A former drug dealer who has turned his life around said he is worried ‘gang wars’ in the capital could escalate in the wake of growing hostility towards the police.
Kevin Robotham, 39, spoke to Metro.co.uk about his experience growing up on estates in west London where he claims gang culture was rife.
The Southall resident said he has seen an increase in stabbings and shootings in recent years and is concerned gangs will use anger surrounding police brutality amid a wider Black Lives Matter movement to make street violence worse.
As a teenager, Kevin said, ‘my role was to sell heroin’.
‘It started when I was around 15 or 16, and it was my way of making money. It went on until I was in my 20s,’ he added.
‘I am not one for violence though – for me, it was all about making money. When I was growing up, it was all about gang rivalry and although I was used to it I wouldn’t really get involved as it wasn’t helping me make money.
‘The only time I got involved with violence was when it came to robberies. If it came to money I’d be all over it.’
Kevin thinks the current gang culture in London is ‘very different’ to his experience, with levels of violence increasing as more young people gain access to weapons. ‘All these kids want to do nowadays is stab each other. It’s crime with no purpose,’ he claimed.
‘I went back to Northolt recently, one of the places where I spent time growing up, but no one knows me there anymore. I went onto the estate, people were looking at me, trying to work out who I was. It made me feel uneasy – and I grew up there.
‘I told my friend and he said not to go there or they’ll shoot me. It’s crazy. There are so many guns now, so much ammunition.’
Kevin said he is worried that peaceful protests held in support of the Black Lives Matter movement could be hijacked by violent gangs as an excuse to unite against the police, creating a ‘war zone’ in the capital.
‘I worry things might change, but in a bad way. Gangs could decide to join up and go against the police and the government,’ he said.
‘You know – gangs who usually really hate each other. What if they say, let’s face it at the police instead, or the [far-right groups] at the counter protests the other week. That’s when it could get nasty. Hopefully I’m wrong.’
Kevin, now a baggage handler for British Airways, has family in America, so he said he ‘sees it from both sides’, adding: ‘Maybe before all this people used to be scared of the police, but now it’s like “f**k the police”.’
In the past week, police officers have been injured in London while trying to break up street parties held in breach of lockdown rules.
On Wednesday night in Brixton, south London, 22 officers were injured and police cars smashed by crowds at an unlicensed music event. Last night police were pelted with objects as they tried to break up another illegal street rave in Notting Hill, west London.
Kevin said clashes between the public and police makes him ‘scared’ for those fighting for equality in peaceful and legal ways. ‘At the moment the way it is, just with protests, it’s fine, but hearing people going at the police now – like what happened in Brixton – that makes me scared.
‘What if [the Government] calls in the Army? It could really escalate.’
In the US, President Donald Trump threatened to deploy the military onto streets across the country in the wake of George Floyd protests.
Kevin – who once made a name for himself selling drugs – said that if he can turn his life around, others can do the same. He said he now wants to use his voice to tell young people who have been groomed into gangs that there is another option out there for them.
‘Everyone knew who I was and what I was doing and I realised I needed to change something before I ended up in prison,’ he said. He joined local football team CB Hounslow, something he credits with saving him from a life of crime.
He said: ‘Football kept me out of trouble, gave me time to pay everything off and end what I was doing. It saved me. It wasn’t even the football itself which got me there – it’s because it gives you structure, instead of just sitting at home smoking weed all the time.
‘It’s the camaraderie and seeing the other guys, and having to train hard.’
The first real job he was offered after going to the Job Centre was as a chef on the Isle of Wight. ‘I nearly said no – all I knew was the street, selling drugs and smoking weed – but I took the job.
‘And it was the best thing I ever did. I met some good people there and stayed for three years.
‘Other people can do it, but you have to want to. You have to want to get out. I couldn’t continue selling drugs.’
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