UK (Sky News)

Coronavirus: Gang life ‘has stopped’ because of COVID-19

By May 9, 2020 No Comments

Gang rivalries have been “put on hold” and violence has “stopped” as members follow coronavirus lockdown rules, the head of a charity has told Sky News.

Sheldon Thomas, who founded the Gangsline Foundation Trust, said county lines activity has also fallen as police enforce the “stay at home” guidance.

County lines refers to when city gangs exploit children into selling drugs in rural areas and small towns.

Police action to enforce the lockdown has seen gang activity drop substantially. File pic
Image:Police action to enforce the lockdown has seen gang activity drop substantially. File pic

Mr Thomas said “cuckooing” activity, where dealers take over the homes of vulnerable people to use as a base, has also decreased thanks to measures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Some street dealers have even been “throwing drugs to their customers” in keeping with the 2m (6ft) social distancing guidelines.

Mr Thomas, who was a senior gang member before turning his life around, told Sky News: “Rivalries have been put on hold. Stabbings have also definitely stopped.

“Everything to do with violence and ‘ops’ (operations) as they call it, has stopped.

“I haven’t heard of any gang-related murders taking place during the lockdown.”

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Coronavirus: Life in lockdown

However, Mr Thomas warned police forces should expect the violence to resume again once the measures are lifted.

He compared the situation to the Premier League football season, adding: “It’s just been put on hold.”

The 55-year-old continued: “The violence will start up again because these young people, once they’ve been violated, they never forget it.

“I spoke to a gang member from Lambeth and he said in relation to a rivalry – ‘we ain’t letting that go’.”

Sheldon Thomas runs the Gangsline Foundation Trust
Image:Sheldon Thomas runs the Gangsline Foundation Trust

Daniel Marczewski, a case worker for the Exit Foundation gang charity, said he has also seen a drop in violence and other crimes as a result of the lockdown.

He told Sky News: “Gang life has all basically stopped to a large degree.

“The guys out there on the streets are being pulled over by the police.

“These guys are finding it very difficult to hang around their local haunts and behave as they would have done prior to the lockdown.”

Mr Marczewski said this has led to a reduction in drug-dealing as gang members and their customers have to stay inside.

He added this means the “trigger offences” which are committed as a result of drug use, such as burglary or shoplifting, have also decreased due to the lockdown measures.

Mr Marczewski continued: “Burglary has fallen because a lot of people are indoors.

“And shoplifting – well a lot of shops are closed at the moment.

“A lot of the street dynamics have changed.”

When drug dealers take over the home of a vulnerable person, who usually has learning difficulties or addiction problems, the property becomes known as a “trap house”.

Mr Thomas said many of these homeowners or tenants have underlying health problems, causing gang members to fear spreading the virus to them in case it draws attention to their activities.

He added the increased police checks on vehicles has also deterred criminals from travelling to the trap houses.

“You’ve got to understand that gang members are not staying in trap houses now,” he said.

“One gang member simply told me ‘we can’t go there no more’.

“So now they have shifted operations to their own properties.

“That’s kind of a risky situation, because if they get raided police will find a lot of the drugs and cash in their own property.”

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The charity boss also said the “stay at home” advice has caused a drop in county lines activity, and continued: “In January this kind of dealing was taking place right across the country, but now it’s just in isolated areas.”

Mr Thomas added street dealers concerned about catching the virus have been throwing drugs to their customers during transactions.

He continued: “Gang members tend to find innovative ways to make money no matter what the situation.

“One of the things they have been doing is throwing drugs out of car windows or from their bikes to avoid getting too close and possibly catching coronavirus.

“Their customers throw the money back wrapped in a rubber band.”

He added that he spoke to a 15-year-old gang member in Hertfordshire who felt he had to continue dealing during the lockdown to support his mother.

Mr Thomas runs both the Gangsline Foundation, which delivers workshops in schools, and Gangsline Limited, which trains government staff and police officers on how to understand gang mentality.

He goes into trap houses and engages with gang members as part of the work of his limited company, which also offers strategic advice to the government and local authorities.

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