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Former armed robber forms ‘gang’ of role models to tackle knife crime

A Band of Brothers aims to steer young men away from violence and disorder

22 March, 2019 — By Tom Foot

A FORMER armed robber is on a mission to stop serious youth violence by setting up “the biggest gang in Camden”.

Terry Ellis, who was jailed for 19 years as the mastermind of several “Ocean’s 11-style” heists, says he is reformed and ready to provide a positive male role model to troubled young people with the help of other like-minded men across the borough.

The 54-year-old, who grew up in care in Camden Town and now lives in Hampstead, insists the “Band of Brothers” idea can make an actual difference where politicians have faltered. The group have already launched with a soul-searching weekend away together in the woods.

Mr Ellis said: “What we are going to do is get all the guys together and we will be the biggest gang in Camden, the biggest gang of role models that people can look up to. I see in 10 years us having 400 to 500 members from Somers Town to Camden Town to Kentish Town. The best talent, the strongest leaders. You know what, I’m walking down the Crescent now and I’m seeing people carrying knives, guns – I’m seeing people getting throats cut, faces slashed. I’m seeing the honour code that is protecting these people. But if kids look up to guys in the community, they are less likely to burn the village down.”

A Band of Brothers was launched last month following public events in Queen’s Crescent and Kentish Town. It works by older men from an area – aged between 18 and 70 – going away together for a weekend of trust-building exercises and open conversation. Mr Ellis said the idea was that men – who often find it difficult to express themselves – come back mentally equipped to help in the community, particularly by young­sters.

There is no religion or signing up to cult-style ideology, Mr Ellis said. “To be honest, I’ve heard so much drivel over the years. I thought, it ain’t going to work, but it delivered so much more than I expected. It was quite overwhelming. I cried a couple of times and I came back to London energised. There was a gay guy, he was a real strong role model for his community. There was a black guy, Somali [and] Polish. It’s about being in a position to ask for help. For some reason, men are so… it’s about getting your emotions out, remembering people, releasing. It’s like a baptism of emotions. We all let out a little bit and then a little more, and then you were like, ‘wow!’”

When asked whether he would have listened to an older man in his troubled youth, Mr Ellis, who went to William Collins secondary school, said: “The root cause of everything I’ve ever done stemmed from being in care. The anger, the alienation, the abandonment – being let down by people I was supposed to respect, by older people. I’ve listened to a few older people in my life. One was a jump-up merchant, he told me to go into jump-ups. That was my lead into crime. I talked to another guy who showed me how to get arms, and everything else. I know there are young guys out there who will listen to older men. We are all looking for some advice, for some encouragement, for a way out of the ghetto, or the life we are leading. “I wish I’d had a mentor, who could steer me in the right direction. The mentors I had were all villains.”

Mr Ellis said he had joined Camden Council’s Youth Taskforce, launched after a string of killings last year, but felt it had “ended up all a load of nothing and waffle”.

He said knife crime had always been a problem in Camden but that social media was making people more aware of it. He said a big difference was that criminals were crossing ethical lines, for example using children for so-called “county-lines” drug-dealing networks. “To go into schools and sell drugs, or to get young kids to run your drugs for you, that was unheard of in my day,” said Mr Ellis. “Boundaries have been severely crossed. We are living in a society where it’s OK to use kids as mules. The whole thing has turned upside down.”

Speaking of his own robberies, Mr Ellis said: “We’d pull up, say we’re fast response [police] robbery squad, say we were officers. We’d cuff everyone, bring sniffer dogs in – and then we’d just empty the gaff.” He talked about his part in a major “motherboard” raid on an IT firm in the former Post Office building in St Pancras.

Mr Ellis said the majority of people he had come across in prison had been excluded or had simply been “acting up” out of “embarrassment” at being left behind at school.

He said: “Academic­ally, I was never ever any good, and if you can’t read or spell there’s an embarrassment that comes with that. You act up. I can see it straight away in kids. If these kids have got to stand up and write something on the board, and they can’t, then they have a go at the teachers. Most of the guys I saw in prison killed because of some kind of embarrassment. To exclude them from the school without showing them something else is why we are in this situation.”

Mr Ellis said that when he got out of prison, two years ago, he had seen how youth clubs he used to go in Camden had been were now “private flats” with “back doors for council tenants”. “You wonder why there is that angst and anger?” he said.

The A Band of Brothers group is also being promoted by Roberto Atiko, who lives in Gospel Oak.

He said: “At ABOB we believe that part of the solution lies largely dormant within our communities. Older men with skills, experiences, wounds and wisdom can be potent catalysts for change.”

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