Newcastle children as young as eight admit 'carrying knives' amid rise of gang violence

Kris Jepson's special investigation lifts the lid on the bloodshed and brutality taking hold in Newcastle with the rise of violent gangs

Children "as young as eight" have admitted carrying knives on the streets of Newcastle and Gateshead.

Development charity NE Youth told ITV News Tyne Tees that half of those referred for support have admitted to carrying a weapon so far this year - warning that youngsters are "at risk of being exploited" by gangs.

Jon Niblo, chief executive, described as "concerning" the reality facing youngsters, with 38 per cent of those accessing its services claiming to have assaulted someone and all referrals saying they had been exposed to violence.

He told ITV News: "Young people as young as eight and nine are carrying knives, and that’s a real concern for these communities.

"These young people are at high risk, they really are, because sadly there are people out there who look to exploit their vulnerability and look to involve them in more criminal activity."

When asked if those exploiting some of the young people the charity supports are gangs, he said: "Potentially - absolutely - but we need to be investing in these young people.

"We need to be developing those relationships and getting them involved in other programmes and activities to divert them away from some of the risky behaviour and activities."

Children as young as eight from across Newcastle and Gateshead have admitted carrying a knife, according to NE Youth. Credit: ITV News

Child violence in numbers

  • 100 youth referrals have been made to the charity from the criminal justice system and social services in just two-and-a-half years.

Referrals who have assaulted someone:

  • 4% in 2022

  • 19% in 2023

  • 38% 2024 so far

Referrals who have admitted carrying a weapon:

  • 4% in 2022

  • 5% in 2023

  • 50% in 2024 so far

Referrals exposed to violence:

  • 80% in the year April 2022 to March 2023

  • 88% in the year April 2023 to March 2024

  • 100% so far this year

Former gang member

One former gang member admitted to ITV News that he had carried a knife when he was younger.

Jay - not his real name - has been in and out of young gangs for years.

He said: "I carried a knife... I never used it, but the situation never happened. I’ve had mates who’ve used one. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it, y'kna... I’ve seen people get stabbed."

Asked if he was carrying a knife during our interview, he declined to comment, but when pressed about how it felt to have had a lethal weapon he said it was a measure of protection.

"You don’t think about it, do you?" he said. "Because, you’ve gotta think, if I bump into my 'opps' (rivals) and they catch me by myself and I’ve got that, then I’m safe aren’t I? So you’re protected."

A former gang member admits to having carried knife. Credit: ITV News

His story is far from unique in the Northumbria Police force area.

In the last three months alone, 181 people have been arrested by the force's new Serious Violence Disruption Unit, which regularly targets gangs.

Weapons like Rambo knives, crossbows and tasers have been seized and in a separate week of raids in May, 229 further knives were also seized.

The Violence Reduction Unit, which is run by the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner's office, has had a total of 1,194 referrals in the 12 months to April 2024, and 437 of them were aged under 18.

The police force's serious violence disruption unit has arrested 181 people in three months. Credit: ITV News

The influence of drill music

Drill rap is a form of music that has been adopted by gang culture in the UK and anecdotally appears to be influencing a lot of young people at risk of being exploited by gangs.

It is increasingly being scrutinised in the courts."Jay" told ITV News that the genre is the "trend" at the moment and that gangs sing drill to help them "get out" of that lifestyle, thinking they will make a lot of money out of it if they make it.Nottingham Crown Court heard last week that two 12-year-old boys, who were found guilty of murder 19-year-old Shawn Seesahai with a machete, had been inspired by a notorious drill rapper who is serving a life sentence.A judge in Newcastle recently described the genre as “pernicious, as it tends to glorify violence”.

Newcastle actor, Kema Sikazwe, who also raps under the pseudonym, Kema Kay, told ITV News the genre gets "dangerous" when it glorifies violence.Kema is a former gang member himself and now mentors young people. He does not sing drill rap, but another genre of rap. He said children "as young as nine or 10" are being recruited by gangs."These young people tell me a lot," he continued. "'Oh, I got approached to do this. Oh, I got approached to do that. Sell that for me and then I’ll give you a cut'.

"It could be drugs, but they’re approaching kids who are very, very young and they don’t even really understand what they’re doing."

Kema 'Kay' Sikazwe is a former gang member who now mentors young people. Credit: ITV News

He said he tries to show the young people he mentors how music can be used in a positive way to change their lives, rather than to glorify violent acts.Kema explained: "What does drill talk about? It talks about streets. It talks about stabbing people. It talks about selling drugs. It talks about how many points I got by getting someone.

"And it’s kind of like you force a crime, just so you can be seen as certified. And then people are like 'yeah, he did do that, did you not hear that?' And he gets the respect, but in the meantime, they’re not really seeing the effect it’s having on the community."

Kema believes youngsters, who are good people, are falling into a cycle of crime.He added: "The majority of the time, these are good young people that just got themselves caught up in situations they shouldn’t be in.

"I try to help these young people understand that look, there’s definitely a different route. You can choose a different path."

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