West Midlands crime unit fights back on violence of young gangs

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

Investigators at the murder scene in Linwood Road, Handsworth after gang violence
Investigators at the murder scene in Linwood Road, Handsworth after gang violence

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

The Birmingham-based 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 whom have been groomed by older criminals to commit crime.

England's Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill, called SVOCE "pioneering" in its approach to bringing young criminals to justice.

He said: "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.

"We have seen this in gang violence and county lines, where youngsters are sent afar 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."

Murder victim Keon Lincoln

The murder of schoolboy Keon Lincoln last year in Handsworth, by a group of teenagers including a youth from Walsall, was one of the first cases the SVOCE could bring to bear all of the experience in its ranks. Prosecutors found drill music that even mentioned the senseless killing, however, they decided not to show the clips to the jury instead relying on witnesses, CCTV and cell phone data to prove guilt.

Four teenagers were convicted by the jury of murder and one of manslaughter.

Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor Douglas Mackay said: "My prosecutors see the tear-filled eyes of the bereaved families, they see the devastation on the street caused by those peddling drugs and see consequences of carrying of knives and guns and what happens when they feel they have to use this weapons."

The unit has prosecuted 110 defendants since its inception, successfully convicting 92 defendant and has a success rate of 84 per cent.

Piecing together evidence to put violent gangs behind bars

Children are now murdering each other in the Black Country as well as drug dealing and being part of violent crime.

England’s Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill sanctioned the formation of Serious Violence, Organised Crime and Exploitation Unit so that the best of the best in the Crown Prosecution Service could work together to get justice for victims in the West Midlands.

However, the complicated nature of prosecuting children, who could be victims themselves, is something that weighs on England’s most powerful lawyer’s mind.

Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill

The murder of schoolboy Keon Lincoln last year in Handsworth, by a group of teenagers including a youth from Walsall, was one of the first cases the SVOCE could bring to bare all of the experience in its ranks. Prosecutors found drill music that even mentioned the senseless killing, however, they decided not to show the clips to the jury instead relying on witnesses, CCTV and cell phone data to prove guilt.

Four teenagers were convicted by the jury of murder and one of manslaughter.

Other cases SVOCE worked on include the murder of Khuzaimah Douglas, 19, in Brierley Hill and the brutal stabbing to death of Wolverhampton teenager Keelan Wilson.

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, alongside an embedded police officer on hand to give lawyers the crime fighting perspective, piece together the tragic events on the day of murders and other major crimes.

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 to set up drug networks on behalf of their bosses.

A lot of the cases SVOCE prosecute involve young teenagers who have often been 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.

Deputy chief prosecutor Douglas Mackay adds: “This pioneering unit deals with crimes which are often marked by horrific violence carried out by exceptionally dangerous people. This offending leaves families devastated, and blights entire communities.

"By creating a dedicated team, and working hand in hand with police, we are pooling our expertise to tackle knife crime, gang violence and murders that are so often linked to drugs. Our prosecutors are determined to deliver justice in these devastating cases, and make the streets of the West Midlands safer.”

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