Gangs using Birmingham chicken shops to recruit kids into life of crime on 'wild streets'

-Credit: (Image: Graham Young)
-Credit: (Image: Graham Young)

City chicken shops are being used to recruit and trap children into a life of crime, a former criminal has told BirminghamLive. Augustus Stewart was locked up in 1996, serving nine years of a 12-year sentence for aggravated burglary when he was just 17.

Augustus, who once had seven cars on his grandmother's drive at the height of his criminal career, was in and out of prison for his childhood after being kicked out of school. An aspiring solicitor, he was stabbed and nearly paralysed in a rival attack, and came out of prison in his late twenties, forced to start again.

Now a speaker for West Midlands Police and Crime Comissioner's Precious Lives project, Augustus, 46, delivers powerful talks to teens attending schools that are often embroiled in the city's postcode wars. And he said that Birmingham's ruthless gangs have become more sophisticated, and sinister, in exploiting city children and trapping them into a life of crime.

READ MORE: I 'jumped' at chance to buy my council house on once 'notorious' Birmingham estate

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'They are looking at the ones who aren't eating'

"Gangs are approaching kids at schools gates, chicken shops, social media. Gangs are there waiting they are looking at the ones who aren't eating, looking at those sharing a one-box meal, they are not stupid" Gus told us, after giving a talk to more than 450 Year 9 students.

He added that hoards of kids you see outside chicken shops are fertile ground for gang members, who will sense the vulnerable ones in a crowd. Recent West Midlands Police figures show the region as a whole was rocked by 11,286 knife crimes in the past three years.

Birmingham held the most offences during this period, with the city accounting for 55 per cent of all region-wide knife crime incidents. You can read more on those shocking statistics, here.

Augustus Stewart was locked up in 1996, serving nine years of a 12-year sentence for aggravated burglary when he was just 17. Now he is a speaker for West Midlands Police and Crime Comissioner's Precious Lives project, delivering powerful speeches and demonstrations to children about the dangers of knife and gang culture in Birmingham -Credit:Naomi de Souza / BirminghamLive

Since his release from prison in 2003, Augustus has worked tirelessly to remind schools of the fatal consequences of carrying a knife, and he says the issue has worsened. "This isn't a joke. Gangs are targeting schools on a weekly basis. Knife crime at an all time high.

"The streets are wild. I was trying to be a gangster, this bad man. It is always really positive to see that someone can come out of that lifestyle." He explained that the financial squeeze on households will push children into doing seemingly harmless errands for gangs, which can then escalate into them becoming drugs runners for shameless county line kingpins.

In Birmingham, close to half of children (46.4%) are classed as being in poverty, which puts city kids at even greater risk of exploitation. "The cost of living crisis has put such a pressure" said Augustus.

'Young people feel they need to do something'

"Young people feel that they need to do something. A lot of youth feel a sense of responsibility. If you are having nurses going to the food bank, mums with kids [and then] gangs coming to schools and offering them money to drop bags."

What hope is there for parents whose kids are falling in too deep or are shipped off on county lines to repay debts? Augustus replied: "Get services involved, sometimes people are afraid to get found out or involved."

He added that a fear of snitching culture has spread to schools, when actually children should be reminded they are civilians and have a right to flag issues. He explained those snitching threats that you see in gangs are being brought into schools, so even the children who would naturally share concerns their teachers will avoid so for fear of being found out.

He explained that once children are hooked in, their worlds revolve around divisions and hate that is cynically stoked up by city gangs. "Their minds are so wrapped up with Birmingham, they have never stepped a foot outside Birmingham. Look beyond Birmingham, there is a life you can have, you can have a successful life it takes work."

Augustus impressed a strong message upon his young audience. "Change is possible" he concluded. "You have got to want it, you have to to work for it."