Damilola Taylor was only 10 when he was stabbed in the leg with a broken bottle and left to bleed to death in the stairwell of a south London council estate. The "lively and joyful" football-mad boy, who dreamed of being a doctor, had nothing to do with the gang culture that had been developing on Britain's streets. His death – 10 years ago on Saturday – finally stirred the nation into action. It led to public soul searching and a recognition that something must be done about a problem that had been largely ignored.
Actually, it didn’t lead to much of anything of the sort for the vast majority of people. It certainly exercised the chattering classes, but that’s about it.
"This tragedy is one... from which we have to draw very important lessons," the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said at the time. Yet, in the decade since, at least 138 other teenagers have died on London's streets as a result of gang violence or at the hands of other teens, an audit by The Independent on Sunday shows.
Labour in ‘we’ll talk and spend money like drunken sailors but totally fail to resolve the issue’ shock!
"Shanking" – stabbing someone – has become part of teen gang initiation ceremonies and many victims will not go to hospital.
That sounds like a self-correcting problem, to me…
Childcare experts fear youth violence is moving out of the cities and into the countryside.
If we get a lot of very, very
slow-moving drive-bys, we’ll know they were right.
"Things have got worse over the past 10 years," said Camila Batmanghelidjh of the youth charity Kids Company.
Hmmm, the past ten years. Something familiar about that phrase…
"Guns and knives are now in the hands of teenagers as opposed to the adult drug dealers. And kids are no longer stabbing each other in the leg – they now stab to kill. "
Another self-correcting problem…
So all that money and resources and effort has only made things worse?
"I think it's the same really," said Carol Thomas, 51, a childcare assistant. "They've put new buildings up but it's not improved that much. There are still gangs going around. There was a stabbing outside the new Tesco, and I'm frightened to go there now."
That’s because it was never the buildings
that were the problem…
However, any suggestion that it might be time that this gravy train got shunted into the sidings as a reward for dismal failure is meant with a collective ‘NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!’ from the legions of people making a nice living out of it…
At first glance it seems the lessons Jack Straw talked about have not been learned, despite the myriad schemes, police crackdowns and knife amnesties. Yet among professionals there is optimism. Police, youth workers and local politicians agree that after 10 years, an understanding of why children become involved in gangs and how to tackle the problem has finally emerged.
Children have been forming gangs for millennia. Suddenly, they have figured out why?
And am I right in being a little suspicious of a strategy that demands ‘more money and resources!’ despite the fact that the last ten year’s worth haven’t done the trick?
It is a complicated solution based on long-term investment, early intervention with children as young as three and the much-heralded "joined-up thinking" with different groups learning to work together. Last week, for example, surgeons and the police announced a new collaboration after a successful pilot scheme in which more than 100 NHS hospitals share anonymous information about knife crime victims with police.
Not sure how that’s going to help, other than to bump up the figures and thus scare the wits out of potential Tesco shoppers even more…
But many agencies now fear that this progress could unravel as government cuts take hold. Local authorities, which pay for many youth clubs and youth workers, have already started to make cuts in order to achieve savings of more than £1bn dictated by the Budget.
Ahhh, yes. Just as you were on the cusp of being able to change lead into gold, the wicked old government is going to come and take all your resources away…
Gary Trowsdale, the head of the Damilola Taylor Trust, points out that 99 per cent of young people do not carry knives and are not involved in crime.
"There isn't enough investment in positive kids," he said. "I think the anti-knife crime industry has become part of the problem. If this industry is finding a cure it's not a successful one. We need to have youth clubs open. You can't have kids hanging about on street corners."
Those kids who would be inclined to stab others aren’t going to be drawn into youth clubs. If they are ‘hanging around on street corners’, it’s because they want to…
Sue Fish, Nottinghamshire Police's assistant chief constable, who speaks for the Association of Chief Police Officers on knife crime and serious youth violence, said recent initiatives to share information are making a difference. "We now know that early intervention is where we have to start – that is completely different to 10 years ago. We are dealing with poverty, dysfunctional and violent families and poor education."
None of which – except maybe the violence – is within the remit of the police force, is it?
Damilola's father, Richard, says he now wants to move forward and establish a legacy worthy of his son. For him, this is the Spirit of London Awards. He is also adamant, however, that the battle against youth violence must continue. "The threat of cuts has to be addressed. This country is so blessed. It is one of the wealthiest countries in the whole world. The Government cannot cut funding when young people are dying on the street."
We funded it. For ten years. It didn’t work.
Let’s try something else, eh?
On Saturday, the 10th anniversary of Damilola Taylor's death, a celebrity awards ceremony will see dance troupe Flawless and Alexandra Burke gather at the 02 in London to celebrate the achievements of young people in the arts, music, sport and community activism.
The awards are organised by the Damilola Taylor Trust. Its executive director, Gary Trowsdale, said: "What we're trying to do is show vulnerable kids that if they make the right choices they can get recognised and have a good life. You don't have to be a Premiership footballer."
No, clearly you can be an ‘X-Factor’ contestant or ‘community project worker’ instead.
Why not some doctors, lawyers, teachers, architects, instead of the ‘glamour’ (so-called) professions?
So, if not the endless streams of taxpayer cash, the resources, the interventions, the opportunities, the buildings, what could
Well, a clue is in the round-up of the players in this little drama:
The brothers were convicted of the manslaughter of Damilola Taylor in October 2006 and sentenced to eight years in youth custody. Ricky Preddie, who was 13 at the time of the killing, was released in September after serving two-thirds of his sentence, including time in custody and on remand. On leaving Dovegate Prison in Staffordshire he was released into a probation hostel on the outskirts of London. The Home Office said he would be monitored closely. Danny Preddie, 12 at the time of the killing, is also serving a sentence for other offences committed in jail and is due to be released early next year.
I can see why things aren’t changing.
Can anyone else?