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Page last updated at 05:37 GMT, Monday, 25 October 2010 06:37 UK
The inside story on guns and gangs in Sheffield
Dan Johnson
Gang culture in Sheffield
Dan Johnson
BBC Sheffield


Guns and gang culture in Sheffield

"It's about respect and earning money and with that comes power and perks. You get nice females attracted to the money and the power."

Jason is 19 years old and grew up on different estates in Sheffield but he has always been involved with the postcode gangs.

School fights led to dealing drugs and carrying a knife.

"You feel powerful and invincible, like nothing can happen to you" he explains, pulling up his hood and looking round to check nobody is watching.

He is suspicious I am an undercover police officer and he will not give too many details.

Jason is not his real name but he is typical of the gang members I have met over the last three months.

Sheffield's gang problem isn't as bad as that in Manchester, Birmingham or London but there have been murders.

In the last eight years, ten people have lost their lives - gunned down or stabbed to death when gang rivalry has exploded into violent confrontation.

S3, S4, The Parson Cross Crew, Cok Bak Reload - just some of the names identifying gangs in Sheffield.

Gang graffiti
S3, S4 and the Parson Cross Crew are some of Sheffield's gangs

Some are more established than others, some include older hardened drug dealers who use violence to enforce their reputation and protect their patch.

Others are young, disorganised and fluid, fighting each other as much as their rivals.

They are all against the police. I have been following the South Yorkshire Police Gang Enforcement Team - dedicated officers working day and night searching the streets and the internet for signs of gang activity - weapons, drugs.

I followed them to Rotherham to raid the flat of a Sheffield gang member who had moved out of the city to avoid their attention.

Thirty officers move in quickly from unmarked vans, rushing up the stairs and breaking down the door with a pneumatic ram.

"Police with a warrant, stay where you are!" But someone in the flat is not going to obey orders.

A young man heads for the door, jumps from a third floor balcony and runs. The police are ready.

He's surrounded by officers on the ground and police dog handlers.

Above, the force helicopter keeps a watchful eye.

Police raid on flat
Police raid the home of a suspected gang member

This was not the gang member the police expected to find, but clearly he has something to hide.

The officers are content to put him in a cell and wait for the evidence to emerge.

The next day he 'produces' 14 bags of crack cocaine he stuffed up his rectum as the police broke down the door.

It is worth about £250, enough to get him a conviction for intent to supply Class A drugs.

It is not the first time he's been arrested.

For years the authorities denied Sheffield had a gang problem.

The murder of 16 year old Jonathan Matondo brought gangs into the spotlight.

He was shot in the head in a park in Burngreave in 2007. He'd been linked to the S3 gang centred in Pitsmoor.

Despite extensive investigation and two court cases nobody has been convicted of his murder.

He was shot with a Baikal, a Russian CS Gas pistol which is converted to fire live ammunition in Lithuania and smuggled to Britain.

The gang members I spoke to said getting hold of weapons was no problem.

"Getting hold of a gun now is just as easy as walking into a shop and buying groceries" explained Jason in a thick Sheffield accent.

"You have all these contacts so if you ever need a gun, you'll just contact that person and ask and its done. Get the cash and you've got the gun. It's as easy as that."

He could be bragging but his claim is backed up by a confidential youth offending service report which I got hold of.

The report's author is clear that firearms are easily available to a small minority with the right connections.

"I would say young people can get hold of guns and young people have got hold of guns, on the basis that young people are dying" said Ronny Tucker, who manages the council's Targeted Youth Support Team.

"Young people who are in the know will be able to go and get weapons, quite easily - easier than me or you.

"What we've got to do is get them away from that way of thinking, away from those circles so we're not having young people growing up thinking we're in a gun society."

Some have already done their growing up in the gang culture. Nicky Smith is 28. He dealt drugs for a crew on Park Hill.

Former gang member, Jason
Nicky is a former gang member who now helps others to steer clear of violence

He was released from prison in May after serving two sentences, four years of his life.

He saw guns and violence but now he is turning his life around.

At the Lifewise centre near Magna on the edge of Rotherham he is talking to a group of young offenders, children, some just 12 who have been found carrying knives and getting involved in fights.

The graphic presentation shows the impact of gun and knife crime and the reality of life in prison.

Amongst the audience is Brooke Kinsella, the former EastEnders actress.

Her brother Ben was stabbed to death in 2008. She's been asked by the government to assess the work police forces are doing to get kids away from gangs.

The presentation has affected her, she is in tears by the end but she is impressed by the hard hitting approach.

The police say this work in partnership with Ronny Tucker's team is having an impact but there are fears that cuts to their budgets and to youth services in the city could put their achievements at risk.

I asked Superintendent Andy Barrs if the police will ever break the gangs:

"It's an uphill struggle I have to say. It will always be a challenge for the police and we will always move with the times and react to it accordingly and I think we have proven that we're doing a good job."

Jason is finding a more positive path for his life. For once he agrees with the police - the problem will never go away.

But he is not optimistic for the future: "I think its getting worse.

"With it evolving to younger and younger people it is spreading more and there are waves of new gangsters all the time.

"It is such a wide thing that the authorities and the police are just not smart enough to stop it and to be fully honest, I don't think it will ever stop.

"It's always going to be happening one way or another."

Targeting gang culture in Sheffield
09 Aug 10 |  People & Places
Children warned over gang culture
03 Nov 08 |  South Yorkshire
Teenager killed 'by rival gang'
02 Apr 08 |  South Yorkshire


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