Ex Dalston gang member: Lack of institutional support is allowing knife crime to thrive
- Credit: Archant
Gwenton Sloley has come a long way since his days roaming the streets of Dalston with the Holly Street Boys gang. He now teaches Whitehall suits and cops how to talk to kids. He spoke to the Gazette in the wake of 13 fatal stabbings in three weeks across London.
Gwenton Sloley is angry. In the last three weeks, 13 people have been stabbed to death across the capital, and he feels nowhere near enough is being done to help the kids caught up in gang life.
He should know – as a youngster Gwenton was a prominent member of Hackney’s notorious Holly Street Boys and Love of Money (LOM) gangs.
After stints in nine different prisons for armed robbery he changed his life in 2005, and now helps youngsters escape the vicious cycle.
He has a different relationship with police, too. Last year he trained 900 front-line officers on how to engage with teens trapped in the gang culture often responsible for killings.
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“I’ve been out there,” he said. “It’s about understanding the root cause of the problem. There’s not enough assessment going on.
“Most of the offenders have been excluded and diagnosed with mental health problems. They will get medication but not a statement, which gives them a SEN (special educational needs) worker and puts them on a programme. It’s not enough, we’re criminalising young people with mental health problems.”
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Gwenton has written two books and runs his own project, the Crying Son’s Trust, offering kids a way out. He also runs a football team for youngsters who have changed their life for the better.
While he praises organisations doing great work, such as The Crib in Hackney and the Ben Kinsella Trust in Islington, he believes there’s not enough institutional support for other children affected by the violence.
“There’s been 13 stabbings,” he continued. “Think about the number of young people affected by that. If someone is scared because their friend has just been stabbed where do they go for support? We need to make schools aware of services they can access so young people know where they can get support if they are thinking about carrying a knife, or if they have carried a knife.
“It’s an addiction. Most people I ask say they can’t even explain it but it makes them feel powerful.”
He believes a change in approach is needed by the police, too.
“Someone will commit a crime and get an NFA [no further action from police], and it escalates,” he continued. “There are no services to offer support to them unless they get charged with a crime.
“Half of these young people dying or committing offences are known to police, but because they haven’t been charged they can continue escalating until they go to prison or end up dead.”