A teenage boy was chased through a playground by a mob of youths wielding knives and baseball bats before being stabbed to death in London’s latest outbreak of gang violence.
Nick Pearton, 16, who was cradled by his mother as he lay bleeding from multiple knife wounds, became the tenth teenager to be murdered in the capital this year. Seven of those victims have been killed in the past six weeks.
The teenager was attacked in Home Park, Sydenham, at about 6pm on Wednesday after apparently being lured to the recreation ground by a phone call, then ambushed in what was believed to be a revenge attack connected to an earlier gang fight.
People nearby, who called police to report a disturbance in the park, said yesterday that they saw the boy, who is white, running away from a group of black youths armed with knives and baseball bats. He staggered to a nearby fried chicken shop where he collapsed on the floor. His mother, Kim, ran to the scene and neighbours spoke of hearing her cries as paramedics tried to save his life.
A local youth said the murdered boy had cycled to the park to face members of a rival gang after another confrontation earlier in the week.
“There was a fight over something silly,” he said. “Nick was lying on the floor of the chicken shop bleeding. His mum came out screaming “my baby boy, my son”. I didn’t see him get stabbed, just on the floor.”
Police were on the scene quickly and Scotland Yard said seven males were in custody, ranging in age from 14 to 21, and were being questioned about the murder.
Police sources played down suggestions that the stabbing was racially motivated. London’s street gangs are known to be multiracial and organised around schools, housing estates or postcodes rather than ethnicity.
There is, however, growing anxiety among senior police officers and politicians about the recent surge in gang violence–a boy was stabbed to death during the rush hour at Victoria station and a schoolgirl was shot dead in a pizza takeaway in Hackney.
There are fears of a return to youth violence on the scale of 2008, when 29 teenagers were murdered in the capital, which prompted a series of political and policing initiatives including tougher sentencing regimes and widespread stop-and-search operations.
Last year those efforts meant the number of teenage homicides fell to 14 but the 2010 death rate has run into double figures in a little over four months. Official figures show that knife crime in London rose by 2.2 per cent between April 2009 and March 2010 while gun crime has leapt by 14.2 per cent. Police sources claim the situation among street gangs is much worse than the statistics suggest.
One said: “These murders are not occurring in a vacuum. There are a lot of other stabbings taking place that the media never report and the public never hear about. The fatal stabbings are the tip of the iceberg–there are gang stabbings, fights and assaults happening on a regular basis.”
The murdered boy’s father, Vince Pearton, said his family were too shocked to talk about what had happened: “There’s nothing I can say, we can’t take it in.”
One neighbour said the Peartons were “totally shell-shocked”. The woman added: “It’s been a terrible shock. We are a really tight-knit community. We all know each other. It is just what it has come to these days. No one can believe what has happened.”
Kit Malthouse, London’s deputy mayor for policing, said the job of tackling gang culture and violence would take time and insisted that tough enforcement action was necessary. “It has been a tough start to the year and we have never claimed victory in this battle,” he said.
“To those who say we should be scaling back on stop and search, these events illustrate why we cannot do that. We should be putting more resources into this, not taking our foot off the throttle.”
Scotland Yard said detectives retained an open mind about the circumstances of the incident and any motive. It said: “A number of male youths were arrested in the vicinity and are now in custody.”
Murders of teenagers in London this year
Jan 13: Isschan Nicholls, 18, stabbed when youths clashed in Bow, East London
Feb 19: Olukorede Fajinmi, 17, stabbed outside cinema in Beckton, East London
Mar 4: Jessie Wright, 16, strangled in Islington, North London
Mar 25: Sofyen Belamouadden, 15, stabbed in gang fight at Victoria station, SW1
Mar 27: Godwin Lawson, 17, talented footballer, stabbed as he walked home in Hackney
April 3: Aliza Mirza, 18, stabbed in neck in Manor Park, East London
April 14: Agnes Sina-Inakoju, 16, shot in takeaway in Hackney, East London
April 18: Wesley Sterling, 16, stabbed at birthday party in Croydon, South London
April 23: Charlie Wright, 17, shot in face in Greenwich, South London
May 5: Nick Pearton, 16, chased and stabbed by gang in Sydenham, South London