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Conference seeks to tackle gang culture

18 January 2013

Madeleine Davies reports loud applause for the police officer who said that faith mattered


Ganging up: speakers at the XPL conference (left to right): Jennifer Blake, Simon Hughes MP, the Revd Les Isaac, Gracia McGrath, David Lammy MP, and Chief Superintendent John Sutherland

Ganging up: speakers at the XPL conference (left to right): Jennifer Blake, Simon Hughes MP, the Revd Les Isaac, Gracia McGrath, David Lammy MP, and...

A SENIOR Metropolitan police officer told a conference on gangs on Saturday of the "desperate need for prayer" in a society "addicted to violence".

Chief Superintendent John Sutherland, currently serving in the borough of Southwark, told the conference "Tackling Britain's Gang Culture", organised by the urban youth charity XLP, that domestic violence was "the single greatest cause of harm in society", and that the absence of good fathers was a "critical issue". The stories of sexual exploitation of young women which he had heard were "horrifying and terrifying in equal measure", and exposed "what a certain proportion of young men expect, and what a certain proportion of young women accept".

"Faith matters, and we should not be afraid to say so," he concluded. "There is a desperate need for prayer. It may not be fashionable to say that, but, frankly, we have not got time to be fashionable anymore."

His comments precipated loud applause from the crowd, which included other speakers who referred to the influence of faith in their lives.

"I have to give God thanks that I am able to stand up here and tell my story," said Jennifer Blake, who was involved in gangs until the age of 36, and was kidnapped, tortured, and raped before she set up Safe and Sound, a charity that works with those involved in gangs.

Mario Navacroft, a 25-year-old who was raised in Mexico before coming to England in 2004, spoke of the way he had "decided to turn my life around and gave my life to Christ" three years ago, after spending time in prison. "God was the only one who could strip my pride, my arrogance . . . God is the centre of everything I do," he said.

The conference was chaired by Patrick Regan, the chief executive of XLP, which he founded in 1996 after a headmaster asked him, as a youth worker, to help the school respond to a stabbing in the playground. The charity now works in more than 60 schools and communities across Southwark, Lewisham, Greenwich, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Islington, and Camden.

On Saturday, Mr Regan described how, after a "gang call-in" hosted by a church in Islington, and addressed by a paramedic and the mother of a victim of gang violence, 13 out of the 14 attenders were now in education, employment, or train-ing.

Also on the platform was Christian Guy, managing director of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), which published a paper Gangs: Time to Wake Up, in October, voicing "deep concern that the Government is not serious about making a long-term commitment to tackling gang culture and its roots".

The CSJ is calling for greater investment in preventative work, improved relations between young people and the police, and long-term funding, adequately communicated to charities working on the ground.

The Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, spoke of the need to tackle both the "rights-obsessive culture", where solidarity had been lost, and worklessness. Young people needed to show "resilience" and be supported by an "army of mentors", he suggested; and, in the context of single parenthood, "the phenomenon of 'baby mother' is one we need to leave back in the village."

The conference was closed by the Revd Les Isaac, the founder of the charity Street Pastors ( News, 7 September 2012). The Church, with the Government and the police, was one of the "three biggest gangs", he said: it had "resources, influence, and power". It "needs to be more pragmatic, more visionary, stop thinking that they are in heaven when some of their communities are in hell. . . We are spending too much time talking about sex rather than the real issues."

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