In the last few weeks we have seen stabbings in Meir and Fenton. Thankfully these incidents are relatively rare here and the fact this shocks us is perhaps a good thing for our city. However, it is essential that shocking crimes like this are treated with the seriousness they deserve.
The problems faced in some of our communities are more often lower-level with gangs causing anti-social behaviour (ASB). Of course, we see varying degrees of ASB from community to community, but all the same it is totally unacceptable for people to feel intimidated where they live by the actions of others. To a vulnerable youngster, or an elderly person walking back from the bus stop at night, a group of ten-year olds hanging around outside a corner shop can sometimes be as threatening as a hardened group of criminals.
Last week, I went out on a shift with Staffordshire Police in Meir and Fenton, I also got chance to take part in the recent days of action in East Fenton, with Police and City Council officers. This grave me a chance to see first-hand the problems faced on a daily basis by our communities and the actions being taken by local services to address these issues.
One of the saddest finds of my shift was how predictable the patterns of these problems are. The police on the patrol pointed out the takeaways, streets, and spaces on which the gangs would appear, and in many cases the same few faces, well known by officers appeared. A further tragedy was seeing the age of those causing problems for other residents and businesses. These hardened gang members were if fact often merely children, most of secondary school age.
I met recently at a local school, and discussed this matter with the teachers, and other people affected by these problems. They all came up with the same conclusion: most of these issues are not caused by hardened criminals, they are often young people with nothing better to do. In areas like Meir there is a real lack of facilities suitable to host activities to occupy these youngsters. Many of these young people growing up in our communities do not have a sense of purpose or future ambitions; we must continue to do more to address these issues.
Indeed, while the schools in our area have improved massively over the last few years, outside of this there is a real shortage of regular things happening for young people in Fenton and Meir. As the Member of Parliament, I feel it is my duty to help overcome these challenges. I know by working together with local organisations and our communities we can improve the facilities we have locally.
No one should feel unsafe in their community, and that is why I went out with the police, to identify the problems. Action needs to be taken to ensure those who seek to intimidate others face the full force of the law. This is not just for the police but all of us to work together to demonstrate we will not tolerate this sort of behaviour in our local area. I have confidence if we are united in standing up for our area and taking action, we will succeed.
Separately from the issues with gang related ASB, far too many of these communities have also had to put up with the scourge of drug abuse. It ruins lives and blights too many parts of our city. I was pleased to speak in Parliament last week about the impact synthetic drugs like Monkey Dust and Spice are having locally. These horrific drugs are currently far too widely available in Stoke-on-Trent, with some reporting Monkey Dust can be bought for as little as £2.00. These drugs result in appalling reactions for the user, with some dying immediately from using the drug.
I am campaigning for an upgrade of these drugs to class A as soon as possible to cut off supply, limit availability, drive up cost and increase the consequences for those dealers. If we are truly to tackle these issues for the future, we must all do much more to also put in place preventative measures to stop people being attracted to drugs in the first place. We must also see proactive action to support addicts to get clean rather than merely switching the next cheaply available drug.
I will be out and about in Meir and Fenton over the next few weeks and months talking to schools, residents, and businesses, about what they want to see in their areas. It is time that this part of our city got the attention that it deserves, for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.
This article appeared originally in The Sentinel, on Monday 12th November 2018.