Sarah Standing

The ‘bovver birds’ are back

Sarah Standing’s daughter was attacked by a girl gang — but it wasn’t an isolated incident. Female thugs, of the sort who ran riot in the 1970s, are roaming the streets again

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Sarah Standing’s daughter was attacked by a girl gang — but it wasn’t an isolated incident. Female thugs, of the sort who ran riot in the 1970s, are roaming the streets again

It was a beautiful balmy evening when my youngest daughter finished school last summer. The A-level results had just arrived, and she was happily ambling home from supper with two girlfriends. They were in no rush. They’re 18 and were about to spread their wings, leave London for the first time and head off towards various universities. They were finally ‘grown up’ — with parental curfew lifted, able to judge risks for themselves. And walking along the King’s Road in Chelsea, they had little reason to anticipate what was about to befall them.

Three girls approached them, asking the time. They seemed much younger, and their request was innocuous and unthreatening. The street was well lit and, according to my daughter, still buzzing with post-pub stragglers. Suddenly one of the girls turned around and whistled. Only it wasn’t an ordinary whistle; it was a call to arms. Within seconds, it was answered. Tilly and her friends were surrounded by a girl-gang who had evidentially been lurking in a side street.

The gang were as professional as they were feral, fast and foul-mouthed. They cunningly separated their victims, yanked a handbag off one friend’s shoulder and viciously shoved the other to the ground with brute and unexpected force. They grabbed my daughter’s mobile phone out of her hand and, once they had it, scarpered off into the shadows whooping with delight and victory. All random acts of violence are abhorrent, yet there is something about the weaker sex turning on their own that makes the crime seem even more unconscionable.

When Tilly and her friends reported the attack to the police, the police wearily took down their details and then made them plough their way through a bulging book of suspects’ photos in the futile hope they might be able to identify a face hidden beneath the ubiquitous hoodie. It was, of course, futile. My daughter had fallen victim to something which is becoming a nationwide epidemic: the new breed of British girl gangs.

The figures spell it out. Crimes committed by girls (some as young as ten) have soared by 25 per cent in the last three years. More than half a million assaults last year were either carried out by women or involved female members of gangs. This frightening escalation of girl gang barbarity is apparently rooted in the need to earn ‘respect’ on the streets. These young thugs seek approbation through violence.

We are living in a terrifying Clockwork Orange environment where aggressively pushing a pensioner or mugging an innocent passer-by gains you kudos and street cred. The media blame all the obvious socio-economic factors such as boredom, binge-drinking, peer pressure, lack of education, truanting, the destruction of the nuclear family, and the absence of father figures, but these girl gang members also appear to have a pathetic underlying yearning to belong. To belong to anything — even a gang — is something to aspire to in the Noughties. It’s a badge of honour.

For many young women today, proving themselves is apparently no longer about passing exams or getting a decent job. They choose to prove themselves by acting tough. These girls observe the gangster life and actively want to be a part of it. It’s perceived as glamorous and edgy, a club they want to join. Gang behaviour starts with petty stuff, just girls hanging out with their friends, then escalates almost imperceptibly. One gang member admitted to a newspaper that ‘being part of a gang is a bit like having a big family. You feel safe. You can go anywhere as long as your “bitches” are with you.’

Another girl bragged that belonging to a gang made her feel more confident. ‘It’s all about having front, attitude and face. I trust my gang more than I do the police. If justice has to be done, I know I can always rely on my gang to follow through.’ These cocky ‘birds of prey’ are no longer mere appendages to male gangs; they’re established, autonomous and don’t define themselves in relation to men. They routinely carry knives and are prepared to use them.

In London, history is repeating itself; in the early 1970s, the unruly ‘bovver birds’ rampaged the streets stealing from and assaulting people. But a recent Metropolitan Police estimate put the number of gangs in London at close to 200, of which at least three are known to be exclusively female. Today’s girl gangsters have initiation ceremonies — just like the boys — and have to ‘prove’ themselves by carrying out a street robbery or mugging.

The most notorious and high-profile London girl gangs are the Shower Gyals (Tottenham), PYG (Peckham), and OCS (Brixton). Last year a running feud between the PYG (who sport a uniform of black bandanas) and OCS erupted into a street fight in Camberwell New Road which resulted in one girl being thrown to the ground and stamped on. Some of the gang members were only 12 years old.

More recently, an eco-activist and documentary maker named Franny Armstrong was menaced near her house in Camden by a bunch of jeering 11-year-olds mumbling vague threats and brandishing a long metal bar. Armstrong was fortunate. She called for help from a passer-by and was bizarrely ‘rescued’ by none other than Boris Johnson, who was cycling past. The Mayor of London immediately leapt off his saddle and her ‘knight on shining bicycle’ successfully gave chase to the ‘bitches’, shouting ‘You oiks!’ What a local hero: Bojo turned Rambo.

However, for the innocent young mother out shopping in Wembley last Friday afternoon with her two-year-old toddler, ‘RamBojo’ was sadly not about. She was senselessly attacked by two teenage girls, who after failing in their attempt to rob her, punched her baby in the face before fleeing.

Recession rage, broken Britain and the rise of binge-drinking can’t quite shoulder all the blame for this ‘feral female’ phenomenon. The behaviour of these kids is more likely to be rooted in the fact that they feel totally forgotten. Misplaced. Abandoned. Predominately the product of dysfunctional and fractured families, they feel worthless, unloved and devoid of hope. They roam their dystopian, sink-estate wastelands like evil avatars of their own imagination. Their DNA has short-circuited and has undone them. When nurture cocks up — or is all but nonexistent — nature in its most primal form takes over: it’s a warped form of self-protection. Look to the mother. If she has failed to provide a positive role model and has barely bothered with the most basic mothering skills, are we really surprised that we are now seeing the dark side of femininity asserting itself? As one gang member was recently quoted as saying, ‘My Mum works all the time so I hardly ever get to see her, and there is no one at home, so I don’t feel I have anyone looking after me.’

Perhaps the weaker sex never intended to show all this strength. Perhaps the girls just need to be loved.