hazel Blears responded to one of the recommendations by launching a programme to provide role models to encourage success.  2008 will be a tough test for this type of initiative.

At a recent Home Office event the Civil Service race champion, Bill Jeffrey, told a gathering of black and minority ethnic staff that Whitehall no longer believed that it alone had the answers to serious and recurring social problems.

Solutions, he said, had to come from within the communities themselves.   It was the job of the Civil Service to find the source of those answers in our different communities and make sure this formed part of the advice being given to Ministers.

What is clear is that greater efforts will need to be made to encourage a more open debate amongst young people about how local solutions can be delivered and which ones work. 

I saw one such “solutions-oriented” project at Salisbury School in the London Borough of Enfield.  

A play called Stereo (short for stereotype) is performed to GCSE students and encourages them to look at the problems facing a young man sucked into the violent life of the street.  Yet again there is the familiar problem of funding.  Whilst the school, education authority and pupils all saw it as a worthwhile encounter the theatre troupe that brought it into the school said funding is getting tougher to find. 

Part of the problem is the nature by which these things are measured says Arc theatre director Carole Pluckrose, with too much emphasis on quantity of people diverted away from crime rather than the quality of the discourse amongst young people.  A lack of quality is what many argue is leaving young people exposed to a criminal lifestyle. 

One heartening thing is that in trying to identify the killers of these teenagers the Metropolitan Police has made progress in many of this year’s murder cases.   In only two of the 26 cases have no arrests been made. 

In 15 cases people who the police believe are responsible for the killings have been charged.  In the eight remaining cases police have arrested individuals but thus far have insufficient evidence to press charges.  

So as we reach the end of one of the worst years on record it is worth noting that there is now a focus on the scale of the problem that is being faced across the capital.   Tackling it has been set as a key priority by central government in its negotiations with local government for next year’s grants. 

The Local Area Agreements which come into force in April 2008 will not only have to deliver resources to target gun and knife crime amongst young people but a new monitoring regime is being considered to accurately shed light on what is actually working best. 

The current practice of local authorities not spending their allocation to the last minute in any financial year seems to work against the voluntary sector.  This exacerbates the problem of not providing on-going programmes with longer term funding.

It is clear that with the latest murder of 16-year-old David Nowak, brings the total teenage lives lost this year to 26, more effective ways of working with young people need to be found and quickly.

last updated: 17/12/2007 at 11:11
created: 11/12/2007

Have Your Say

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

alex
R.I.P To my beautiful friend martin dinnegan,he was just 14 when his life was taken

Soprano.
To me we need to stop this black on black genocide, only god has the right to give and take life. I was stabbed 4 times and still no one has stood trial, i believe that more police need to be in the communites not sitting there doing speeches for the media behind their fancy desks. Young people are often drawn in gin and knife culture due to the fact that there is nothing out there for them to do so they end up roaming the streets. If there was more positve things for young people to do, we would have less loss of life, but instead of pumping money into our communities the goverment would rather spend our money on things sich as the olympics and the majority of young people in the capital dont even play or follow olympics. Its time for there to be less talking and more action.

Kiirstiie
RIP Remer Gone But Never Forgotten ..

sha-sha
i hear about these occurances all the time that they now become part of my daily life. i think that the police should stop just standing around stopping and searching sme one of ethnicity or some one wearing a hood and actually start clamping down on on crime for it is forever increasing. not decreasing. my cousin was wrongly accused for murder. the evidence to this day still has not been backed up, but such an innocent, loving person is behind bars instead of out here trying to give his kids a better life. this why the majority of the youth are against the police because they cock up and make stupid mistakes as the one they did with my cousin. i don't in any way what-so-ever sympathise for the police or support them because i feel the majority of them don't even care. they take their authority for granted. for example i was a t a traffic light and a police car came with their stupid loud sirens so we all moved aside to let them go to their "emmergency" which was infact a stop at a fish and chip shops to buy some chips. i and everyone else was disgusted. they need to fix up! and then maybe you'll see a decrease in the crime rate.

Chanel
I Know billy cox i used to jam wid him dwn clapham back in denm daysz it wosz bare live i luv u remer rip

Marco
Ive grew up in some of london's worste area's. I know what it's like for some of the kids who kill these teenagers. Ive lived in brixton,hackney & edmonton. I know it's sad that the kids have to die. But usually the murderes have had friends & family killed themselves. I know exactly how that feels. I know how it feels to live in a small apartment on a gritty council flat, Where gunshots go off nearly every night. I struggled alot when i used to live in those areas. Most of the murderer's are angry.

A concerned mother
Less talk and more action how many more of our son's and daughter have die by the knife before we do anything.

stacy
I just say it's the Goverment's fault. This isn't right. Innocents are being charged for the wrong

Rex, East London
The time has come for our Government to take STRICT ACTION against the under 18’s carrying weaponry by introducing an ON THE SPOT FINE (£500 or so) issued to the Parents and ACTION against the perpetrator. We must understand that kids are impressionable and that it starts from home. Parents MUST be accountable for the actions of the children. I firmly believe that once a child realises that just by carrying an “offensive” weapon, they are incriminating their own household reputably as well as financially, the trend will start to take a downward turn. There will be initial upheaval but if we stick to our guns and weather the storm you will see the frequency start to decline. This MUST be backed up with PRAYER so that whilst we are attacking what we can see we are also attacking what we can’t. Please note that this effort will not solve the problem but give us a chance to develop a long term plan of action in dealing with this issue and eradicating this trend. Sometimes solutions to our problems are not the most complex, we are dealing with children after all.

Bubz
I dont understand the need for such violence especially on the streets of london...why is it nessecary for us to kill one another?? it s a stupid childish game. My dear friend Ben Hitchcock was stabbed and killed last year... he was a lovely young guy who alot of people loved and adored remember guys what goes around comes back around and wat u do will cum back to you if not worse. This whole lewisham VS penge rubbish is pathetic! over the colour of borough bins! young people these days moan about being put into the category of being time wasters and stuff but what are they when they're goin around and killing poeple??RIP BEN LOVE YOUXXXX

Girl from PMHS
I personally feel that we teens are being stereotyped and the pressure is getting to us. R.I.P All Victims of Violence

Unknown
This is the most disgraceful way of London life I have ever seen in the capital so far. Londonwas a wonderful city back in the old days but now thanks to the weak hearted idiot Tony Blair who's been our Prime minister from 1997 to 2007 has made London and the other cities in the UK look really bad after he ignored us and brought us into war with Iraq since 2003 it's bad enough we've had news about food, fuel and gas bills/prices going up and a important Disk containing over a million peoples names in the UK (England mostly) missing and now we are losing teens in the capital and other UK cities as well and they are saying it's the lack of education but it's not just that not much people are blaming Hip Hop and R'n'B songs because all they are singing about is nothing but sex, violence, drugs and money and the music videos are rude as well, these singers such as Rihanna are Flash and Arrogant and they are a bad influence too and the songs are not for kids or teens and should really be for adults who are 21 or over only in the UK not to mention teen girls pregnancy is also a problem because they are having sex with their boyfriend getting pregnant and then dumping them leaving them to raise their child alone which mostly doesn't go well it's just stupid. Now teenage gangs are hanging around the streets at night binge drinking, doing public damage and mostly killing innocent sensible teenagers with a knife or a gun, the black commuinty is the ones responsible for this and have to understand London and the other cities in the UK are suppose to be the behavied way they were back in the old days for respect not for warzones plus British people are leaving the UK for a new life in a different country because they don't feel as it's their home anymore due to the crimes on the the streets. Prisions in the UK are overcrowded the UK Population is still rising.Gordon Brown is still doing everything in his power to put this country back on it's land and time is running out and the UK's troubles are just still growing at some real serious point it has to stop.

L!11y
i think the media are especially portraying the black teen murders. people of all races are murdered everday. they are not all highlighted in the media.

HYPAH -1-
IF WE AS BLACK PEOPLE HAVE HOPE ___WE CAN AND WILL BE FREE FROM THE MEDIA PORTRAYIN US AS THUGS HOOLIGANS ____............ DNT BE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE

misio
I assume you will still be saying that people from Eastern Europe are the main threat to your worderful land.

danny
im a young person myself and i have rote a rap song aimed at people my age and younger called "young youths" and i think young people would benift hearing my song its send a message to young people

sara
GUN CRIME NEEDS TO BE STOPPED LONSON;S VILOANCE IS GETTING WORSE EVRY SINGLE MINUTE AND GUN AND KNIFE NEEDS TO BE STOPPED.....

Phil
My building was just spray-painted a week ago in Toronto. It takes a lot of work to clean it off. On one hand one imagines 'if I had only been there and chased them away with a baseball bat' or something like that, but actually, that according to the law would have been more illegal than then spray-painting. Actually even if the owner saw them doing it, by saying something they could get themselves hurt, but if they hurt the perpetrators, they could get charged with assault or assault with a weapon (considerably worse than vandalism or damage to property, which is all they would get charged with). Also by the time the police arrived if they were called, the spray-painters would be long gone anyway. I think the only thing that an owner can do, even if they see them is to take a picture of them and call the police. Confronting them could lead to violence and likely the owner would get charged, especially if they used a club or something like that, which it would be foolish to go out the door without at night to confront a gang of youths with anyway. Just by having the club, could risk getting charged with making threats, or assault, which again is worse than spray-painting. The only practical thing to do then is just to clean it off, and complain about it on a site like this.

DADDY FRIDGE
TO MANY OF OUR YOUNG MAN ARE DIEING TO GUN AND KINFE CRIME ONE THING IM GOING TO SAY LEFT THE GUN AND HAVE SOME FUN LEFT THE KNIFE AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE A REAL GANGSTA IS SOMEONE THAT DONT USE GUNS AND KNIFES MEMBER ME TELL YOU THAT IT NEEDS TO STOP

Tolu
Bashy's new tune Black boys is doing just that...promoting black role models that are actually trying to get somewhere with their lives instead of being out on the streets getting up to all sorts! There are plenty of black role models out there but seems Britains black youths aren't listenting! There's Tim Campbell, Paul Boateng, Richard Blackwood, Sean Wright-Phillips, Trevor Nelson, Diddy, Nelly, Dizzee Rascal, Ms Dynamite, Jamelia, Beverley Knight, Eve, Oprah and the list goes on and on!STOP THE VIOLENCE!! PUT DOWN THE GUNS, PUT DOWN THE KNIVES! IT DOES NOT MAKE YOU COOL AND THIS DEVELOPING THEME OF GANG CULTURE NEEDS TO END! HOW MANY MORE NEED TO DIE BEFORE PEOPLE REALISE??R.I.P ALL THOSE FALLEN SOLDIERS. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

matt
we just need more black role models to look up too

Shay (London)
There are a number of factors which affect statistics, and many controversial issues based on the validity of these results, whatever the case...people need to stop stereotyping and labeling young males; they also need to stop the assumptions that a young violent male is likely to be black or a male. There are so many different factors which affect statistics, and their are so many talented, well-mannered youth of today, but as usual people tend to pre-judge and criticize

Ben
This country is falling apart thanks to this and the fact that the police have no power anymore thanks to this compensation culture we live in.

Islander
this is covered up as black people cant stop killing each other. When a white person kills a black its a major outcry.

jasmine
i am a 13 year old and i think that it is appaling to see my community decresing. I am very sad that more and more black youths of today are killing and robbing one another every single day. And they dont know how much damage they are doing to themsleves let alone others. The more and more they kill one another the less the comunity is going to be. We need someone to explain how wrong this violence is. We really so need help !

aleesha
I think that the people who kill are really really daft and they need to be tought how to take care of life and how to respect life.They just need a LIFE!!!!

tierra
I've read through all 26 of these young youth murders, an as I continued to read throughly through them I noticed that all to most of the stab victems all have the same point of entry, and that they all are group killings. in my opinon it seems that the affliation is primarily gang related, because the attacks were mostly in groups.

sid
Some one in the gumtree forum predicted back in Feb 2007 that at this rate the numberteenage death will reach to 28 by the end of the year. This is not a numbers game, saving one life is as precious to the parents as many lives. We must do all we can to prevent any further loss of life. The problem is we do not know what to do. Some can only resort to prayer. May be we should all paray to what ever is just and true and good for all. Education, opening debate with the young, unmasking their fears, spending more time with them, engaging them in sport, encouraging preserving life, at the same time, ensuring justice is applied in all levels of society, applying much higher penalty for drug use and drug handling, much higher prices for alchol, sever punishment for having guns and knife are all short term to medium term actions. We must also change the language we use, we should stop referring to colour of skin, or a particular ethnicity to idetify a class or a group so that we may understand by our limited knoweledge. There is one true fact, and only one, and the rest are man made ignorance perhaps in order to exploite each other. This fact is that we are all human and by changing the language that we talk about each other we may stop fueling this divisivness madness that one day we will be frighten of what we have created in error through lack of understanding.

christina norie
opening adebate with young people is the only waywe are going to go forward.and understand.great work .

Carol Reddings
Crime ---- Crime ---- Crime The law changed it so that you were unable to reprimand our children - by giving them a slap or hitting our children you are your child is likely to go to the police and make a report against you - at schools corporal punishment has stopped so blame the Government for the way the children of today are acting - the law made years ago was that our children could do what they wanted - look how far they have taken it - you cannot blame the parents or the school system blame the Government - kids killing kids what the hell is going on in this country

Jack
Respect your life not a knife and anyone elses life in a case like this.

ben
i think that black boys need more people to look up to and we need to understand that picking up a gun is no good.

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