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London violence 'more intense now' says ex-gang member

Sky News logo Sky News 16/04/2018
Sheldon says people are staying off the streets due to the recent violence © Sky News Screen Grab Sheldon says people are staying off the streets due to the recent violence

As knife and gun crime rises to record levels on London's streets, police say they are focusing on the scores of gangs whose battles for control of the capital are, they say, fuelling the violence.

With more than 50 deaths so far this year bringing London's murder rate above New York City, former gang member Sheldon Thomas showed Sky where he mentors young people – hoping to show them that gang life is not the only choice.

Just yards away from the glitzy Westfield shopping centre in east London, he shows us round an estate where he says the local gang "have drug dealers aged as young as 10".

Mike (r) says it is easy to get caught in the crossfire or get mistaken for someone © Sky News Screen Grab Mike (r) says it is easy to get caught in the crossfire or get mistaken for someone

When we ask if that is unusual, even for London, he shakes his head and says it is "now becoming the norm". The youngsters, of course, are far less likely to be stopped and searched by police.

Sheldon says the many new blocks of flats that have sprung up around Stratford since the Olympics have widened the gulf between the haves and the have-nots and fuelled resentment.

As we sit on one run-down estate, he points out some modern apartments across the road.

Sheldon Thomas says drug dealers as young as 10 are becoming the norm © Sky News Screen Grab Sheldon Thomas says drug dealers as young as 10 are becoming the norm

"Look over there," he says. "Who over here can afford that? It’s completely out of range."

One of Sheldon's success stories is waiting to meet us in a deserted car park. Mike has been in and out of jail and although he now has a steady job and is no longer 'on road' (selling drugs), he prefers to talk to us in the safety of his car.

"Obviously the older you get the more… you start losing friends, guys going to jail, you’re going to jail. I’ve lost friends… people dying, people getting stabbed, people getting shot. It’s not really worth it, is it?"

A Scorpion sub-machine gun was recovered in the raid © Other A Scorpion sub-machine gun was recovered in the raid

When we ask how he feels given the recent spike in violence, he says things are "more intense now".

He warns: "You don't have to be involved in it. You can get it man, you can get mistaken for someone. If you're hanging around a certain area that's obviously got tension with other people, you can easily get caught up in the crossfire.

"Everyone's got it [a weapon] on them. Everyone's got it on them. No one wants to be a victim. It's either you stay in your house, you have it on you, or you're a victim."

The 17-year-old was killed in Tottenham, north London © PA The 17-year-old was killed in Tottenham, north London

Recent police raids have discovered not only knives but ammunition and firearms – even a sub-machine gun – at gang members' addresses.

They contribute to the rising tide of violence and police are looking into more than 50 murders in London this year alone, 36 of them stabbings. It is a rise of over 20% on last year.

Sheldon says the danger of being out and about is one reason why, as darkness sets in, the streets of east London are eerily deserted for a warm weekend evening.

File photo of Met police chief Cressida Dick © PA File photo of Met police chief Cressida Dick

"As you can see, there's no one on the streets," he says. "And that's what people don't understand, because most of the young people will be in a trap house."

That, he explains, is where gangs "make their drugs, store the drugs, store their weapons, keep the money".

Of one particular gang, he says, "if they find where your trap house is, they're coming to rob it. And when I say rob it, I mean somebody’s going to end up dead".

© Getty

Moving outside your gang's area can be a death sentence.

"It’s known as slipping, or the new word is lacking," Sheldon tells us. "Meaning – you are not from this area and you've been caught in this area so they have to do something to you. Stabbing. Kidnapping."

Of one gang member caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, he says: "They went after his mum. They bombed her house… set it alight."

We see several police cars out and about - perhaps part of the 120 additional Met officers now working on tackling knife crime in vulnerable areas like east London.

Some, like Mike, trying to turn their back on violence, hope that the area can turn around.

"I’m happy," he says of his new life, "but I’m still here… I ain't never out. This is where I'm from, I can't run away from it."

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