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In London, dinner parties and murder exist side by side

How knife crime tells a tale of two cities

10 March 2018

9:00 AM

10 March 2018

9:00 AM

Last month, a 17-year-old business student of Somali extraction, Abdikarim Hassan, was knifed to death outside a corner shop, 70 yards from my home in Kentish Town, north London. At that very moment, in a parody of middle-class life, I was having dinner with friends, playing bridge in my flat.

Less than two hours later, and less than a mile away, another youth of Somali extraction, Sadiq Aadam Mohamed, 20, was slashed to death with a samurai sword. That same evening, a mile and a half from me, a 17-year-old survived a stabbing and a 24-year-old was attacked, suffering non-serious injuries. Two people have been charged in connection with the killings.

It later turned out that Hassan’s brother, Mohamed Aadam, 20, was knifed to death in September. And his cousin Mohamed Abdullahi, also 20, was fatally stabbed in the heart in 2013.

And what was the response of Camden Council, the police and local MP Keir Starmer to this murder epidemic? They sent every Camden resident a toothless letter: ‘Youth clubs in the area remain open with increased staffing to support young people… social work teams [will] provide emotional support to children and families affected by these stabbings… We intend to set up a community conversation meeting in your area.’

The letter gave the number of a Somali Youth Development Resource Centre, but it didn’t say that this is overwhelmingly a lethal, mortal problem for Somali youths. That’s the opinion of Ismail Einashe, another Somali who grew up in Kentish Town, or what he calls ‘Somali village’. Like lots of those trapped in this murder epidemic, Einashe was a child refugee from Somalia’s civil war, which has raged since 1986.

Einashe left Somalia at the age of nine and grew up in Camden in the 1990s during the first murderous gang wars, when he saw what happened to friends who had spent their childhoods in battle zones.

‘Many of my peers who had arrived in the 1990s graduated into a violent gang culture,’ Einashe wrote in the Sunday Times.

In 2006, outside Camden Town tube station, his friend Mahir Osman was stabbed to death by 40 youths with bats, screwdrivers and knives. Twelve years on, and it’s got worse. Knife crime in London increased by 18 per cent from 2016 to 2017. There have been 16 knife killings in London so far this year. The victims are disproportionately male, teenage (five of them) and Somali in origin.

Needless to say, none of those victims is a white, middle-aged, middle-class bridge-player. And yet Camden Council, Keir Starmer and the police waste thousands of pounds on sending letters to people like me ‘to reassure every resident that the safety of our communities is our highest priority and we are directing all of our attention and resources to keeping you safe’.

I know I’m safe. I’ve lived in Kentish Town for 20 years, and no one has laid so much as a finger on me. But then I didn’t grow up in a civil war to the sound of gunfire; neither did I suffer from the gang wars when I first lived in the borough, nor do I in today’s renewed gang violence.

I’m completely safe, even though I live at the interface between the two worlds.
I buy newspapers from the Saver’s Mini Market on Islip Street, where Abdikarim Hassan was murdered, yards from his home on the Peckwater Estate (named after Peckwater Quad at Christ Church, Oxford, which used to own the land here).

On the weekend after the killing, I bought the Financial Times from the Mini Market. By a cruel irony, that FT Weekend’s House & Home supplement featured property in Kentish Town, where ‘house prices have almost doubled since 2007… [and where] last year, the average cost of a second-hand home reached £805,000’.

To be fair to the police, they did place a Section 60 order in Kentish Town after the murders, allowing for expanded stop and searches, resulting in eight arrests and the seizure of knives and baseball bats. Before the order, Camden had been low on the stop-and-search list of London boroughs: 12th out of 32, with Lambeth, Westminster and Southwark carrying out the most stop and searches from 2017 to 2018. The overwhelming number of stops across London in that period were for drugs (70,000), as against 20,000 for ‘Weapons, points and blades’.

Spells of increased stop and search have been effective in reducing knife crime in Scotland and London, as Munira Mirza, Boris Johnson’s former deputy mayor for education and culture, wrote in these pages last month, just before the Kentish Town murders.

Nevertheless, the police are prevented from doing the one thing that such a disproportionate number of killings of Somali youths demands: concentrating on Somali youths in their stop and searches. As a Metropolitan Police spokesman told me this week: ‘Any profiling for stop and search on the grounds of race is unlawful.’

In fact, this would be stop and search based on national origins — Somali ones — rather than racial ones. Refusing to concentrate stop and searches among those communities that are most at risk increases that risk — and wastes police resources that should be focused on the most vulnerable people. When I biked round the Peckwater Estate the weekend after the murder, there wasn’t a single policeman in sight, despite a promise of 24-hour patrols in the letter to me. That letter threw away money that could have been spent on direct policing of those people at risk of violent death.

Guns, thank God, aren’t easily available in London the way they were in Florida to Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month. In north London gangland, guns don’t kill people, knives do. And people who carry knives are more likely to be killed by other people with knives. The murder victim at the bottom of my garden had been arrested for carrying a ‘hunting-style combat knife’ at the Notting Hill Carnival last August.

Donald Trump’s response to the shooting of schoolchildren — more guns for teachers — is crazy: literal overkill. Our response to the stabbing of schoolchildren — sending out emotional support leaflets and outlawing targeted policing — kills with kindness.

Harry Mount is author of Summer Madness: How Brexit Split the Tories and Divided the Country (Biteback).

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