Posted on September 16, 2005

Death of a Teenage Father Highlights the Plight of Britain’s Gun Generation

Terri Judd and Ian Herbert, Independent (London), Sept. 16

Ramone Cumberbatch, a proud teenage father, had been seen regularly pushing his new son’s pram near his home.

But on Tuesday, the day before his 19th birthday, a gunman turned up at his house in a leafy Manchester avenue and shot him dead.

Yesterday, police released a picture of the young man neighbours described as “one of the nicest boys you could meet” cradling three-month-old Amarno, as they appealed for help in tracing his killers. Officers are investigating whether his death in Chorlton is linked to a multiple shooting last week, after which a 16-year-old was detained.

The murder of Mr Cumberbatch provides the latest tragic evidence that young people are now at the heart of gun crime in Britain. Research and interviews carried out by The Independent reveal that schoolchildren are increasingly carrying weapons that give a lethal dimension to fights that break out over items as trivial as PlayStations.

Youth workers estimate that as many as 80 per cent of youngsters from tough inner-city areas are involved in gangs. Three fifths of those have guns.

“People get killed over stupid stuff. Because I scratch your car and I don’t want to pay for it. I know people of 14 who have their first gun. It is a fashion accessory,” said one south London teenager yesterday.

For those with the right contacts, firearms are readily available and sub machine guns are the current preferred weapon. “They are easy to get hold of. It is as simple as someone older asking you to hold on to it,” explained the teenager.

A third of those convicted of possessing guns are now under 18, with campaigners revealing that children as young as 11 are wielding firearms — whether imitation or real.

One of the country’s foremost experts in the field, the head of Scotland Yard’s Operation Trident, a special unit to combat black-on-black gun crime in London, has revealed that the most common age of suspects and victims he now dealt with was just 19.

Detective Chief Superintendent John Coles explained that when the unit was launched six years ago, most of the perpetrators were in their twenties. Now the age range is 17 to 25.

Det Chief Supt Coles explained that the youngest offenders were just 14 and referred to a recent case when a gun fight broke out in south-east London between teenagers over a game console. “That was one of the most ridiculous things I had heard, a disrespect issue over a PlayStation,” he said.

Just weeks ago, a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old were charged with shooting Zainab Kalokoh, 33, dead in front of guests at a christening party in Peckham, south London.

In the first eight months of this year, Trident charged nine young people in connection with shooting incidents, whereas there was only one such case in the same period last year.

Today, the Metropolitan Police and its partners in the community are trying to educate children as young as seven as to the dangers of guns.

“The 19-year-olds of today are the group who were about 13 or 14 when we started and didn’t receive that kind of attention. They are now emerging as the new generation committing these crimes because they have not had that attention either operationally or in terms of intervention,” Det Chief Supt Coles said.

He blamed underlying social issues, such as lack of education and dysfunctional families, as well as the availability of guns coming in from former conflict zones. Whereas once, organised criminals used firearms specifically and temporarily for a crime, now they are often carried routinely and fights which might once have been settled with fists are with handguns.

“Kids see it as normal life. They carry the guns mainly for machismo and power. They fear if they have not got a gun they will get shot. They get into disrespect issues and they fire the gun.

“They want everything fast, the cars, the ladies. They think ‘I am only going to live to 25 so I might as well have it now’. There are thousands in circulation. In the past two weeks we have seized three or four Mac-10s [machine pistols].”

Pastor Nims Obunge, of the Haringey Peace Alliance, agreed: “It seems the ages are getting younger. I know of a girl of 11 who used an imitation gun to rob somebody of £5. I also heard of a youth worker who confronted a young boy and got shot in the foot. That is not the norm, but it shows that if a young person feels disrespect they will take it out on you.”

He agreed that many vulnerable teenagers he dealt with considered it normal to carry a gun or a knife. They told him they felt “untouchable” with a weapon, a sign of the underlying fear behind the practice.

“I was speaking to young people a few days ago. Whereas we think it is sensational [for them to be carrying guns], they do not. It is their reality,” he said.

Ishmahil Blagrove, a documentary maker who has worked with gangs, blamed a breakdown of family values and a culture of greed dating back to the Thatcher era. The 35-year-old said: “When I was growing up, if you were a teacher or worked in a bank you earned respect. No one wants to grow up and work in a bank or be a teacher now.”

In June, the Government announced that it would be clamping down on the availability of imitation firearms under the Violent Crime Reduction Bill.

Det Chief Supt Coles is convinced of the need to continue fighting the spread of all guns — imitation or real: “We have to keep going otherwise there will be mayhem on the streets.”