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Knife youth worker claims kids from gang-affected areas are resettled in Havering - bringing culture with them

PUBLISHED: 16:57 09 January 2018 | UPDATED: 17:04 09 January 2018

Jermaine Lawlor mentors young people from across east London on the dangers of knife crime. Picture: Emma Youle

Jermaine Lawlor mentors young people from across east London on the dangers of knife crime. Picture: Emma Youle

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A former-gang member who now educates others on the dangers of knives speaks to EMMA YOULE about his work with young people in Havering, in the final of our special series on knife crime

The problem of knife crime is growing in outer London. Picture: PAThe problem of knife crime is growing in outer London. Picture: PA

Jermaine Lawlor became involved with gangs as a young child and survived being stabbed as a teenager.

But he has long since stepped away from that lifestyle and now carries out youth mentoring and outreach programmes at schools and colleges in Havering to educate teenagers on the risks of carrying knives.

The 26-year-old is spurred on by memories of his own tough childhood.

“That’s where my passion comes from, my firsthand lived experiences of being in a gang, being arrested at 11-years-old, friends dying by 13, homeless by 15 and in a hospital by 16, I’ve seen a lot of bad things on the streets,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of harm done to people.”

Now though his organisation Voice 4 Youth Against Violence he tries to help steer other young people away from gangs and educate them on the risks of carrying knives.

The youth worker’s innovative workshops, which have run at Havering College, include hard-hitting shock tactics to inform young people of the consequences of using knives.

In live demonstrations, paramedics use red liquid to show the amount of blood lost when someone is knifed and teenagers are taught there is no safe place to stab the body without risking hitting a vital artery and potentially killing someone.

“You could stab someone just because you meant to scare them, a common situation, and you end up killing them and as a result you’re facing 17 to 25 years,” says Jermaine. “So we also look at what prison sentence you get for carrying a knife and if you kill someone, the consequences of that.”

Jermaine also highlights the horrific, life-long injuries that can be inflicted with knives.

“You don’t always die,” he says. “Sometimes you live with a colostomy bag and you’re urinating into a bag for the rest of your life. So it’s dispelling some of the myths and the actual risk that if you carry a knife, of it being used on yourself.”

He says many young people feel society has given up on them - with frequent cuts to youth sectors, the closing of youth centres, “extortionate rates” of education to go to university and the lack of jobs.

On the day the Recorder meets the 26-year-old he is still reeling and angry that a man has been viciously killed just a few streets from where he lives in Ilford, and Jermaine says “terrifying as it is, this is the norm”.

He says the lure of earning up to £1,000 to £2,000 a day is tempting some youngsters with few prospects into drug dealing and once involved in gangs, carrying a weapon is a must and kids are willing to use them.

In his experience many are unaware of the lengthy sentences for using weapons, which is were education is vital.

“There’s a huge amount of pressure to carry weapons to protect yourself,” says Jermaine. “Because what you have to understand is that these young men and women are in a war, and the whole aim of war is to survive.

“They have enemies that want to take their lives and will take their lives given the opportunity. So carrying a knife is an essential item if you’re caught up in street and gang violence.”

He believes population movement in London has impacted on gang activity in Havering.

Asked why knife attacks in the borough have risen, he said: “Because kids are being sent out [to Havering], from Hackney, from bad boroughs, re-settlement from gang affected areas, and they take their gang culture and gang ethos into the borough. They access young vulnerable kids.”

Figures show knife attacks on under-25s in Havering have risen by 29 per cent in the last year - although police chiefs say overall levels of knife violence are low compared to other London boroughs.

Jermaine called for a deeper look at the social problems driving youth violence as a first step to tackling the issues.

“The question is why is knife crime on the rise?” he says. “There’s lack of opportunity, lack of people caring, lack of government listening, there’s lack of alternatives.”

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