‘We won’t win war with gangs

Ever wondered what is being done to keep youngsters away from the lure of gangs in Hackney’s estates?

One woman who knows more than most about the struggle is Claudine Duberry, whose book, Guns, Gangs and the Implications for Social Workers offers a glimpse into the borough’s frightening epidemic.

Born and bred in Victoria Park, the mum-of-six has spent more than 25 years working with children and youth offenders in a bid to understand the culture and offer people a way out.

But she believes the current approach is failing, and her book explains why.

“We need to engage with them a lot more,” she says. “We are trying to fight a war with them and it is a war we are not going to win.

“If you take a group and send them to prison and there’s always 10 more waiting to take their place.”

Claudine has worked in Hackney, Lewisham, Lambeth and other areas in the south east during her career.

She has worked with the Met’s gang squad Trident and set up and chaired the Hackney Independent Advisory Group (IAG) which liaised with police on the escalating problems during the early 2000s.

But even that couldn’t prepare her for the role she would find herself in over the Christmas period in 2002 – when as a community liaison officer she was thrust into the middle of the Met’s longest-ever siege.

Gunman Eli Hall held police at bay in a Graham Road flat for 15 days before setting fire to the building and dying amid the flames.

Throughout the stand-off, Claudine was tasked with speaking to Hall’s family and keeping locals as calm as possible. “That was a bit surreal,” she says. “I was attending Scotland Yard meetings first thing in the morning and spent a lot of time there. I’m surprised they haven’t made a film about that.”

Her role with the IAG also saw her speaking regularly with gang members across Hackney, but she remains critical of the way police and society dealt with them.

“I worked with the London Fields gang in 2004 and a lot of them went to prison. Now there’s another lot taken over,” she continued. “It’s about educating schools and educating parents. That’s the way forward.”

Claudine’s book began life as a thesis for her second Master’s degree in social work in 2008 (her first was on youth crime, probation and applied criminology).

She explains: “Last year I was I was off work with a broken foot and had some time on my hands. I went back and read it and thought people might like to read it. I updated it and did a lot more research.”

She believed the piece would be useful to others in her profession who come into inner-London areas with little knowledge of their history.

“A lot of the first gang members were born in the late ’70s, early ’80s,” she says. “That was when the government said: ‘We’ll give you a flat and benefits if you have a baby.’ These women weren’t ready to be mothers. Were they going to parents’ evenings or reading to their children?

“The education system also has a lot to answer for. Young people end up in gangs as runners and don’t know how to get out of it. It’s very worrying. You get children aged eight or 10 in court on offences of drug possession.”

Claudine is also the managing director of Taking Positive Steps, which supports youngsters who have been to jail or involved in crime and antisocial behaviour.

And it’s clear she’s intent on changing the way society treats the marginalised youth of Hackney and London. She adds: “My colleagues say they have too much paperwork to be able to engage with these young people. We need to take that argument to the government. We need to get back to that face-to-face interaction.”