Friday, 29th January 2010

Published: 29 January 2010

MEMBERS of Westminster’s most notorious postcode gang will be sent to the Lake District or Scotland in a bid to relinquish their stranglehold on youngsters.
City Hall has commissioned the Cumbrian charity Brathay to mentor 20 members in a bid to wean them away from the kind of ­violence that has made the SMG Blood gang a feared name on the streets of W9.
The eight-month project – for prolific offenders repeatedly in and out of police custody – includes a six-day residential placement in one of the two beauty spots and costs £80,000. It was approved by officials this week.
Police intelligence which has led to the project’s instigation reveals members have been caught up in serious violence, drug dealing and carrying weapons on their “turf”, the Mozart estate – once dubbed “crack city” for its drug problems – in Queen’s Park.
Westminster Council insisted the gang members were “not being rewarded” with a holiday.
Is is the first time   any public body in Westminster, including the police, has referred to a gang by name, having in the past used the description “collection of youths”.
The project is outlined in an internal council report that reveals the extent of youth crime in the borough where more than a third of 10 to 18-year-olds who are arrested become repeat offenders.
The report, presented to the council’s Crime and Disorder Policy and Scrutiny Committee earlier this month, states: “Intelligence from the MPS suggests that in Queen’s Park ward there is increasing problematic activity by a gang of young people known as the SMG. Intelligence suggests that the membership of the  SMG is geographically focused around the Mozart Estate. The activity of this gang has begun to cause real concern across the community.”

Members aged 15-24 will take part in team building exercises such as abseiling and be given individually tailored development plans to help them conceive an alternative to a life of criminality.
The aim is also to reduce re-offending rates and pave the way for members to find work or re-enter the education system. It relies on members to volunteer themselves for the project. 
Julia Wolton, the youth worker who will co-ordinate the programme, said they used other youngsters to get the gang members onside and build trust.
“We are unthreatening and should not be seen like the police,” she said. “We use peer mentors, and don’t just parachute in without knowing the lay of the land first. 
“Our aim is to work with young people who have become disengaged with education and have a lack of aspiration and motivation and who may have become involved in gang activity, anti-social behaviour or criminal behaviour. 
“We’re confident that our highly trained team can help make a difference and ensure we offer gang members a real alternative to crime.”

Ms Wolton set up a similar project for Lambeth Council, called X-it, and is seen as a leading authority on how to thwart the gang problem – earning herself the ear of the Home Office.
Westminster’s cabinet member for community safety, Councillor Daniel Astaire said: “This is about nipping an emerging problem in the bud before it gets out of hand. Sadly it is a fact that some gang members are seen as role models to a tiny proportion of troubled young people, and offering them a chance to get away through training and employment are essential. This is absolutely not rewarding bad behavior, those opportunities are open to all, but doing all we can to change these young lives for the better.”
In the past year, the council’s Youth Offending Team worked with 239 youngsters under the age of 18 and there were 5,418 youth crime suspects aged   10-18.
There are currently nine youths in the borough who are recorded as Prolific and Priority Offenders, meaning they are responsible for 1 in 10 offences among their peers, with the vast majority involved in youth disorder involved in low level crime.
The £80,000 project is part-funded by the Home Office Safer, Stronger Communities Fund to the tune of £50,000, with the remainder of the cost met by the Bethany charity itself.

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