The Evening Standard story – Safe houses help gangsters escape violence

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“Safe houses help gangsters escape violence”

Gang members are being offered safe houses in a pioneering scheme to help them escape a life of crime.

The initiative by Southwark council provides them and their families with an address away from their local area for 12 weeks.

The gap is intended to protect people from reprisals, giving them a chance to make a permanent break from the cycle of crime and violence. The scheme, called Serve, dealt with 10 cases last year- and all those involved are safe and well.

About half of those who join come from Southwark’s notorious gangs such as the Peckham Boys – some are as young as 13. The rest are involved in crimes such as drug dealing. The project, which costs £3,500 per client, is the only one of its kind in Britain.

Jonathon Toy, Southwark’s head of community safety and enforcement, said: “If you are involved in a gang then your family is in an area where there is a history of connections which becomes very difficult to move away from.

“We get families and individuals saying, ‘We want to get out.’ But because of where they are and the social network they are involved in, getting out is not so easy. They face pressure from friends and older people in the gangs who can threaten them or their family. It is very easy for someone to say, ‘We know your little sister goes to such-and-such school’ or, ‘Doesn’t your mum live round the corner?'”

Under the scheme, gang members are moved to another part of London or to the home counties. The council negotiates to rent empty homes which are held by local housing associations. Clients who want to make a permanent move are given help with finding housing, jobs and education. Candidates do not have to have been convicted of any crime but they must agree to break ties with the neighbourhood they have come from – and never return.

Mr Toy said: “They are all people who want to make that life change. We do not differentiate between them being victims or being offenders.”

One success involved a man in a gang engaged in a turf war with rivals. One night the rival group surrounded his home. He and his family were moved out within 24 hours. They are now in another area living different lives.


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