ITV News Central Presenter Monifa Bobb-Simon reports on the former gang member who has turned his life around
An ex-gang member who has been kidnapped twice and shot at has praised a new specialist unit set up to prosecute gang-related murders, drug-dealing and street crime in the West Midlands.
Mark Bracewell found himself caught up in a word of drugs, crime and gangs when he was 11.
It was the same age that he witnessed his first murder - a memory that still haunts him to this day.
He told ITV News Central of his experiences while being in a gang and how he walked away from a gang and turned his life around.
"I came from a home that was broken and I didn't really have much, I would see the people on the street and on the local area and had the nice cars and seemed to be living the good life and seen that as a way out.
"I've been kidnapped on two occasions, I was shot at and I was stabbed in the face and the neck, which I actually lost my left eye."
Mr Bracewell, who is now 45, has seen first-hand the devastation crime can cause. He's now welcomed a new gangs unit set up by the CPS to crackdown on criminal behaviour.
He has also set up a new organisation called Blinded Faith to help young people lead better lives than he did at their age.
Meanwhile, he's also welcomed the West Midlands-based Serious Violence, Organised Crime and Exploitation Unit (SVOCE) which was created by the Crown Prosecution Service last July - and also deals with gang-related modern slavery, trafficking, county lines and violence in prisons.
It opened in Birmingham last July in response to what officials say was the volume of drug fuelled violence connected to the West Midlands.
Since it launched, the unit has achieved an 84% conviction rate, almost a year after it was set up. They have also prosecuted 110 defendants and seen 92 convictions.
Speaking as the unit nears its first anniversary in operation, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor Douglas Mackay, of CPS West Midlands, said the new unit had placed prosecutors in the "best possible position to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice".
He said the unit also had close links with British Transport Police, allowing it to help the fight against so-called county lines drugs offending across England And Wales.
He added: “My prosecutors see the whites of the eyes of the bereaved families that deal with the tragedy that organised crime and gang criminality bring.
"They see the effect of the peddling of Class A drugs on the streets of the West Midlands, and they see the effect of carrying guns and knives in our community."
'It's our way of delivering justice'
Mr Mackay said: "This is our response to dealing with that kind of criminality. It’s our way of making sure that we deliver justice to the communities of the West Midlands.
"At the same time, we adjust to the changing nature of crime, and we make sure that we’re in the best possible position to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.
"We’re really focusing on expertise to make sure that we deliver justice and build the strongest cases that we can."
Several recent investigations into gang-related offences in the West Midlands have seen links between those involved proved through social media posts, including some featuring drill music videos.
'This is hard work but it's clearly paying off'
Praising the success of the new unit, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill QC, said of some gang members’ links to drill music: "We recognise that anything that’s put to music can be offensive, can be intended to cause shock, but it is not a crime.
"Where I see drill music, and actually all forms of social media, as being useful to a specialist unit like this, is where individuals charged with crime will deny the obvious, namely they will deny that they know each other.
"If they appear alongside each other in a video which happens to contain drill music, we will use that, not because of the music (but) because it proves these people know each other, which makes it more likely that the case that we’re bringing is correct."
Mr Hill said of the unit, the first of its kind: "I think what we’re seeing is just applying pressure by having a very strong relationship between investigators and prosecutors.
"Having a higher number of specialists in this unit, we’ve seen in 11 months they’ve taken 110 cases through the system.
"So this is hard work, but it is clearly paying off."