Met Chief: Stop Gangs By Taking Children Into Care

Britain’s most senior police officer wants children who face pressure from within their own families to join gangs to be placed on the child protection register.

Sir Ian Blair, commissioner of the Metropolitan police, believes there needs to be a radical overhaul of the way society tackles the growing problem of teenage violence, which will spread from the inner cities to rural towns and villages.

Peer pressure from brothers and sisters is regarded by police chiefs as one of the key drivers for gang recruitment as children are drawn into criminal activity. Using a child protection approach would mean that in the most extreme cases children who were at risk of joining teenage gangs could be taken into care for their own safety.

The Met chief says policing alone will not make a lasting impact on the threat of gang violence, which is as serious as that of terrorism in terms of the deaths and injuries caused. His words reflect the increasing concerns of senior police officers across the country following a series of fatal shootings involving teenagers. The latest led to the death of 12-year-old Kamilah Peniston in Manchester.

Sir Ian believes society must treat children in the families of gang members as if they are at risk, in the same way that children whose parents are violent and abusive towards them are considered under threat and taken on to the child protection register.

“The solution to the problems of youth violence go far wider than policing,” he told the Guardian. “There is a need to think outside the box. While the response of the Metropolitan police and other forces will be extremely robust around youth violence when it is committed, we should also be thinking about how to stop children drifting into these gangs.

“One of the ideas I have asked to be explored is that where an older sibling is clearly involved in gang activity the right way forward is that there should be a child protection approach for any younger sibling who is clearly at risk of moving into a lifestyle which is extremely dangerous to that child.”

Police in Manchester are investigating whether Kamilah’s 16-year-old brother accidentally shot his sister. Detectives will be inquiring into his background to establish whether he was a gang member and how he came to have the weapon.

Sir Ian’s comments come as the Met publishes an analysis of gangs in London which reveals that young refugees from war-torn countries are increasingly getting involved in teenage violence.

“There is an increase in young people with significant post-traumatic stress resulting from witnessing and being involved in significant violent situations prior to arrival in the UK,” the report states. “These young people appear to have a disproportionate negative impact on their peer groups.”

Since January there have been seven teenage murders in London related to gang violence, and younger children are becoming involved in gangs.

The report, which is being presented to the Metropolitan Police Authority today, reveals there are at least 171 gangs in the city, three of which are teenage girl gangs. It also states: “There is evidence that sisters and girlfriends of gang members are used to mind weapons.”

The report identifies the need to intervene early to protect younger children from joining gangs and reveals that there is currently no provision for helping the increasing numbers of teenagers who want to extricate themselves from gang culture.

Sir Ian’s comments were welcomed by those working with young people. Les Isaac, of the Ascension Trust street pastors initiative in south London, said he had been calling for a more holistic approach to gang violence for a long time.

“The incident in Manchester this week highlights what we are saying. Children are living in a fantasy world, they don’t realise how dangerous these things are and accidents do happen.”