Hackney dawn raids target Pembury Boys gang: “It’s no way to grow up,” says police officer.
“Police officers! Stay where you are! Search warrant! Police officers - stay where you are!”
The yelling rang around the deserted Hackney estate, where the sun had just risen.
“Search warrant! Police!”
Officers dressed in intimidating gear, and armed with battering rams, dramatically smashed open the door of a teenager’s home - a known gang member and a suspected drug dealer.
A square piece of wood on the door patched up the damage done the last time police raided the same address.
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Five other dawn raids were being carried out simultaneously across Hackney in the operation spearheaded by the Met’s Trident unit, which tackles gang and gun crime.
We had driven there in convoy from Stoke Newington Police Station with a team of a dozen or so officers, led by Det Insp Neil Bradburn.
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Warrants for drugs and handling stolen goods had been sought, but on the way Det Insp Bradburn explained it was all part of a “bigger picture” – a long term operation against the Pembury Boys gang, centred around the Pembury Estate.
Although a cannabis factory was uncovered on the estate in Lower Clapton, a sniffer dog was sent into this youngster’s flat but nothing incriminating was found.
Det Insp Bradburn, who’s been with Trident for four years, believes kids join gangs fundamentally because they lack positive role models.
“That was a prime example,” he said.
“There was a mother there and several kids, but there is a serious lack of a father figure.
“Their role models are elders in gangs who drive around in posh cars.”
He finds his work can be depressing: “Very often the recent wave of immigrants tend to be the poorer sections of society we have, but you usually see a lot of aspiration and people trying to get on - but there’s a complete lack of aspiration with a lot of these kids, that’s probably one of the saddest things.”
Det Insp Bradburn excused himself to answer his mobile.
“We’ve arrested someone for a stolen mobile, but it’s the dad. That proves my point in a way about role models,” he laughed.
Scotland Yard figures out this month show serious youth violence is down 34 per cent since the launch of the Trident Gang Crime Command six months previously in February.
Knife injuries involving those under 25 have reduced by 29 per cent, and the number of times a gun has been fired has dropped by 21 per cent.
However, although the figures look promising, Det Insp Bradburn remains uncertain of what the future holds.
He believes gangs are not just a problem for the police, but a matter more deeply rooted in our society.
“There is some good work going on, and there are some success stories, the problem is I don’t think we are getting to some of the kids young enough,” he said.
“A lot of these kids are criminalised by the age of 10 or 11, they are lost to mainstream society by the time they are in their teens.
“They are hardened criminals some of them, by the time they are 13 or 14 they have been arrested half a dozen times, if you bear in mind they are probably only being arrested one time in 10 when they do something.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a ‘Mr Cuddly’ type of cop by any means, I’m more of an enforcement officer, but I definitely think the role model thing is a problem and how you break that I don’t know,” he added.
“To be fair most coppers prefer the enforcement - you don’t join because you think you are going to divert youths from crime, you join because you want to arrest criminals and solve crime - but a strand of Trident is diversionary.”
Trident’s attitude is holistic, and the team works closely with the council.
The idea is not just to arrest gang members, but to persuade them to turn their backs on a life of crime and to provide help escaping the gang, which can often prove difficult and dangerous for those involved.
Trident also reaches out family and friends of gang members, like the girlfriends who are sometimes asked to store guns and drugs.
Many of the guns used by gangs are home made, making them incredibly inaccurate.
This was illustrated by an incident last year which saw a young woman shot in her leg on her way home from a night out in London Fields, a long way from any activity which could have been viewed as suspicious according to her companion.
“Out of 100 times it’s shot, probably only five die,” said Neil.
“A proper gun would have a rifle barrel which makes the bullet spin so it’s accurate.
“The guns are rubbish - they struggle to get ammunition, there’s a lot of homemade ammunition out there, the ammunition is rubbish, and they can’t aim,” he added.
Det Insp Bradburn finds it frustrating they have to deal with so many shootings but always find it so hard to get the witnesses they need to press charges against those responsible.
“There are figures which say 45 per cent of victims won’t cooperate with the police. The reality is that it’s a hell of a lot more than that,” he said.
“So many know what it’s all about, who’s done it, what the motive is, but they give an extremely bland statement, like, “I was walking down the street minding my own business when somebody shot me - I don’t know why, I’m not in a gang.”
Det Insp Bradburn finds it hard to contemplate what it must be like living the life of a gang member.
“They must live constantly on the edge really. ‘Am I going to be shot? Am I going to be stabbed?’
“One of these kids from the Pembury, if he’s a known Pembury gang member, he can’t just walk anywhere in Hackney. He can’t just wander around the streets. If he happened to aimlessly wander into a London Fields site he’d get a good hiding, at least. It’s territorial - it’s no way to grow up.”
Anyone who wants to escape involvement with guns and gangs will be helped by Trident, with training, education, employment and housing.
Ring the gun crime hotline on 0789 9000101.