Gangs fighting for control over drug markets summit hears

East London is facing an “uphill battle” tackling violent gangs who use social media to spread fear, a former Home Office crime advisor has said.

Speaking at a serious violence summit, held by Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge councils, professor Simon Harding said the boroughs were facing increasingly vicious gangs who want control over drug markets.

He told police officers and council and education workers that drug runners were using social media and technology to intimidate and “radical reforms” were needed to stop them.

Prof. Harding said: “It used to be that you had to be part of the territorial group but that isn’t happening anymore. It’s online, on social media. Gang members now have to do something spectacular to get themselves noticed.

“That is where we are seeing this rise in ultra violence. Now it is no longer acceptable to stab someone in the backside or punch them in the face. You have to do something more extreme. Then everyone will talk about you. What you did will spread on social media. It is all about increasing street capital.”

Prof Harding, who teaches at the University of West London and works with the Research Centre for Cybercrime and Security, added: “It is an uphill battle. Gangs are operating in a completely different way than they were even five years ago.”

The summit brought together police officers, councillors, charities and eduction workers from the tri-borough area.

It was the fourth event in a year-long programme, which aims to develop a better understanding of the issues which draw young people into gangs.

Detective Chief Superintendent Stephen Clayman said young people in the boroughs were more likely to be the perpetrators and victims of violence than older residents.

Those aged 12 to18 make up just 12 per cent of the population in the area but 40 per cent of the violent crime victims.

He said: “I think we need to listen more to young people. We can’t just arrest our way out of this problem. We need to acknowledge that some of our young residents are being led down the wrong path and we need to find ways to stop that. That is why events like this are so important, we can hear from people who have different prospectives.”

Rachael Burford

Local Democracy Reporter