An ex-gang member has spoken of how young people can get ‘trapped’ in a cycle of violence after a terrifying knife attack at Runshaw College.
At the age of 18, Stephen Mellor was involved in the fatal stabbing of rival gang member John Dookie outside the Variety pub in 1997.
After serving a jail term he is now reformed and plans to open a youth centre in Preston to steer other young people away from a life of violence.
He and Preston businessman, Barry Hastewell, are now in the throes of launching a youth centre, YOOOF Zone, in the former Cash Converters shop on Lune Street, on March 22.
The dad is adamant that early intervention, and places like the Yooof Zone, are crucial to deterring young people from gang culture and knife crime.
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He says: “The Runshaw College incident brings back memories of that feeling I had of being trapped, not having any other option than following my peers, and nowhere to turn.
“I can imagine one or two lads in the college incident did not feel comfortable with what was happening but felt they had no way out.
“They are scared for their life, but if they turn against their friends they know they might turn up at your house with that knife they carry.
“We hope the Yooof zone will give young people that place to turn to.
“I think gang problems are an age old problem dating back to even before my generation but unless you make changes to how we tackle it, it’s going to continue spiralling out of control.
“I’ve already had referrals from a behavioural school and messages from social workers and police supportive of what we are doing - these kids don’t want to speak to a trained psychologist in a suit. They need to trust someone, someone who has also lived it.
“To some kids, putting a knife in their pocket is like putting a phone in their pocket. Many may have been kicked out of school, hanging around on the street.
“That is when we need to intervene and act, because they are vulnerable to becoming involved with a gang.”
He adds: “This is why Barry and I have poured all we have into this place - this is a real problem in Preston right now, we can’t afford to wait 18 months for funding,
Two weeks ago, the Lancashire Post revealed knife crime in Lancashire has increased by more than a third in the past four years.
Lancashire Police investigated 867 offences involving a knife or a sharp weapon between April 2017 and March 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics, compared to 645 in 2013-14.
The trend is echoed nationally, with knife crime high on the agenda since a shocking spate of fatal stabbings.
London Girl Scout Jodie Chesney and Manchester grammar school pupil Yousef Makki, both 17, were murdered over the weekend.
In Preston, a 17-year-old girl was stabbed in Levensgarth Avenue, Fulwood, on Friday, March 1.
And last month three teens were arrested after boy, 13, was stabbed in the chest in Blackpool.
Home Office figures show nationally there were 42,957 offences in the 12 months ending in September 2018, a 31 per cent increase on the previous year and the highest number since 2011, the earliest point for which comparable data is available.
Out of 44 police forces, 42 recorded a rise in knife crime since 2011.
Prime Minister Theresa May claims there is no direct link between falling officer numbers and rising violent crime - but the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Hogan-Howe has called for the Government to reverse police cuts and put 20,000 officers back on the street.
Locally, Lancashire Police were not available for comment