What’s Going on with Gangs and Stabbings?

suffolk gangs

A few weeks ago, they Steggalls enjoyed a weekend away for Dad’s birthday. As we were packing up our stuff to leave, my sister and her boyfriend were hunched over their phones.

It turned out there had been a stabbing of a 17 year old boy, a friend of a friend of theirs. It happened in broad daylight in Ipswich, Suffolk. By a few grown men.

They explained that it was gang-related, that Ipswich is torn in two between rival gangs; the J Block and the Q Block.

I couldn’t believe it. Gang stabbings are something that happen in London – they don’t come near us.

How wrong I was.

I started by talking to my students about it. My schools are about 45 minutes away from Ipswich, but I wondered if they were affected by this kind of culture.

Speaking with some year 11 students, I was shocked to learn that they felt gang culture and the violence that comes along with it were pretty much unavoidable. We had a really great discussion in a class, with some students saying that people should “just not get involved” with other students explaining that it gives them a sense of belonging that they don’t feel many other places.

I learnt that it’s not just in Ipswich, it’s right in the towns I work, affecting the students I’m helping. If my job is to get target students to achieve success, then gangs are a massive barrier to my mission.

One month ago, I had no idea about gang culture in my area. I’ve spent the past few weeks reading as much as possible about it, trying to understand. Here’s what I’ve learnt:

Gang culture has come from London to places like Ipswich along “county lines”

London gangs come out to towns a little outside London and start up class A drugs businesses. Sometimes this will include taking over someone’s home from which to run the business (known as “cuckooing”). Mostly, this involves the leaders targeting vulnerable people to help them in their business.

There is an excess supply of cocaine, contributing to growth in the drugs industry

Columbia has had increased crops of coca, and with farmers being blackmailed to stay in the industry to keep it growing, there’s more cocaine about to sell.

Gangs target teenage boys to help with the daily running (such as deliveries) 

A Scotish study has found that the gangs target towns where unemployment and wealth gaps are particular issues. If you go home in the evening and your single mum is struggling to make ends meet, and someone impressive with a shiny watch and zippy car offers you a way to make a lot of money, it’s going to be very tempting, right?

People have spoken about how these men wait outside school gates to recruit the boys. Once they’ve been recruited then they get those teenage boys to recruit even younger boys at school. It’s a vicious cycle.

Police cuts have greatly contributed to the rise in gang related crimes

There was a leaked Home Office document that detailed how police cuts are contributing to these rises. In today (8th July)’s Sunday Times, there is an article about how many crimes go unsolved due to budget cuts. Here are some horrific stats from the article:

“More than 40% of violent and sexual offences reported last year were ditched even when the evidence pointed to a possible culprit”

“In one case, Cambridgeshire police abandoned an investigation into a suspected paedophile because police said they did not have the time or resources to pursue it”

“Of the 1.47m violent and sexual offences last year, 620,730 investigations were closed even though a suspect had been identified. Of the 73,378 robberies last year, 9207 investigations were closed after a suspect had been identified”.

There’s also those who believe that the push to jail teenagers less and get them to do more light service is leading to them being targeted for operational tasks as well; if they get caught there’s not such a harsh consequence.

Other factors that contribute to this issue:

In 2017, University of Suffolk academic Dr Paul Andell published a study into gang crime in Ipswich. Speaking with youth workers, they added extra contributors as things like the cutting back of youth services, benefit cuts, and the lack of routes out of the gangs once the young people start to get involved (due to drug debts). The full report can be found here.

What can be done about this?

I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows. There are so many people looking into how we can protect people from gangs and bring those already involved back. Personally, I believe that we need to make sure more money is being spent on our police service and on youth services. There need to be safe spaces for young people to go to outside of school. Through voting, we can ensure people with these as priorities are leading our country to safety.

In the meantime, we can’t give young people anything more appealing than lots of money, in a short space of time. Those of us who work with vulnerable teenagers need to keep talking about how putting in the work at school right now will lead to success int he future; and that those opportunities that look tempting now might put their futures in jeopardy.

As I write this, news of another killing, this time in Lowestoft, is flashing on my screen. I hope that we can find a solution soon, before more people are killed.


  1. It’s weird to learn of criminal things happening so close to where you are. It always seems so far away until it’s right in your face.

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