Blackmail, fraud and robbery: Ilford’s young offenders speak out

Artist Matt Ryan with the youngsters

Artist Matt Ryan with the youngsters - Credit: Archant

As three teenagers meet for a game of snooker on a Sunday morning, it is difficult to believe they have been charged with blackmail, fraud and multiple robberies.

Artist Matt Ryan with the youngsters

Artist Matt Ryan with the youngsters - Credit: Archant

They have seen and taken part in more crime than most people will witness in a lifetime and yet the oldest is just 16.

Artist Matt Ryan with the youngsters

Artist Matt Ryan with the youngsters - Credit: Archant

One of them has stabbed more people than he can remember, another decided to solve a problem at school by bringing in a 14-inch machete and the other was arrested twice in the last week.

Having been convicted by a youth court, they are all tagged and monitored by the youth offending team which falls under Redbridge Council and not the probation service.

In 2011/12 there were 265 young people who committed offences in Redbridge. Of these, 215 were male and 57 of them were aged between 10 and 14.

Each week the young offenders meet with their case workers at Loxford Youth Centre, Loxford Lane, Ilford, who monitor their progress and community service.

One such project was run by artist Matt Ryan at the Clementswood Community Centre, Connaught Road, Ilford, where the teenagers designed and created the mural on the centre’s wall.

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Case workers say it is difficult to find projects which are willing to open their doors to the young offenders and give them a chance to get involved.

None of the teenagers can be identified for legal reasons and their names have been changed.

William says he was about 12 years old when he committed his first robbery offence and over the past four years says he has been arrested about 15 times.

He said that while he was resistant at first to the art project – and being helped by case workers – it has given him a sense of achievement and has helped.

“At first I didn’t want to do it and thought it was for children,” he said. “Then you get into it and when I was looking at it, I thought it was done well and I was proud of myself. When you start drawing you get into it.”

William is trying to turn his life around and has just finished his GCSEs and would like to get involved in football or become a personal trainer.

He said: “I was arrested so many times. I was hanging around with older people and I’m not the type to walk off. I have anger management problems, but now when I get angry I try and control myself and walk off.”

He has been charged with two counts of fraud, one of which included making fake barcodes, as well as robbery, but says he is keen turn his life around.

“I don’t think about the bad things that I have done and I look to move on,” William said. “I don’t keep myself in the past.”

He said he became involved in crime after seeing older boys earning large amounts of money and wanting to do the same.

“I just wanted the money to get out of here,” he said. “The older people I hung around with had money and seeing them, I thought, ‘I want that type of money’. I was just doing it for the money.”

William has been stabbed twice, one in the leg and the other in the neck, and was excluded from school for fighting.What’s happened to me is nothing compared to what I’ve seen happen to other people,” he said. “I’ve been involved in shoot-outs and stabbing, robbing drug dealers, all sorts.

“The second time I got stabbed I thought, ‘no I can’t do this any more, I need to get out before it’s too late’.”

Having worked with the young offender team for the past six months, he says that he has started to change the way he thinks about his actions.

William said: “I was meant to go to prison so many times but I got lucky, I think I’m taking my chances. When I started working with the team I had a serious problems with authority, but my case worker’s a good guy.

“At first I didn’t really care about what he said but then you realise he is trying to help me and it’s for my own good.”

Wilson Chowdhry, 39, from Clementswood Community Centre, said: “The young people participating on this project completely transformed our community centre and users of the premises have commented on how salubrious the hall environment has become.”