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Rise in teen death toll ‘fuelled by social media feuds, gangs and drugs’

·4-min read

Feuds waged on social media and bloody rivalries over the drugs trade are fuelling a rise in teen homicides in London, the lead for violence in Britain’s biggest police force has said.

Metropolitan Police Commander Alex Murray told the PA news agency that, while overall homicide figures in the English capital have dropped, the number of teen deaths has risen.

To date this year, there have been 75 homicides in London, of which 22 involved teenage victims, a proportion of 29%.

In 2020 there were 14 out of 127, which is 11%, and in 2019 there were 26 out of 150, which is 17%.

Of the teenagers killed in London up to July 19 this year, a disproportionate number, 16 out of 22, were black men and boys.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The capital is heading for one of the worst years for violent teenage deaths in more than a decade, with previous peaks seen in 2017 when 27 young people died, and 2008 when 29 were killed.

Referring to the murder rate, Mr Murray said: “It’s the highest so far since 2007 against a picture of nationally and in London total homicide rates going down and it is disproportionate, it’s hugely disproportionate in both age and ethnicity.”

Violence against the person with injury for all age groups in London has also been on the rise since February this year.

A similar rise between April and August last year was put partly down to feuds on social media spilling onto the streets when lockdown restrictions were lifted.

Mr Murray said online conflicts are one factor behind the number of teen murders, along with violence linked to the drugs trade and gangs.

He said: “If you see what we see on social media, it can be incredibly violent, it can encourage violence it can encourage retribution.

“I’m not talking about Facebook and Snapchat and all these platforms per se, but specifically in particular areas, targeting other postcodes and sort of mocking and encouraging violence in retribution, so that combines with the violent drug market and also young people in gangs.”

One of the recent teen homicides in London was the death of Keane Flynn-Harling, 16, in Lambeth
One of the recent teen homicides in London was the death of Keane Flynn-Harling, 16, in Lambeth (Victoria Jones/PA)

During the summer holidays the force will stage London wide as well as local operations in a bid to stop injuries and deaths, including boosting patrols in parks and near bars and clubs.

While the number of teen deaths has risen, the number of under-25s who suffer a knife injury has gone down since 2019, and medical intervention has improved, suggesting the brutality of attacks among teenagers has worsened.

Mr Murray said he also wants to see stop and search used “consistently” in violence hotspots across the capital, despite controversy over the tactic.

“I know it is a controversial tactic but when it takes 400 knives or so a month off the streets, then we’re confident some of those four would have been used in violence.”

Officers have visited schools with bereaved mothers who have lost children to knife crime to try to dissuade teenagers from carrying weapons.

“There is a problem with young boys in London carrying knives,” Mr Murray said.

“The peak time is (age) 15 for carrying a knife.

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“And they carry it for a number of reasons, you know, a lot of people will say, fear, and that’s right.

“But some of them carry it because of credibility, you know, you want to look good and as a 15-year-old, you don’t have the self control, you want to look good and you carry it.

“And some people carry them because they want to use them.

“Sometimes street robberies happen with knives.”

Police and campaigners stress to young people the risks of carrying a weapon.

Mr Murray said: “You get into a fight and you’re not carrying a knife, the amount of damage is going to be limited much more limited, but if you’re carrying a knife and you’re involved in a fight, suddenly it’s a completely different game.

“And you might end up really hurting someone, going to prison for life.

“Or you might end up losing your life.

“And that’s the message we’ve got to get out, you know, don’t use it, don’t carry it.”

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