Crime unit fights back on young gangs in Shropshire

Teenage gang members blighting communities in Shropshire through murder, drug dealing and kidnapping are being brought to justice by a pioneering new unit in the Crown Prosecution Service.

Rough Park in Telford where the murder of Peter Cairns, inset, took place last July
Rough Park in Telford where the murder of Peter Cairns, inset, took place last July

The Serious Violence, Organised Crime and Exploitation Unit (SVOCE) was formed in July last year but today Crown Prosecution Service revealed for the first time the complex criminal justice work the team is faced with and the results achieved.

The unit, the first of its kind in the UK, was formed due to the growing number of young teenagers getting involved in gangs, drug dealing and violent crime, many of which have been groomed by older criminals to commit crime.

One of SVOCE’s first successful cases was prosecuting the teenagers who murdered Peter Cairns in Telford.

England’s Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill said: “It is right to call SVOCE pioneering. You could not get anymore serious when it comes to crime.

“We are looking at horrific levels of violence, we are looking routinely at murder. This unit is dealing with exceptionally dangerous individuals, and a lot of them are very young.”

He added: “We have seen this in gang violence and county lines, where youngsters are sent out to sell class A drugs, and it is fair to say prosecutors are appalled by the exceptionally young age presented to us by criminal investigation.

“Prosecution is often the necessary outcome but as you would expect a dedicated specialist prosecutor will look hard [to see] if prosecution must follow in every case. We do not want to see very young teenagers in the dock of crown court.”

Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor Douglas Mackay said: “My prosecutors see first the tear-filled eyes of the bereaved families, they see the devastation on the street caused by those peddling drugs and see tragic consequences of youngsters carrying of knives and guns.”

SVOCE has prosecuted 110 defendants since being formed and 92 were convicted.

The murder of Peter Cairns by a group of teenagers in Telford last June presented SVOCE with a chance for the unit to use all the expertise massed in its ranks. Two teenagers were convicted of the murder in Rough Park Way on June 11 last year after another had previously pleaded guilty.

During a lengthy trial at Stafford Crown Court, jurors were told that the attackers were carrying four weapons; a knife, a blunt Samurai sword, a wheel-brace and a hammer. The fatal blow was delivered with a kitchen knife.

The teenagers will be sentenced next month.

Senior District Crown Prosecutor Mark Paul, who is head of SVOCE: “This case was one of the first we dealt with and it was very challenging, but we were able to prove, using joint enterprise more than just the boy who stabbed Peter were guilty of murder.”

Piecing together evidence to put violent gangs behnd bars

The murder of Peter Cairn last June by teenagers armed with knives and swords presented a new CPS unit a challenge.

Working out of a tower block on Colmore Row, Birmingham, eight prosecutors and legal staff with extensive experience of cases involving gangs, children and slavery, worked alongside an embedded police officer. Their job was to piece together the tragic events on the day Peter was murdered and ensure evidence would stand up in court.

Senior District Crown Prosecutor Mark Paul said: “Prosecution gathered evidence and found out these teenagers were an established gang and they were on their way to confront a rival gang.

"The four boys came across Peter and his friend and pulled out their weapons. Peter ran away, and was then fatally stabbed by one of the boys.

"The boy who stabbed Peter pleaded guilty quite early on, which left us in a challenging situation regarding the other three regarding whether to charge them with murder.

“Using joint enterprise, the jury ended up finding two guilty and acquitted the other one, but it was quite proper to charge all three.

“What we were able to prove was that the others were intentionally encouraging the boy stabbing Peter, and they intended the stabber would kill or cause serious harm.”

He added: “This is complex and fact-specific and our prosecutors apply the law in what can be very complex situation. These were young people we had to decide whether appropriate to label them a gang.”

SVOCE has prosecuted 110 defendants since being formed and 92 were convicted, giving the unit a 84 per cent success rate. The unit also prosecutes cases brought by the British Transport Police, many of which concern county lines gangs, when youngsters are sent to smaller towns in Shropshire and Mid Wales to set up drug networks on behalf of their bosses. Many cases involve young teenagers forced to commit crimes including drug dealing, kidnap and murder.

In some cases prosecutors will see the teenagers as victims themselves, however, when it comes to murder they will have to prosecute.

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