Levelling Up: ‘We were getting it wrong before’ says Northants Police DCI

A joined-up approach to tackling crime in deprived areas is needed

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By Natalie Bloomer

Some of Northamptonshire’s most deprived areas are also often the places with the highest levels of crime. 

Poverty, lack of services, poor employment opportunities and low education attainment make a perfect breeding ground for gang activity.

Today we speak to DCI Gan Thayanithy and Supt Adam Ward from Northamptonshire Police about the work they are doing in the north of the county to tackle the issues which blight some of the areas we are focusing on as part of our Levelling Up series. 

They say that while a lot of good work has been done to tackle gang-related crime in areas such as Queensway in Wellingborough, Kingswood and Hazel Leys in Corby and Avondale Grange in Kettering, the force has needed to change tack. 

“Previous initiatives have failed because we’ve gone after the big guys without realising the young people left behind have already been groomed and indoctrinated into that lifestyle,” says DCI Thayanithy.

“That’s what we’ve got to change, we were getting it wrong before. We need a joined up approach with other agencies to prevent that from happening.”

Supt Ward agrees:

“We did lots of things that worked in the short term but were disparate in approach. We might have had a successful police operation to take out a gang but not the infrastructure behind it to prevent another stepping in. It left those areas in the same situation - if not worse.”

They want to work with local communities in the areas facing the biggest problems to hear what residents would like to see happen. But due to a lack of trust this hasn’t always been easy to achieve in the past. 

“People can be unsure what they’ll receive in return if they interact with us - there can be mistrust on both sides. Through Operation Revive (a multi-partnership project launched in Wellingborough earlier this year) and community events I want to provide a safe platform that people can step onto -  if they do, I’ll be there to listen. 

“What I say is, I will always be honest, if something is not possible I will explain why but let’s talk about what we can do.”

The recent murder of 16 year-old Dylan Holliday in Queensway, Wellingborough has sparked a response from the community which DCI Thayanithy and Supt Ward say is having a positive impact on relations with the police in the area.

“We’re trying to do things differently, we have never really had the type of community engagement in Queensway and areas like it as we have right now,” Supt Ward says. 

“Ravaun Jones (founder of the Off the Streets group which launched after Dylan’s death) has worked incredibly hard on this and it’s had a huge impact. I can’t thank him highly enough, he’s reached out a hand to us and of course I’m going to take it,” DCI Thayaithy adds.

A big worry for the force is the age of the young people becoming involved in gangs. Whereas a few years ago they were targeting their preventative work at teenagers, they are now going into primary schools to reach younger children.

Work is being done in schools across the county, with a particular focus on Wellingborough, Kettering and Corby.

“It’s quite frightening, you’ll regularly see children as young as 11 or 12 being involved with knives. Some of these young people are the most dangerous because they don’t have the emotional or mental maturity to fully understand their actions,” Supt Ward says.

“Children aged 12 -16 are far more dangerous than adults in these situations because they can’t grasp the repercussions of using or carrying a knife.”

The pair say gangs are actively targeting younger children who are vulnerable because they are easier to recruit. But they recognise why gangs thrive in some areas and not others is a complex multi-layered problem. 

“We know some of these areas are among the most deprived in the country. There is no quick fix, we’re committed to this for at least the next two-to-five years and longer if needed,” Supt Ward says.

DCI Thayanithy says cuts to services and a lack of facilities has had a clear impact on the areas.

“Hemmingwell in Wellingborough lost its medical centre about five years ago. Since then incidents where ambulances have been called or of acute mental health issues are often involving adults in Hemmingwell. Queensway, which still has a medical centre and pharmacy, has far less.

“But Queensway lost its Sure Start Centre and has limited activities aimed at children. The incidence of adverse childhood experience is higher there than Hemmingwell which has more things aimed at young people.

“It’s clear that having locally based amenities and services which everyone can access has a huge benefit.”

Another issue is access to education. Following the death of Dylan Holliday lots of people on the Queensway estate spoke about the problem of schools permanently excluding young people which then leaves them as targets for gangs. 

“We’re in talks with safeguarding leads in the local schools. I am a strong proponent of working together to keep young people in school as much as possible,” DCI Thayanithy says.

“If you are excluded in Wellingborough it’s more likely to be permanent and it’s almost impossible to get into another school in the area so young people are sent to referral units.”

Supt Ward says there are children in these areas who don’t believe they can achieve anything and see crime as the only way to survive. 

“They think there is not much hope for them. You’ll speak to these kids and they think the only way to make money is to run drugs.”

DCI Thayanithy says where you live shouldn’t determine your outcomes. 

“There are young people in these communities who are clever and articulate who feel completely trapped, given the right opportunities they could be future leaders but they don’t see that as possible. That’s what we need to change,” DCI Thayanithy says.

“If any community group wants to work with us, we’re here. It can’t be just us or just them, we all need to work together to tackle this.”