Agenda item

Thurrock Council's Response to Criminal Gang Activity


The Youth Offending Operations Manager introduced the report and stated that it provided an overview of Thurrock’s response to criminal gang activity in the borough. He stated that in this context gang meant people that saw themselves as a defined group; laid claim over specific territory, either geographically or relating to specific drugs; and were in conflict with another gang. He stated that recently, county lines operations had been receiving increased national press, and explained that this was a business model used by gangs to deal drugs, that exploited children and trafficked them to sell drugs in a certain area. He stated that most of the children that had been referred through the NRM process, had been referred due to their participation in county lines drug activity or were being exploited locally. He explained that criminal gang activity also included knife crime and serious youth violence. He explained that in 2019, the Home Office had identified and provided funding for the 18 worst affected knife crime areas, which included Essex. He added that this funding had been used to set up the Essex Violence and Vulnerability Unit (EVVU), whose three aims had been to: reduce hospital admissions for knife wounds for those aged under 25; reduce knife violence for those aged under 25; and reduce homicides from knives for those aged under 25. The Youth Offending Operations Manager explained that the EVVU had begun this work by trying to identify criminal gangs, and had worked in partnership with local communities and local authorities. He explained that this process had identified young people at risk from exploitation by gangs, and had helped them to leave.

The Youth Offending Operations Manager moved on and stated that Thurrock Council had written a report in 2020 on serious youth violence, which was based on a public health approach to gangs that had been used successfully to reduce knife crime in cities such as Glasgow. He stated that it used a similar long-term model as used for tackling COVID, based on surveillance; primary prevention; secondary prevention; and tertiary prevention. He moved on and explained that the EVVU had set up the Violence and Vulnerability Board (VVB), which was chaired by the Essex Fire and Crime Commissioner and had received funding for Thurrock to be able to spend locally. He stated that the VVB were focussed on safeguarding children, as well as vulnerable adults, for example by protecting them from cuckooing, which was a process whereby a drug dealer would set up shop in the house of a vulnerable adult and traffic children to that house for drug activity. He stated that the majority of children used in county lines and cuckooing were involved in the distribution of class-A drugs such as crack and heroin, and the VVB had worked with Essex Police to identify local hotspots and undertake a criminal justice approach. He commented that the team had also used in-depth data to triangulate those children most at risk from exploitation by gangs, such as children in need and children with special needs. He explained that the team used a programme called Xantura to gather this data alongside other agencies and partners.

The Youth Offending Operations Manager added that the team were currently trying to raise awareness of criminal gang activity in schools, for example the Youth Offending Service had a dedicated team member that collaborated with schools. He explained that they undertook curriculum based work in primary and secondary schools, as well as local colleges; provided leaflets for parents; and leaflets for professionals in schools. He stated that the Brighter Futures team also provided teaching for parents whose children were at risk from gang exploitation. He stated that these programmes had increased the reach of the Youth Offending Service and provided detached youth workers, who were funded through the VVB, and worked in criminal gang hotspots to prevent the exploitation of children. He explained that the Youth Offending team had also delivered online roadshows for the past two years for Years 4, 5, and 6, which had been offered to all schools in Thurrock. He added that the roadshows had been based on a presentation to help students understand criminal gang activity and exploitation. He explained that the VVB had also provided funding for St Stevens, which were a charity that undertook outreach work in West Thurrock and South Stifford, as well as working with the detached youth workers.

The Youth Offending Operations Manager moved on and explained how the team had developed a Schools Policy on Knife Crime that was implemented when a young person in school was found with a knife in their possession and worked to try and avoid exclusion. He explained that a risk assessment was undertaken and the police would intervene where necessary with the child, their family and the school. He stated that the Pupil Referral Units (PRU) could be hotspots for exploitation, and the Schools Policy on Knife Crime aimed to keep children in mainstream schooling where appropriate. He added that the Youth Offending Service worked closely with the Olive Academy to prevent students being exploited by criminal gangs.

Councillor Ralph thanked officers for their work on the report, and asked how confident the team were that they would continue to receive funding from the VVB. The Youth Offending Operations Manager replied that funding would be received until March 2022, and the team were currently working with Essex on ensuring future funding was agreed, to embed the work that had been undertaken locally. He explained that although funding in future would not be as high as was currently being received, the VVB were working with the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner to ensure the highest levels of funding would be granted. He added that the EVVU would also be able to choose how to spend funding locally, for example they would use surveillance to determine areas most in need, and would partner with the police to ensure funding would be spent in the right places. The Youth Offending Operations Manager added that the team were also providing training to various teams in the Council, such as the Cleaner and Greener team, as well as running local community training sessions, to increase awareness of criminal gang activity. Councillor Ralph then asked how the team worked to identify children that were at risk of being exploited by gangs, particularly those children that displayed no other identifiable criteria, such as being a child in need. The Youth Offending Operations Manager replied that the team provided ‘Know the Signs’ training for schools and parents, which included if their child was going missing more often, their school attendance was decreasing, they had access to more money, and were buying more expensive items such as clothes and games consoles. He stated that Thurrock had its own specialist Missing Panel, which worked with the police to find children who had gone missing.

Councillor Abbas thanked the team for their work on the report, and felt impressed by appendix 2 of the report. He asked how the team were currently delivering leaflets. The Youth Offending Operations Manager replied that leaflets were being delivered to vulnerable groups, such as children identified by the Youth Offending Service, children being monitored through safeguarding processes, and children in need. He explained that leaflets were also used to target parents whose child was at risk of gang exploitation, and online training for parents could also be provided. Councillor Abbas highlighted appendix 1 of the report, and asked how the public health approach to tackling serious youth violence would be implemented. The Youth Offending Operations Manager responded that it was a statutory duty for the Director of Public Health to publish a report, and the public health approach to serious youth violence was currently regarded as the best approach. He explained that it was a long-term process, but would meet the need of the local community.

Councillor Anderson stated that in recent years, an injunction had been brought against members of the C17 gang, and asked if this had been an effective tool against gang members. He queried if this process of injunctions would be used against other gangs in future. The Youth Offending Operations Manager explained that funding had been provided to the Community Safety Partnership, who were currently working with the police to gather evidence against a new gang and bring appropriate action, which could include an injunction. He added that the C17 gang injunction had been funded through Thurrock Council, and had gone through a long process in the civil court to be granted. He explained that an injunction could only be passed based on the balance of probability, and therefore lots of evidence needed to be collected before it could go to court. He explained that the C17 gang injunction had received lots of attention from the national press due to its success, and was now being used more widely, for example by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council.

Councillor Okunade felt it was good to hear about the Schools Policy on Knife Crime, and asked if schools were cooperating with the policy. She also asked if children were reoffending after the policy had been used. The Youth Offending Operations Manager replied that the Schools Policy on Knife Crime had been adopted by the Council in April 2020, and to date four children had been kept in mainstream schooling because of the policy. He felt that the schools had become more cooperative, partly because OFSTED had changed their messaging regarding knife crime. He felt that it was early days for the Schools Policy on Knife Crime, but schools were adopting and using the policy. He added that funding was also being provided to the Olive Academy to provide specific re-integration workers so children could return to mainstream schools when appropriate. The Youth Offending Operations Manager felt that a holistic approach was being taken by all partners on all levels to reduce knife crime and criminal gang activity in Thurrock.

Councillor Rigby asked what direct contact the team were having with children at risk of exploitation by gangs. The Youth Offending Operations Manager replied that the team could either work directly with specific children at risk of exploitation, or could provide a more general approach to whole year groups in primary or secondary schools. He stated that the team approached every school in Thurrock at the beginning of the academic year to offer them training sessions with the children, as well as post-16 education settings such as SEEVIC and Palmers. The Chair questioned how the team were working to combat anti-police messaging disseminated through drill music over social media. The Youth Offending Operations Manager replied that both national and local governments were finding it hard to tackle issues occurring over social media. He stated that the team encourages children to make music, as it was an important creative outlet, but tried to focus the music on a more positive message.

RESOLVED: That the Committee:

1. Assured themselves of the response by Thurrock Council to address criminal gang activity in Thurrock.

2. Contributed to the delivery of this agenda, ensuring that communities have a voice within this agenda.

3. Agreed an annual report on the work of the Violence and Vulnerability Board to address criminal gang activity in Thurrock be brought to the Committee.