Conference hears young attracted to glamour of crime gangs

Vulnerable youths as young as 13 are being recruited into serious organised crime, a conference has heard.

Action for Children Scotland said youngsters are attracted to what they perceive as a glamorous and wealthy lifestyle.

A youth worker with the charity told a summit in Tulliallan, near Stirling, how he turned his life around after being drafted into delivering drugs at the age of 13.

Police Scotland chief constable Sir Stephen House and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill attended the Divert conference, which discussed ways to prevent youths from embarking on a life of crime.

Mr MacAskill said all areas of society were required to help break young offenders’ “natural progression” into organised crime.

Action for Children’s Paul Carberry said a lternative role models are needed to inspire young people to take a different path.

He said: “These young people don’t always have ordinary hard-working people like doctors, joiners and nurses to look up to.

“Often they grow up admiring men from their scheme who appear to be glamorous and wealthy, but who make a living from crime.

“We need to give these vulnerable young people alternative role models. That’s where our peer mentors come in.

“They have similar backgrounds to the boys we are trying to engage and are a few steps ahead on their own journey. They are therefore seen as credible mentors and living proof that, given the right support, young people can turn their lives around.”

A former criminal, known as Peter, stole to order and smashed up the homes of drug addicts who owed his bosses money.

The 23-year-old now works with children at risk of being recruited into criminal gangs.

He told the conference: “From the age of 13 I was delivering drugs and stealing to order. But that isn’t what I wanted for my life.

“Action for Children Scotland helped me to change and I am pleased to be using my experience to help others to build a good life. I am well-placed to give these young people advice, they know that and they listen to me.

“If I met my 12-year-old self now I would say ‘keep your chin up and fight the good fight. You might skin your knees but you’ll get there in the end’.”

Mr MacAskill said: “Becoming involved in serious organised crime is a natural progression for young people who are already ‘offending’ in some capacity, and if we can catch them early enough in this life cycle then we may be able to stop them from progressing to organised crime.

“Tackling the causes and effects of offending by young people is key to building safe and strong communities, within which Scotland’s future generation can fulfil its enormous potential.

“The Scottish Government cannot do this on their own – we need help from all areas of our society – the police, the education establishments, local authorities and most importantly the people at street level, the people who deal with these young people on a daily basis.

“That’s why in 2013 I invited Action for Children to join the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce to ensure we were focusing on those who would become involved in a life of crime in their early years.

“They, together with many third sector and local authority groups, are committed to intervening early and offering the vital support where required.”

Detective Chief Superintendent John Cuddihy, who spoke during the conference, said: “Diversionary tactics break the cycle of organised criminality and Police Scotland very much welcomes Action for Children’s involvement as chair of the Divert strategy.

“We recognise it is about getting the right people with the right expertise to these youngsters at the right time. Working with our third sector and wider partners present that opportunity.

“Investing in our children’s future is vital. If today’s conference saves one young person from being lured into organised crime, then it will have succeeded.”