Fifteen teenagers involved in gangs linked to drug dealing, violence and anti-social behaviour have been made subject of strict injunctions.
The interim injunctions aim to reduce their criminal behaviour, protect the community, and steer them away from gangs to make positive changes to their lives.
The court orders apply to five boys from the Leigh Lot and ten boys from O Block, who are based in the Southend and Rayleigh areas.
Violence between the rival groups has escalated in the last year.
Police are also investigating possible links between the gangs and two murder investigations, along with a violent incident in which a man died and another suffered life-changing injuries.
While these gangs generally aim their violent behaviour at each other, members of the public have also been victims of crime and been impacted by their anti-social behaviour.
Essex Police has arrested and prosecuted a number of individuals, some of whom are currently going through the courts or are being investigated.
Police have also worked closely with organisations including social care, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and Justice and Care UK to make repeated attempts to engage with individuals to divert them away from gang and criminal activity.
The injunctions were granted at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday April 14 and Friday April 16.
They last until June 3 and 4. An application to extend the injunctions beyond that date will be considered.
A power of arrest was also granted, which means police can arrest those who are found to be breaching any of the conditions.
Chief Superintendent Simon Anslow, local policing commander for Southend and Rayleigh, said: “These two gangs have been involved in violent clashes that have escalated in the last year and this has to stop.
“They have shown no respect for the law, their victims, or the public, who have been caught up in their violence and anti-social behaviour.
“However, this minority of individuals are not above the law and we will do everything in our power to disband them and protect our communities.
“We have consistently and proactively carried out enforcement, and with our partners we have worked extensively to try and help individuals find a way out of these gangs.
“These injunctions aim to protect our communities, reduce violence and criminal behaviour, and address the issues that lead individuals to become involved in this lifestyle.
“Information from partner organisations and the community has been crucial in helping us to investigate these gangs and apply for these injunctions.”
Detective Inspector Scott Fitzmaurice, of Operation Raptor South, which applied for the injunctions, said: “We will continue to use every power available to us to target and dismantle gangs such as these, which not only cause misery for our law-abiding communities but also prey on vulnerable young people.
“They entice younger members into a dangerous lifestyle on the basis of false promises of money, a sense of belonging and status. But the reality is they will be subjected to violence and later on down the line will go on to exploit new members again in the same way they were exploited.
“The young people who are subject of these injunctions will have experienced all this first-hand.
“These court orders aim to not only prevent them from causing harm and nuisance to others, but also to steer them away from dangerous situations where they can come to harm, and to give them the opportunity to reflect on what direction they want their lives to go in.
“But enforcement alone will not solve these complex issues, which is why as a community we must all work together to show gang life doesn’t pay and there are many more positive alternatives.”
Cristina Huddleston, director of European Operations for Justice and Care, said: “Through our Victim Navigator programme, Justice and Care has been supporting Essex Police by working with those who have been exploited by these ruthless urban street gangs running county lines.
“Children and young people, some as young as 11, have faced extreme threats and violence and as a result of being targeted, many have felt they have no realistic alternative but to get involved in criminal activity.
“In the long term, children and young people abused and exploited by such gangs will bear the emotional and physical scars for the rest of their lives – their childhood is stolen.”
Carl Robinson, director for public protection for Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, said: “Violence and anti-social behaviour in any form is unacceptable, particularly when it involves young people caught up in gangs, often involving the sale and use of drugs, violent incidents with weapons and exploitation.
“Our community safety unit work to support Essex Police in dealing with anti-social behaviour by providing a visible presence in known crime hotspots.
“These injunctions will provide additional powers to Essex Police in the local area in relation to these gangs. I thank Essex Police and all agencies involved for proceeding with these injunctions to help keep our residents safe and well.”
John O’Loughlin, director for children’s services for Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, said: “The council’s children’s services team will always seek to support and advise any young person who is at risk of exploitation, and those who get drawn in to joining local gangs are no different.
“We know these incidents can sometimes be extremely complex, and our highly-qualified staff in the youth offending service and the children’s services team have on numerous occasions sought to help those included in the injunctions, specifically through our adolescent prevention and intervention team.
“We have also worked extensively with Essex Police and other partner organisations on the See the Signs campaign, which was launched in 2018.
“I would urge anyone with concerns regarding a child’s welfare to contact Essex Police immediately.”
If you have any information about drugs or violent crime, or are concerned someone is being exploited by gangs, you can contact police via https://www.essex.police.uk where you can use the ‘Live Chat’ button to speak to an online operator between 7am-11pm or submit an online report.
Alternatively, you can call 101.
Information can also be given to independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or https://crimestoppers-uk.org