This blog is all that remains from the former www.londonstreetgangs.com website which was closed after 8 years of providing a 'wiki' of urban street gangs in London.

An unfinished history of modern urban street gangs in London has been used to replace some of the content of the original site, beginning here

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Another Miscarriage Of Justice In The Case Of Asher & Lewis Johnson

From JENGBA (Joint Enterprise, Not Guilty By Association) - see more at http://jengba.blogspot.co.uk/

“Five charged with stabbing a suspected gangster, Thomas Cudjoe, to death in the garage forecourt of the Shell petrol station in Ley St, Ilford.”

On the evening of Friday November 2nd 2012 Asher Johnson (aged 24) attended an old neighbour’s birthday party in Ley St, Ilford.

During that evening Asher decided to meet up with a couple of friends in the Bell pub for a couple of drinks before his friend picked them up later in a car to go clubbing.

Asher Johnson’s younger brother, Lewis Johnson (aged 21), arrived later at the pub on his own at 12pm and the idea was to have a few drinks, play pool and wait for their friend to arrive later.

Once the brothers had finished drinking and decided to leave the pub (which backs on to the forecourt of the petrol station) there was an altercation between Asher Johnson and Thomas Cudjoe.

Lewis Johnson stood back during this whole ordeal and did not get involved in any way whatsoever.

Asher Johnson threw a couple of punches at Thomas Cudjoe and quickly withdrew from the scene with his brother Lewis Johnson, as a few other people arrived at the scene and Asher Johnson could tell that there was going to be some kind of further trouble which he did not want to be involved in.

After Asher and Lewis Johnson had departed from the scene, Thomas Cudjoe was stabbed to death by Jerome Green, the victim is said to have had 10 stab wounds to his chest and legs and also 4 slash wounds. Whilst Jerome Green was stabbing Thomas Cudjoe, Courtney Mitchell was holding the front passenger side door, therefore, preventing Thomas from escaping and as all of this was occurring, Reece Garwood was in the back of the vehicle, having a physical fight with the victim’s friend.

All 5 men were charged with murder under joint enterprise, even though it was clear on the CCTV that it was in fact Jerome Green who had committed the stabbing and murder.

On the CCTV it clearly shows that Asher and Lewis Johnson both withdrew from the scene before the weapon (knife) was produced and before any stabbing took place, and yet, they were still charged with murder.

During the trial the judge even mentioned that he had been watching the CCTV all weekend and that different charges must apply to the Johnson brothers, which could have been Violent Disorder or ABH (as manslaughter was not applicable to them) so therefore, they would be tried separately to the other co-defendants.

There was only one killer and this was admitted in court. On Friday July 26th 2013 they found the first 3 co-defendants guilty of murder, Reece Garwood and Courtney Mitchell being convicted on presence and Jerome Green for actually carrying out the murder. That same day, later in the afternoon, the jury also convicted Asher and Lewis Johnson of murder on a majority, rushed into a verdict in an hour as the Judge had somewhere to be at 4pm that day. The jury had also mentioned that they wanted to leave early as it was too hot. The judge had mentioned that if they did not reach a verdict in that hour then there would have to be a retrial for the Johnson Brothers.

This, the family feel, would have been much fairer as it can be noted that the judge seems to have pushed the jury into making a decision when they clearly had little guidance and no knowledge of the joint enterprise guidelines which were introduced in December 2012 to prevent mistakes such as the one made in this case whereby people are wrongly convicted.
Does this now lead to mean that if you argue with someone and that same person is later attacked when you have left the scene that you are guilty of murder? That is complete and utter madness!

The boys’ mother feels the trial was carried out unfairly, none of Asher Johnson’s good character was heard, and a deal was done which was all or nothing (guilty or not guilty of murder) which the family and Johnson brothers had no knowledge of. Two jury members were constantly asleep and one female jury member was seen crying on one occasion.

How in the United Kingdom can one be convicted of a crime he did not commit or did not foresee happening? How can a person be given a conviction of a crime like murder and then be told by their legal team that they cannot appeal, knowing the entire trial was a shambles and that the jury had evidentially made a mistake.


Asher Johnson

Asher Johnson is a loving son and brother, he has a further two younger siblings, a sister of 5 and a brother of 13. He has always been a kind, easy going and laid back, gentle young man. He has never been involved in any violence before. Asher Johnson was playing football for his local boroughs team at semi-pro level and was also working as a youth worker 3 days a week. Under no circumstances was Asher Johnson a gang member, he doesn’t even have any previous criminal record.



Lewis Johnson with his mother and grandmother

Lewis Johnson is also a very kind and caring brother and son, at the time of the incident prior to being in London for that particular weekend, Lewis Johnson was living with his grandma in Christchurch, Dorset; working for Thames Water.

The family are devastated, especially the mother, as they were told that the boys would receive lesser charges, never murder.

The family are currently waiting for the boys to be sentenced at the Old Bailey on Friday 13th September 2013. They are not accepting this miscarriage of justice and will be lodging a highly profiled appeal against this unbelievable conviction and yet to be known sentence.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Our gangs initiative backs event company spearheaded by former gang leader and pastor


Evening Standard


Karl Lokko with Pastor Mimi and his fiancee Cassandra Swaby, who works for their wedding planning enterprise NewBiggz

DAVID COHEN, CAMPAIGNS EDITOR
Published: 08 October 2013

It all started when a vigilant single mother decided to get her son out of a gang — and realised that the only way to save him was to save the whole gang.

Pastor Mimi Asher had little idea what her teenage son Michael was up to, but one day the police came and told her that he was a major member of a criminal gang.

“There were about 20 of them running around the Myatts Field Estate in Brixton causing mayhem and involved in territory wars, and as they started going to friend’s funerals, I got desperate,” said Pastor Mimi. So she did what few mothers would ever imagine — she invited the entire gang into her home and began to befriend them.

But to get back her son, she had to win over the leader, the formidable Karl Lokko, a 6ft 5in prize fighter with a ruthless reputation. “I didn’t like Karl because I thought he was a terrible influence on Michael and hard to reach, but I knew I had to try,” she recalled.

So Pastor Mimi asked Karl and the gang for dinner every evening and began to engage them in conversation about their lives.

The extraordinary relationship they forged would transform Karl’s life and lead — with the support of the charity Kids Company — to the creation of NewBiggz, a unique event planning social enterprise that we hope our readers will support.

Before Karl was a gang leader, he wanted to be an astronaut. He was a bright, voracious reader earmarked by his teachers as “gifted and talented” and he achieved top sets.

He came from a hard-working home on a south London estate; his father worked in security, his mother, a nurse, proudly called him “my genius”. But by his early teens, Karl’s life had taken a different turn.

From guns to roses: Karl Lokko, with gun, poses with his MAD gang in a picture that made the front pages of newspapers“There was no single turning point, just a gradual realisation that my studious ways did not serve me,” said Karl, now 23, whose quietly spoken manner belies his violent past. “I was a tall boy, but timid, and from the age of 12, I started getting mugged. They took my bike, my phone, they broke into my mum’s car, they beat me up, and I lived in fear of being robbed the moment I stepped outside our front door.”

For Karl, how to avoid being a target of crime became all-consuming. “I realised that in order to have immunity, I needed to join a gang, but none would have me, so I formed my own. There were three of us and we called ourselves MAD — for Max, Addict and Drowsy. I was Addict.”

It was innocent at first but things soon escalated. MAD grew to a 40-strong group that stood for “Mayhem And Disaster” and was known by the tabloids as the “Man Dem Crew” — especially after they made headlines for posting a provocative picture on the internet of themselves posing with guns. “I was apprehended at school and ordered to hand over the gun,” recalled Karl. “The police believed it was a real gun, but it was a replica and I got a caution. Other gangs, though, got the impression that we had a real live pump-action shotgun and suddenly we had big status.”

MAD dissolved as suddenly as it was formed and Karl, then 15, entered one of the main gangs in Brixton with considerable swagger. They were about 80 strong, with 20 core members. “It took one ambitious summer for me to go from victim to victimising,” he said. “The gang ran riot, mugging people for phones, selling drugs, stealing cars, joyriding.” But in 2006 Karl’s close friend was murdered by a rival gang.

“The night before our GCSEs, he got stabbed in the heart. His blood gushed from his body and propelled his T-shirt in the air. He and I had made the front pages for our gun picture and now he was dead. That night I did a lot of crying. It would be the last time I cried for years. It strengthened my resolve to scale up our defences and ensure that we never took another loss. It darkened me. That day I put on the mask of violence and then the mask took over me and I lost my core.”

Karl had taken his GCSEs in a blur, passed four, and was kicked out of sixth-form college on his first day. He had become totally embroiled in gang life and had been stabbed in the head, back and chest. “Normal local conflict,” he calls it.

Ordinary Londoners looked on helplessly as gang wars across the city intensified and the body count soared. In 2008, the year Karl turned 18, 30 teenagers were murdered in London, up from 26 in 2007, the worst two years on record.

To Karl, this extreme ratcheting up of violence was just regular life. “We had became the most feared, violent gang in south London,” he said.

He described the “natural progression” from knives to guns. “In 2003 when I was 13, if somebody had a knife, it was like ‘wow’, but by 2006, a knife wasn’t enough because everybody had a knife and who takes a knife to a gunfight?

“A gang member had to have a gun to be significant. Then, to be significant, he had to discharge that weapon. Then it became, he’s got a gun, but has he hit anybody? Finally it was okay, so a couple people got hit, but nobody has died. It was the common journey.”

It was at this point that Pastor Mimi entered Karl’s life. “Her son was deeply involved with me but she couldn’t perceive the scale of what we were up to,” Karl said. “She invited all of us into her home and cooked for us.

“At first she connected with one of my peers who opened up to her and laid it all bare. She didn’t judge him but tried to help. It gave me licence to do the same thing.

“She reeked of sincerity — she didn’t understand but she understood. After I laid it all bare, I remember seeing in her eyes this blend of fear, anxiety, empathy and pain. I remember looking at myself through her eyes.”

He lowered his head. “Words had never reached me or even scratched the surface, but the look in her eyes made me think, maybe there is something wrong with the way I’m living. At that stage, it was just a ‘maybe’. She saw potential in us, treated us like we were significant, like we were born to do something great.”

Watching them together — Karl towering over Pastor Mimi but gently deferring to her judgment — the respect between them was palpable. They laughed as Pastor Mimi recalled teaching him ethics as they baked apple crumble, “getting flour all over us, acting like children”. But leaving the gang was “the hardest thing I ever had to do”, said Karl. “I felt like I was divorcing my family. But once I had seen through the ideology, what I called gangsterism, there was no backsliding. I moved into Pastor Mimi’s place.

“I had grown up believing in a lie that had consumed my life and now I felt like the bearer of a great revelation, that gangsterism was not the answer. I felt I needed to tell other young people. It became my burden.”

At 21, Karl met Camila Batmanghelidjh who took him under her wing and he became a youth ambassador for Kids Company, helping to extricate people from gangs. “I have helped about 20 people come out of gangs,” he said. “One of the hardest things is they can’t get jobs. It can be so demoralising that it sends them back into the gang.”

MEANWHILE Karl, Pastor Mimi, Karl’s friends and some former gang members started organising community events, getting a name for their balloon artistry, cake decorating and for unearthing local talent, including DJs, MCs and singing groups such as The Soloettes.

In the last year they have organised a series of highly successful events, including a Black and White Christmas Ball for 400 people on a local estate, a Lambeth Love Feast for 300, weddings, community barbecues, sports days, movie nights, engagement parties and christenings.

Now, backed by a £10,000 grant from the Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund and supported by Kids Company, they have drawn up a business plan and formed a social enterprise.

When I met them at Pastor Mimi’s place, all they needed to get started was a name. My suggestion — “Karl and the Gang” — was laughed out of the room. “Epic fail!” said Karl. But my idea of a one-liner to advertise their group — “when you hire us, no need to bother about security!” — went down rather better. They had a sense of humour about themselves and an easy confidence about how far they had come. The next day they came up with NewBiggz.

Sonal Shah, chief executive of The London Community Foundation, the charity that looks after the Dispossessed Fund, was impressed by their creativity and passion: “Karl and his friends have been on a massive journey. They have found something they love doing, and can make money from, and with six people pitching in, and the right mentor support, this group have great potential.”

Karl, who plans to marry fellow wedding planner Cassandra Swaby next year, said: “We can’t wait to get our first bookings. We are six people with enormous energy and diverse talents. I promise that anyone who hires us for their event, however big or small, will get a dynamic, amazingly special event they will never forget!”
NEWBIGGZ EVENT PLANNING

What are they? Founded by Karl Lokko, 23, and Pastor Mimi Asher, 43, this company — run by them and four friends — offers wedding planning, corporate events and private parties.

In their words: “NewBiggz stands for New Beginnings, the need to give second chances to people who didn’t get the best start in life. Some of us experienced violence and crime and have struggled to find support from society, so the temptation to embrace criminal gangs was ever-present. With backing, we steered away from this and have created something positive for ourselves and our community.”

Why choose them? Hiring event planning services is often perceived as a luxury only the wealthy can afford. They seek to make these services accessible to all and to offer customers a highly creative service at a competitive price.

What experience do they have? In the past two years, they have organised many community events in Brixton on an ad-hoc basis, including weddings, engagements, christenings, a Black and White Christmas Ball, themed parties and sports days.

Their social goals? They will offer employment and training to local youngsters with similarly disadvantaged backgrounds to themselves and source talent — such as live bands, solo artists, dancers, DJs, MCs and caterers — from their community network. They will reinvest 10 per cent of their net profit in community projects. By becoming a self-sufficient business, they will send out a positive message to the community.

How will their £10,000 grant from the Dispossessed Fund be spent? On a new website, logo and essential equipment, such as a van, balloon-inflating machine and infrastructure support.

How can you help? Ask them to quote on your special event. If you are an industry expert, offer to mentor them. To get the ball rolling, simply log on to standard.co.uk/frontlinelondon. You can also help Kids Company by making a donation at kidsco.org.uk

Monday, 7 October 2013

Escaping the gangs: Our unique campaign to help young Londoners leave a life of crime

Evening Standard



DAVID COHEN, CAMPAIGNS EDITOR

Published: 07 October 2013

Today we launch a groundbreaking initiative to tackle London’s gangs.


An Evening Standard investigation revealed that a quarter of violent crime in the capital is committed by gang members and for too many young Londoners murder, stabbings and shootings are “the norm” .

It is obvious that far more needs to be done by David Cameron’s Government, by Mayor Boris Johnson and by ourselves as citizens.

We have decided to do something no British newspaper has attempted: back young people trying to put their gang life behind them and help them set up and grow social enterprises.

We will give each of these selected groups a £10,000 start-up grant from the Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund. After a careful selection process, we are funding three social enterprises: a removals company, an events planning company and a drama workshop group.

We have partnered with children’s charity Kids Company in the hope this will be the start of many initiatives with other gang members following suit.

But they will need your help. As Commander Steve Rodhouse, charged by the Police Commissioner with fighting gangs, said: “The police on their own cannot resolve this problem— tackling gangs is the responsibility of London as a whole.”

We need you, as readers of the Standard, to get behind these young people and their enterprises. We will demand action from those with the power to act. Together we hope to bring about a fundamental change.
See also

Once, their ‘business’ was violence and drugs. Now they need your support in their quest to become enterprising role models

The ex-cons who’ll take away your stuff… but only if you hire them!
How our campaign works

What are we doing? We are backing ex-gang members to establish and grow viable social enterprises as a means of escaping the criminal and gang-related cycle. We have assessed their business proposals and have approved three of them for a £10,000 start-up grant from the Dispossessed Fund.

What is a social enterprise? A business that has social objectives rather than simply the pursuit of profit for external shareholders. These social objectives may include investing in their community as they grow, such as to hire NEETS and other young people who are genuine about leaving gangs and reforming their lives.

Who are we partnering with? Kids Company, the charity founded by Camila Batmanghelidjh in 1996. They provide intensive practical, emotional and educational support to 18,000 vulnerable children, and their clients include gang members who are the most marginalised in our city. Kids Company will provide key-workers, business-development mentors and in-kind support to our social entrepreneurs.

Why are we doing this? Gang turf wars and postcode violence have been the scourge of London for a decade. New research by University College London reveals some Londoners growing up in war-zone-like ghettoes where the stabbing, shooting and murder of peers has become “normal”. Many young people realise that gang life is a one-way ticket to nowhere, but struggle to exit. This pilot project offers a way out and sets the ball rolling to explore new initiatives.

Which social enterprises are we backing?

All in All Transit, a removals business by Daniel Barnes and Michael Gonedro

NewBiggz, a wedding and events planning company driven by Karl Lokko

The FAB Arts Company, offers drama workshops, headed by Feras Al-Bakri

What are we asking readers to do?

To put business their way and simply give them a try

Industry experts may be able to offer mentoring and business advice

Once you have used them, to tell your friends and give them a reference
How to get in touch

You can log on to Standard.co.uk/frontlinelondon

You can help Kids Company by making a donation at www.kidsco.org.uk