Home to some of the largest head offices, including HMRC and international businesses, this area has been named “the most enterprising borough in London”. With its trendy new glass fronted buildings, sky scraping Docklands-style apartment developments, Croydon is on its way to being known as the premier destination for shoppers and one of the largest commercial districts.
I have lived in South London for over 45 years and moved to Croydon in 1987. My first born, James Andre Godfrey Smartt-Ford was born in Mayday University hospital in 1989. I have been working in local communities for the last 13 years, raising awareness of the devastating consequences caused by youth on youth violence and deliver workshops in schools and advocate for the ‘right to life’ for every child.
At East Croydon Station daily commuters huddle side by side as they travel the breadth of the UK and with the eighth busiest airport Gatwick on route, the station boasts over 23 million entries and exits yearly. So, on a normal Monday afternoon, nearing rush hour, the hustle and bustle of individuals travelling from school, work and wanting to get home, you are not expecting to see or be a witness to what happens next.
At 4.30 pm on Monday 27th January 2020, a horrendous act of child murder is committed in board daylight at this busy London station. A 16-year-old schoolboy is viciously attacked by a machete wielding child, hundreds of bystanders heard the harrowing screams of a child as he is attacked in the station. By 4.45pm, 15 minutes later, the child’s breath has gone and is silenced by death. police pronounce the 16-year-old child dead at the scene.
Why has another life ended so cruelly?
The response is unbelievably shocking. Is it a place where children are just expected to be murdered? How can there be no reaction, where passers-by so shocked, walk on by.
Is there no value placed on a child’s life when they live in our outer Boroughs and the perception of young people is determined by their race and/or their class? Local politicians seek to implement policies that address rising violence, but the truth of the matter is the savage stabbing of a 16 year old child in broad daylight in a busy train station, confirmed that the wider society have also become desensitized to rising ‘child murder’.
Last week the Violence Reduction Unit published a new report on the financial cost of London’s violence epidemic which is costing the capital £3bn. It suggests that we need to adopt a highly localised approach, down to specific roads and estates, “is essential to understanding and responding to violence”, with community and social cohesion considered key tools in keeping neighbourhoods safe.
The past 12 years have seen campaign after campaign and in times of austerity, grassroots organisations are hit the hardest and starved of resources that could fill the gaps of unprecedented needs for trauma affected children up and down the country. With London Boroughs reduction in youth funding and dwindling youth services, rising exclusions and more children being drawn into county lines, we have also seen an unprecedented rise in serious youth violence and growing violence amongst young people.
‘Increased stop and search, joint enterprise, and criminalisation of children as young as 10 is not going to deter children from ‘protecting’ themselves’
There is no easy overnight answer to what can be done to solve the huge social inequalities and problems we face but we can start to recognise that it’s not one solution that is going to fix the problem we have of growing youth violence. Increased stop and search, joint enterprise, and criminalisation of children as young as 10 is not going to deter children from ‘protecting’ themselves as this is how young people describe life on the streets ‘you kill or be killed’ (words of a young man aged 15, St Joseph College, Croydon).
The 3rd February 2020 marked the 13th anniversary of the violent death of my 17-year-old son inside a London ice skating rink where sadly over 300 people were subject to a horrific act of violence that claimed my son’s life and where no-one has been brought to justice for the violation of his life. As we continue to fight for the right to life for every child, it is heart rendering to think of what the future holds. What I do know is that we must not become desensitised to our city’s children being murdered.
About the Author:
Tracey Ford is the Founder of the JAGS Foundation, created in memory of her son. JAGS raise awareness of the consequences of youth murder and addresses problems affecting young people today offering peer mentoring in schools and works with agencies that help vulnerable young women. Tracey is part of our Being the Story Spokesperson Network, to diversify the voices we’re hearing in our media and beyond.