How we ran Glasgow’s biggest gang out of town
One of Scotland’s most violent gangs have been smashed by a major initiative – and it is to be copied in London in the aftermath of the English riots.
The Calton Tongs, who caused mayhem for more than 60 years in the east end of Glasgow, have virtually ceased to exist thanks to Strathclyde’s Community Initiative to reduce Violence (CIRV).
The policy, which combines strong enforcement with pathways out of gangs, has seen murder rates in the east end plummet by 78 per cent.
And it is now to be used as a blueprint by David Cameron in the “war on gangs” south of the Border.
The Calton Tongs wreaked havoc in Calton throughout the 60s and 70s.
Gang members ran protection rackets and marked their areas with graffiti as “Tongland” – a name immortalised in the film Small Faces.
Their infamy meant that “Tongs, ya bass” became a ned slogan in the west Scotland.
But intelligence and measurements of the gang’s activities show they have virtually disappeared in their form since the clampdown started in 2007.
Strathclyde Police Gangs Task Force use a method called Recency, Frequency and Gravity, which looks scientifically at how recently gang members offended, how frequently and how serious the offences were.
Gang members are then broken down into categories, producing lists of names which the Gangs Task Force can use to target the worst offenders.
Strathclyde Police’s strategic development manager Martin Smith said: “Calton Tongs are virtually dismantled.
“The scores for the members linked to the Calton Tongs dropped off. Their scoring now pales into insignificance compared to three years have been practically wiped our radar.”
The approach saw the arrest of core members, allowing those on the fringes to quit with support from charities such as Includem, who offer routes out of gangs.
Martin said: “These gangs are held together often just by loyalty, so as soon as the main ones who hold that together are out the picture, that is a time for those on the to get the breathing space something with their lives.”
CIRV is a co-ordinated approach by the Strathclyde Police gangs task force, the national Violence Reduction Unit, youth support charities such as Includem, social work, housing and education bodies.
The effect has been felt on the ground in areas such as Calton and nearby Bridgeton, where there has been a noticeable improvement in the perception people have of gang activity in their area. The statistics show they feel safer, but locals also say their experience backs it up.
Mohammed Saddiq, 39, who owns newsagent in Calton believes that the area has improved dramatically years he has been there. “The previous owner told had experienced a lot of problems but it’s quiet now.
He said:”We don’t really get trouble any more, nothing worth mentioning. The vast majority of people around here are really decent and want a quiet life.”
There are still trouble spots, such as an abandoned school 100 yards down from his shop, where a fight broke out a couple of weeks ago. But even here, incidents have tailed off.
Joe Pyke, 77, has lived in the area for 50 years and recalls running the gauntlet from nearby Gallowhill when he ventured into Calton to court his wife as a teenager.
He said: “My wife’s brother had to tell the local gang here that I needed a free pass because I was marrying into the family.
“That was 60 years ago so there have always been gangs, always will be – but now it’s daft boys. Then it was bicycle chains and razors. It’s settled down a lot but there is still trouble now and again.”
Other factors came into play in improving the quality of life in Calton, such as the injection of cash that is being used to give the area a facelift and new housing in time for the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
But the life expectancy of men in Calton is still the lowest in the UK at 53 – worse than Iraq or Gaza.
Gary Barton, 46, a local activist who ran for the council, believes in giving young people something to do to stop them wanting to fight.
He said: “There is no harm in being in a gang. Violence is the problem. We need to turn it around.
“If former members of the IRA can sit in parliament, why can’t members of the Calton Tongs be in the Calton swimming club, football club or whatever, instead? There is nothing here – schools have closed, churches have closed. Alternatives for these kids is the only option.”
Includem, who work with kids other groups have given up on, have seen offending drop by nearly half among the gang members they have helped.
And community police officers Sergeant Kenny Ramsay and PC Allan Verne have made their presence felt across much of the east end, going back to the basics of speaking to the locals and stopping the youths they know are active.
Stop searches have increased 180 per cent during the last four years and the police are aware that old affiliations may die but new ones spring up.
A new gang with a difference, the Crownie Young Team, have emerged in Calton. Their members come from various areas but are all from the same school, breaking with the age-old tradition of affiliation being dictated by streets.
Sergeant Ramsay said: “When we stop people and they are telling us who they run with, if they come up with a new name of a gang we haven’t heard of before, we have to be on top of that and build up a picture of who is involved.
“Where will they go, where they won’t, where they will fight?
“If we can get in at the beginning, we can throw resources at it and get it before it takes hold.”
In nearby Bridgeton, locals are enthusiastic about the regeneration and the dwindling presence of gangs. Allan Kelly, 49, was born in the area and believes that it has improved dramatically.
He said: “It used to be the clash of 2010 the Titans but there’s virtually no fighting now. The knock-on been it’s less sectarian.
This area was mainly Protestant and they’d fight with the Calton, which was Catholic. If there’s less gang fighting, the religious divide isn’t as obvious.”
Lahcene Yekeen, 38, opened a barbershop in the area eight years ago.
He said: “It was rough years ago but now it’s improved.
“There were always fights before, stabbings murders and people scared. There is a lot here. More than before.”