Steaming Gang’s Terror Reign
Richard Edwards, ThisisLondon, Jun. 15
A “steaming” gang has been convicted of preying on passengers in a four-month rampage on trains and buses.
The gang, sometimes more than 20 strong, attacked up to 80 victims on public transport.
In an eight-week trial, Harrow Crown Court heard how the mob, aged between 13 and 23, came together from all over London and met at the Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus.
They concentrated on late-night buses in central London and early-morning commuter trains from Gravesend, St Albans and Brighton.
They would surround victims, holding passengers captive and systematically robbing them. As the reign of terror went on, the violence increased.
One man had his cheekbone shattered in an attack on a late-night bus and required surgery to reconstruct his face.
Days earlier, an off-duty woman police officer had been surrounded on a train, covered in spit and threatened with rape.
The mob were caught in a police operation involving more than 250 officers who targeted 20 addresses across London. The last of 15 identified members was convicted yesterday. They will be sentenced next month.
Outside court, Detective Chief Inspector Philip Kent, the officer in charge of the case, said: “The railways, streets and buses are a safer place as a result of this trial.
“It is an excellent outcome and the result of a lot of very hard work by the British Transport Police, the prosecution team and Met police officers.
The black gang swarms a white victim.
“The levels of violence in these attacks were increasing and it is important now that they are sentenced appropriately as a warning to others.”
The court heard how the gang used street names, such as Evil, Havoc and Boxer, and carried knives, metal pipes and an imitation handgun. They were convicted on 25 counts of robbery and conspiracy to rob between September and December 2002, although police believe they may have targeted up to 80 victims.
Twelve members of the gang pleaded guilty at two connected hearings — Joseph Gbonda, 18, from Herne Hill, Ashraf Ali, 18, from Peckham, Richard Tavenier, 18, from Mitcham, Philip Fahie, 21, from Edmonton, Jarrell Edwin, 22, from Peckham, Malik Jones, 19, from Acton, Faisal Navaid, 20, from Wandsworth, Foday Dumbuya, 18, from Mitcham and two 17-year-old boys and a 16-year-old boy and girl who cannot be named because of their age.
Chelsea Waldron, 18, from Hayes, David Moroney, 18, from Islington, and a 13-year-old boy who cannot be named were found guilty by the jury of conspiracy to rob.
Half the gang were under 16 at the time of the attacks — and yet among them they had 35 previous convictions for offences including robbery and grievous bodily harm.
One senior police source said: “They are opportunist thugs. Their crime was not sophisticated, but they became embroiled in a gang culture.
“They were in it for the kicks and to finance a life based around underground clubs and girls.”
Stolen mobile phones were the gang’s trophies and plundered cash funded designer clothing and gold jewellery, but the spoils of crime were only part of it. Success fuelled their egos and they began to enjoy the ritual humiliation of their prey.
Victims recalled the laughter as blows rained down upon them.
Damon Murphy, a strapping 30-year-old taking a bus home after a night out in the West End, was so badly beaten he required surgery to reconstruct his face.
The attack only lasted five or six seconds, but the force of the blows shattered his cheekbone. He could not eat for two weeks and feared permanent damage to his sight. Last month, two years after his ordeal, he broke down in court while giving evidence from behind a protective screen. “I am still not over it,” he admitted.
Excluded from schools and torn between parents, the gang slipped easily into a life of petty crime on council estates and the streets. The uncle of one of the 17-year-old boys, who had been expelled from school, said: “I do not know how he could do these things. It is very sad and distressing.”
Joseph Gbonda, who became known as Flamer after scarring himself playing with fire as a child, took to the streets after his father Joseph, an accountant from Sierra Leone, split from his mother Juliet.
Even when he was locked in his room under a 7pm to 7am curfew, Gbonda would escape through the window. A cousin claimed he preferred the streets to being torn between his mother and father. Youths from estates in Peckham and Mitcham joined with those from Edmonton and Hayes to form a loose-knit group of 15 that could swell to more than 20.
The Trocadero’s frenzied music, noisy arcades and flashing neon lights have long attracted groups of youths.
It became the mob’s favourite haunt as they waited for numbers to accumulate and the late-night stragglers to start making their way home.
Dressed in bright coloured hoods, baseball caps, beanies and baggy jeans, they greeted each other with a casual press of their fists.
Joseph Gbonda, one of the gang members.
There was no ringleader, but there was always a plan of attack.
The gang would take it in turns to make the first approach, with the youngest member often chosen as a test of his bravery and to add to the humiliation for the victim.
A 13-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, became a specialist. A small child, his angelic face belied his vast experience on the streets. He has two previous convictions for common assault and two for theft.
The boy’s mother had abandoned her flat on a squalid council estate in Streatham to live with her boyfriend. But during the day the boy and his friends would use the derelict house as a den.
They ravaged the house, breaking all the windows. Neighbours said the boy never went to school and roamed the streets. In the attacks, while he made conversation with victims, the others filed into seats in front and behind the target and some hovered in the aisles. They taunted the victim, watching their fear turn into panic. Then they struck.
The passenger would be engulfed in a flurry of fists and boots.
Hands rummaged through pockets and bags looking for wallets and mobile phones.
Sometimes victims managed to push the emergency stop button on trains, and the gang would flee along the tracks. On buses they burst through the doors and split up, escaping to all parts of London.
Jarrell Edwin, also known as Evil, would return to the flat he shares with his mother in one of Pe ckham’s mo s t abject council estates. Gbonda lives nearby, as does Ashraf Ali. Ali, a quiet and shy child from a large Bangladeshi family, developed into an impossible adolescent after falling in with gangs on his street.
His meek mother barely speaks a word of English. His father, who suffers from a long-term illness, is intimidated by Ash and unable to control him.
Richard Tavenier lives in Mitcham and is king of his estate, threatening anyone who confronts him and even breaking into his neighbours’ cars parked near his house.
His mother, Beverley, a devoted Christian from Jamaica, does not dare chastise him.
When Tavenier’s stepfather, Randolph Nevins, tried to assert himself, it only made things worse.
He is already out of prison after serving half of his two-year sentence. One of his neighbours whose son has been threatened by him said she fears for her boy’s life and is trying to move out of the area.
The first trial — which convicted eight members of the gang who had pleaded guilty — served only two prison sentences.
But even as they faced jail, the gang’s casual disregard for the law remained unchecked.
In the dock they were noisy and arrogant — swearing, laughing and sneering their way through an eight-week trial.
Police said many broke their conditions of bail and have been reoffending on an almost daily basis.
Even relatives of the mob agree it is a depressing cycle of violence and crime.
“I cannot defend my cousin or any of them,” said one relation. “It is a service to society that these kids should be named and their crimes exposed. But I only wish it would impact on the way they act.
“Sadly, I fear it will not make any difference.”