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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 February 2007, 13:19 GMT
Guns plague Peckham despite investment
By Steven Shukor
BBC News, London

A police officer outside the Peckham flat where the teenager was shot
Michael Dosunmu, 15, was in bed when he was shot
The dilapidated flats might be gone, but the criminals who lurked have not - they just got younger.

Seven years after the death of 10-year-old Damilola Taylor in a stairwell in the North Peckham estate in south-east London, violence still plagues the area.

Replacing rows of rundown high-rise flats and maisonettes are 2,000 new homes, a new sports centre, a new leisure centre and award-winning library, thanks to a 290m regeneration investment.

Peckham, which has tried much to shake off its mean streets image in the last decade, has once again hit the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Peckham is England's Bronx
Lucy Cope
Peckham resident

Not too far from where Damilola bled to death, three people were killed and one seriously wounded in three separate attacks between last Saturday and Tuesday.

They included 15-year-old Michael Dosunmu, who was shot dead by gunmen as he slept in his bedroom in Diamond Street on Tuesday in the early hours.

He was not the only young victim of seemingly brazen acts of violence. On Saturday, a few miles away, James Smartt-Ford, 16, was shot dead in front of 300 people at Streatham ice rink.

Young guns

According to Lucy Cope, a resident of Peckham and head of the campaign group Mothers Against Guns, the gunmen never went away and they are getting younger.

In 2003, there were 31 youths aged under 20 charged with a gun-related murder in London. In 2006, interim figures showed that number had risen to 76, according to the Metropolitan Police.

Last September, two Southwark schools were closed amid fears of gang violence following a spate of nightclub shootings which left one man dead and two injured.

Just before Christmas four youths were convicted of killing 33-year-old Zainab Kalokoh as she clutched her baby niece during a christening party on the Wooddene estate in Peckham.

The gang planned to rob the guests at the party but Ms Kalokoh died during the bungled crime.

Lucy Cope
Mrs Cope is calling for harsher sentences for gun possession
"The whole feeling in the area is one of fear," Mrs Cope told the BBC News website.

"Children are scared to go to school, parents are scared to let them go out or leave them home alone. You're not even secure in your own home now.

"This is what happens in the Bronx. Peckham has become England's Bronx."

Mrs Cope is consoling the family of James Smartt-Ford, which she says is in a "complete state of shock".

"They are inconsolable," she said. "No-one can help them at this point in time."

James's mother left a tribute to her son on the memorial website Gone Too Soon.

"My son the joy and happiness you brought to our family will never, never die," she wrote. "You will live on in our memory of what a beautiful young man you were."

'Regeneration working'

There were 266 gun crimes and five homicides in Southwark, which includes Peckham, in the 12 months up to December 2006, according to the Met Police.

In neighbouring Lambeth, there were 239 gun crimes and 15 killings over the same period while Lewisham recorded 185 firearm incidents and five killings.

The age of the gunman is falling, with children as young as 14-years-old charged with murder, according to the Met's Operation Trident, which tackles gun crime in London's Afro-Caribbean communities.

Trident recently launched an advertising campaign, including music, videos and posters, targeting 11 to 16 year-olds in a bid to turn them away from the lure of guns.

Peckham is a proud and strong community
Malcolm Tillyer
Southwark Borough Commander

Det Supt Kevin Davis, head of Trident, said: "Trident has identified a trend where more people in their teens are resorting to carrying or using guns."

Lee Jasper, London mayor Ken Livingstone's equality adviser, said the millions of pounds spent on regenerating Peckham were having an effect.

"It's a process, it's not an event and you know we shouldn't underestimate the scale of the problem.

"We've got large scale educational failure in some areas of London for young black children.

"We've got far too few positive role models in terms of fathers absent without leave and black teachers standing in front of the classroom teaching.

"And all of this [is set against] a backdrop of high unemployment that makes this an enormously difficult task."

Ch Supt Malcolm Tillyer, Southwark Borough Commander, said the killings have had a "significant impact on the local community" but he said Peckham's image as a crime hotspot was undeserved.

"The reality is that levels of crime have reduced year on year," he said. "The individuals who are involved in these type of crimes are a very small minority.

"Peckham is a proud and strong community and I don't believe that there's anywhere in the country where there are so many people doing so many good things to improve the lives of others."

1. November 2000 - Damilola Taylor, 10, found bleeding to death
2. August 2005 - Zainab Kalokoh, 33, shot dead on Wooddene estate
3. September 2005 - Ruth Okechukwu, 18, stabbed to death
4. 3 February 2007 - Javarie Crighton, 21, stabbed to death
5. 4 February 2007 - Chamberlain Igwemba, 47, shot dead
6. 6 February 2007 - Michael Dosunmu, 15, shot dead at home


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