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Published: 10 April 2008
Harley Morlet and Heath Lowndes – both victims of ‘jacking’ on the Heath
Harley Morlet and Heath Lowndes – both victims of ‘jacking’ on the Heath
Robbed youth: We’re growing up with crime

• Teenagers speak out • Police stats show young mugged most • Call to fund youth clubs • Top cop: ‘We’ll do more

A new Met report reveals that teenagers are most likely to be victims of crime. Here, in a special report, they describe how avoiding robbery has become part of their daily routine

YOBS.” “Thugs.” “Rampaging teens” – or the perpetrators of “youth disorder”.
The language of the adult world is laced with fear and contempt for those negotiating the years between 12 and 20.

But teenagers require a vocabulary of their own to describe the daily reality of a life that has increasingly come to be marked by violence, robbery and intimidation.
Details from a confidential police report seen by the New Journal show that 14-year-olds are more likely to be robbed in Camden than any other age group, and a third of all robberies target those aged 13-17.
And their persecutors are their peers, as the report also reveals – a half of all Camden robberies are committed by teenagers.
For the young people who have to plot new ways to school or college to evade the gangs who prey on them, some of the best years of their lives are being spent avoiding one fate: being “jacked”.
For Harley Morlet and Heath Lowndes, both 17 from Kentish Town, these “jackings”, or robberies, are as much about power and territory as desire for gain.
Harley Morlet described one incident: “I was on the Heath with loads of friends. Me and a friend had gone to get some water and when we returned there was a gang surrounding our friends.
“They started punching and kicking them – we tried to run away, but they saw us and all 15 of them charged at us. They beat us up and stole our phones.
“It puts you in a difficult position because you don’t know whether to help your friends. Now I only tend to go out in groups but I’m not sure if it makes you safer because [these attackers] carry weapons.”
Heath Lowndes described the aftermath of his mugging at the hands of boys in hoods, wielding a crowbar and a knife: “Afterwards I was really shaken.
“I wouldn’t go out unless I had to and only in large groups. The sad thing is that it has happened to every teenage boy I know.”
Jonathan Tait, 18, described how he had been robbed and beaten up “a few times” when younger but was no longer a victim. He said: “I think this is because younger teenagers commit this type of petty gang crime – 15 to 16 to 17-year-olds – and their victims also tend to be the same age. They get a kick out of feeling powerful just as much as the monetary gain.
“They don’t have much power in the daily lives – at home or at school – and they have very little they can do as youth clubs shut down.”
According to Zakariya Mohamed, 17, a pupil at Acland Burghley, the weak are bullied by peers who lack parental control.
But the sense of territory is also strong. He said: “If one of my friends from Camden went into Tottenham for example and somebody said ‘Where are you from?’, they could get into trouble, they could end up being robbed. And the same could happen in Camden.
“But I always try to discourage it, say to people ‘Put yourself in their shoes, who is helping that person?’”
Last year Camden police broke with tradition by publicly acknowledging the existence of youth gangs, previously avoided in case it encouraged them to seek further notoriety.
It was a foretaste of a new approach by the Met, beginning this week and reflected in the all-important targets set by Scotland Yard.
For at least three years the borough will be measured on its ability to bring down attacks on people aged under 20 under the new targets- against which the reputations of senior officers are judged.
Although Camden police has spent over a year ramping up its approach to tackling youth crime, investing in Operation Curb and devising a Youth Engagement Team to add to dedicated schools officers, there is still serious concern among senior officers.
Camden’s borough commander Dominic Clout said yesterday (Wednesday): “I welcome the increased emphasis on young people as victims as well as perpetrators of crime.
“Every day, on their way to college or school, while they’re there and on their way back, they must think about the risk of violence – and that is not the sort of society that anyone wants.
“We realise that we need to hear more about what young people think and experience.”
But there is still debate both inside and beyond the police as to whether Camden groups like the Cromer Street Massive, Drummond Street Posse, Centric Boyz and Queens Crescent Crew are any more than loose affiliations of teenagers with no organised criminal element.
Youths from Somali backgrounds have been caught up in clashes over recent weeks with rival groups in Queen’s Crescent, some of which have seen teenagers carrying clubs and weapons on the shopping street in broad daylight.
Awale Olad is the chairman of the Somali Youth Development Resource Centre. He said: “There is a gang phenomenon, yes – some people do actually join gangs because they feel protected in numbers.
“If you’re by yourself you are more likely to be a victim of violence or robbery.”
Mr Olad partly blames “massive, draconian cuts from the local authority which I think will result in more gang violence.”
Parents have also recognised the trends. Deborah Laing is a parent and governor at Hampstead Parochial school in Heath Street, Hampstead, and is organising a group of mothers to combat what she calls an “epidemic” of robbery and terror among children, in which her own sons have been caught up.
She said: “If you interviewed 30 children in different schools across Camden and asked them their experience of being robbed, they would all say at least once, or two or three times or more.
“I went to school in Camden in the 1960s and 1970s and I was never attacked – but now we are having a whole generation of children whose daily experience is one of the possibility of robbery.
“Because it is about mobiles and a little bit of money people think it’s not serious – but the impact on a child of living like that is very serious indeed.”
Ms Laing said Hampstead Heath had become a haven of “roaming feral gangs on bikes all the time, looking for victims”.
Only a massive intervention, government-funded, will ease the crisis, she added.

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