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‘People are dying in the next street, it’s terrifying’: Youth worker calls for action on knife attacks on under-25s in Redbridge

PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 December 2017 | UPDATED: 10:34 14 December 2017

Jermaine Lawlor mentors young people from across east London on the dangers of knife crime. Picture: Emma Youle

Jermaine Lawlor mentors young people from across east London on the dangers of knife crime. Picture: Emma Youle

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A former-gang member who was stabbed as a teenager and went on to transform his life speaks to EMMA YOULE about the impact of rising knife attacks on young people in Redbridge, in the first of a special series on knife crime

Jermaine Lawlor has spoken out about his shock after a man was killed near to his home in Ilford. Picture: Emma Youle Jermaine Lawlor has spoken out about his shock after a man was killed near to his home in Ilford. Picture: Emma Youle

“How many people have got to keep dying before something happens - because people keep dying and this is where I live, this is not the first killing.”

These are the words of youth worker Jermaine Lawlor as he stands by police cordon tape just a stone’s throw from his Ilford home.

On the day the Recorder meets the 26-year-old he is still reeling and angry that a man has been viciously killed just a few streets from where he lives.

He is not shocked by the bloodshed - only that it happened so close to home.

“As sad as it is and as terrifying as it is, it’s the norm,” he says. “I wasn’t surprised. This happens all the time, so you become de-sensitised. This is what happens with young people. We don’t value lives.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is joined by grime artist Yungen, poet Hussain Manawer, blogger The Slumflower and young people at the anti-knife campaign launch last month. Picture:  Greater London Authority Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is joined by grime artist Yungen, poet Hussain Manawer, blogger The Slumflower and young people at the anti-knife campaign launch last month. Picture: Greater London Authority

Today, as the Recorder launches a special series of reports on knife crime, ex-gang member Jermaine has spoken frankly about the devastating impact of youth and gang violence - on victims and perpetrators but also on their families and the wider community.

It comes as figures reveal knife attacks on under-25s in Redbridge have soared by 84 per cent in five years.

Jermaine and other former gang members told the Recorder:

- The lure of earning £1,000 to £2,000 a day is tempting some youngsters with few prospects into drug dealing.

- Once involved in gangs, carrying a weapon is a must and kids are willing to use them.

Poet Hussain Manawer at the anti-knife campaign launch - which appeals to teenagers 'Don't carry a knife, London needs you alive'. Picture: Emma Youle Poet Hussain Manawer at the anti-knife campaign launch - which appeals to teenagers 'Don't carry a knife, London needs you alive'. Picture: Emma Youle

- Many are unaware of the horrific injuries knives can cause and the lengthy sentences for using weapons.

“There’s a huge amount of pressure to carry weapons to protect yourself,” says Jermaine. “Because what you have to understand is that these young men and women are in a war, and the whole aim of war is to survive. They have enemies that want to take their lives and will take their lives given the opportunity. So carrying a knife is an essential item if you’re caught up in street and gang violence.”

Jermaine says the illusion of a luxury lifestyle of fancy cars and nice clothes associated with gangs can tempt some teenagers into dealing drugs.

Once involved, he says earnings vary depending on someone’s place “in the hierarchy”, but can range from £50-£100 a day for a rooky working for someone else to £1,000-£2,000 a day - the equivalent of more than £300,000 a year - if people are working for themselves and earning maximum profit.

Jermaine got involved with gangs as a child at primary school and has himself been stabbed.

Jermaine carries out hard-hitting workshops about knife crime at schools across east London. Picture: Emma Youle Jermaine carries out hard-hitting workshops about knife crime at schools across east London. Picture: Emma Youle

But he has long since stepped away from that life and now carries out youth mentoring at schools through his organisation Voice 4 Youth Against Violence, to educate teenagers on the risks of knife crime.

His driving passion for mentoring work comes from his firsthand experience.

“Being arrested at 11 years old, friends dying by 13, homeless by 15 and in a hospital by 16, I’ve seen a lot of bad things on the streets,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of harm done to people.”

In his workshops, Jermaine has paramedics give live demonstrations of the amount of blood lost when someone is knifed and teaches there is no safe place to stab the body without risking hitting a vital artery and potentially killing someone.

He also highlights the horrific life-long injuries that can be inflicted with knives.

Ilford poet Hussain Manawer lost a friend to knife crime. Picture: New City College Ilford poet Hussain Manawer lost a friend to knife crime. Picture: New City College

“You don’t always die,” he says. “Sometimes, if you’ve been stabbed in the abdominal area, you live with a colostomy bag and you’re urinating into a bag for the rest of your life.

“I’ve met some people, 15 or 16-year-olds, with colostomy bags and they say they wish they did die rather than being alive and humiliated. So it’s dispelling some of the myths and the actual risk that if you carry knife of it being used on yourself.”

He says many young people feel society has given up on them - with frequent cuts to youth sectors, the closing down of youth centres, “extortionate rates” of education to go to university and the lack of jobs.

He called for a deeper look at the social problems driving youth violence as a first step to tackling the issues.

“The question is why is knife crime on the rise? There’s lack of opportunity, there’s lack of people caring, there’s lack of government listening, there’s lack of alternatives,” he says. “The government aren’t doing enough. How many politicians have you seen on these estates talking to young people and encouraging and inspiring them? They don’t meet the people from these communities to understand what is happening.”

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Ilford poet involved in mayor’s anti-knife campaign

Performance poet Hussain Manawer echoes the belief that young people in Redbridge are acutely aware of the day-to-day presence of knife crime.

Last month, he was involved with the high-profile launch of the Mayor of London’s new anti-knife campaign, which tells young people: “London needs you alive, don’t carry a knife.”

The 26-year-old, who lives in Ilford and went to Valentine’s High School, lost a friend to knife crime - although he does not comment publicly out of respect to the family.

“Growing up there were moments within my life when I felt unsafe and scared of certain things, especially the time somebody I knew got killed,” said Hussain.

“I’m in a few different What’s App groups with my friends, and whenever somebody sends a message to our group [about a young person being injured or dying] I get so upset because I feel like it might be somebody that I know - and sometimes it has been. I’ve had friends that have been stabbed.”

Hussain carries out arts and drama workshops in schools and probes issues including mental health and homelessness.

Asked about rising youth knife crime figures in Redbridge, he said: “I don’t understand why that is happening. Maybe it’s lack of opportunity, but then I think peer pressure is a very big thing and we all need to take responsibility in tackling this issue head on. It needs to be a whole communal effort.”

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Data shows youth knife crime is on the rise

The Recorder’s research has shown a steep rise in knife crime affecting young people in Redbridge.

Figures from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime show the number of under-25s injured in knife attacks in the borough has gone up by 8 per cent in the last year - and by 84 per cent compared to five years ago. The five-year rise is higher than the London-wide increase of 61 per cent over the same period.

Statistically, one under-25 every week is the victim of a knife crime with injury in Redbridge.

But the borough experiences relatively low levels of knife crime compared to other areas of London.

Police figures show Redbridge ranks 15th of 33 London boroughs for all recorded knife crimes, with 349 offences in 2016-17 - or roughly one a day.

This figure actually fell by 1 per cent from 2015-16 to 2016-17, compared to a 24 per cent increase in knife crime London-wide.

Southwark had the highest levels of knife crime in the capital with 840 offences recorded last year.

Det Supt Jane Scotchbrook, who is in charge of neighbourhood policing across the East Area Command, said: “We want to reassure people that the likelihood of a knife crime happening is relatively low. But when it does happen it’s a serious matter and we will do everything we can to reduce and eradicate knife crime.”

Next week: The second of the Recorder’s special reports will focus on how police are tackling knife crime and the work of the Met’s specialist Operation Sceptre taskforce.

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