Afghan army veteran ‘felt safer fighting Taliban than walking through hometown’



Terrified residents of a city suburb are so afraid of the “intimidating” and violent yobs roaming the streets outside they’re scared to leave their homes.

Families and shopkeepers in Blackley, north Manchester – six miles from the city centre – say the area has been overrun in recent years by violent teens roaming the neighbourhood with deadly weapons.

A former soldier, who toured war-torn Afghanistan, said he feels in greater danger in his hometown than while he was fighting the Taliban.

The army vet described the suburb as a “war zone” and admitted he is so scared of being attacked that he is afraid to “walk to the local shop at night”, the Manchester Evening News reports.

A shopkeeper targeted by the gangs, who asked to stay anonymous due to fears of reprisals, said teens thieve from his shop “at least two to three times a week”.

He said: “Groups of kids come in all the time with their hoods up.

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One terrified shopkeeeper says youths steal from him “two or three times a week”
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Image:

Steve Allen / MEN Media)

Residents say the area – six miles from the centre of Manchester – has become overrun with teens carrying deadly weapons
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Image:

Steve Allen / MEN Media)

“They are either fighting outside or coming in here to trash the place and steal things.

“It has got so bad I am always taking pictures and videos – at least two to three times a week now.

“Just coming to work can be scary. It never used to be this bad.”

CCTV seen by the MEN shows a young thug hurling a can at his head, which narrowly misses and leaves a large dent in the metal cigarette shelf behind the counter.

Another shocking clip revealed a group of teens kicking in the glass door to the shop.

One lifelong resident said the area he once enjoyed with friends has turned into a “war zone”.

The former soldier claimed he “felt safer in Afghanistan” than walking the streets where he grew up.

He said: “When I was younger, me and friends would be climbing up trees and eating mud and just having fun without a care in the world.

“It has totally changed from what it used to be.

“The place is just overrun by teenagers who threaten and intimidate people.

Some parents are afraid to let their children out alone
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Steve Allen / MEN Media)

“These days kids have weapons and carry knives around with them. When there are groups of them together, it is really intimidating.

“In evenings, I am too scared to even walk to the shop around the corner from my house and will drive there instead.

“You are constantly looking over your shoulder.”

The ex-soldier said his cousin was threatened at knifepoint and had his electric scooter stolen recently.

Earlier this month, officers charged six teenagers aged 15 and 16, over robberies involving school children nearby.

And two bus services were forced to divert from the area after windows were smashed last week.

Other locals told of their fears for their children growing up on the streets of Blackley.

A mum-of-one, who asked to be anonymous, said she had bricks hurled through her front window a few weeks ago.

She said: “The kids round here have got worse and worse and more confident over the years.

“Gangs of them just intimidate people living here, sadly you learn to live with it after a while. It has become overrun.

“I have been here all my life – it has been worse since the nearby police station closed. We never see the police around here anymore.

“I have a 13-year-old daughter and I am petrified when she leaves the house about who she could come across or who she hangs around with.”

Another mum said her 18-year-old daughter is “too scared to leave the house in the evenings” since eggs were pelted repeatedly at her door earlier this year.

Those same concerns were echoed by another mum-of-two, 22, who works at a nearby chip shop.

She confessed: “I am scared for what the future holds for my kids living around here. It is nothing like it used to be.

“I wouldn’t want them playing out as they get older with the amounts of stabbings and fights you hear about.

“It has just become so unpleasant and it is mainly down to the groups of teenagers who run the place.

“Plant Hill park is particularly bad – I would always avoid there at night.”

Saddened, she added: “As a woman, I would not feel safe even walking to the shop at night on my own.

“The other day I wanted cigarettes and because I don’t drive, I ordered a taxi to the shop just around the corner. It isn’t worth the risk.”

Residents believe anti-social behaviour had worsened since the closure of the local Plant Hill police station in 2015.

They also blamed the ‘lack’ of police presence for the increase in problems.

And despite authorities efforts to engage the community, namely through the Manchester Youth Zone, 60-year-old local Martin said: “Kids are just bored these days.

“They are becoming engrossed in social media and unable to even have a conversation.

“A lot of the issues with anti-social behaviour and violence stem from the fact that young people have nothing to do.

One defiant woman said: “We won’t stand for this.

“Something needs to be done about it. A lot of us are good hard working people who have lived here all my life.”

Greater Manchester Police said that patrols had been stepped up following recent concerning reports.

Chief Inspector Simon Nasim from the City of Manchester said that the police are aware of increasing reports of anti-social behaviour.

He added that despite the closure of Plant Hill Police Station, more than five years ago, the commitment and ability to service the communities in Blackley has not been affected.

Local teams now work from Harpurhey – a 10-minute drive away.

Ch Insp Nasim said: “The local Neighbourhood Policing Team is aware of reports of anti-social behaviour in the Higher Blackley area within the last few weeks.

“These reports range from loitering in communal areas within sheltered housing and housing blocks, criminal damage and other associated general anti-social behaviour.

“We understand the impact anti-social behaviour has on the lives of local residents and I want to reassure you that the Neighbourhood Policing Team is committed to tackling the issues and will take action against any perpetrators identified.

“We have increased patrols within the areas of concern, and are working with our partners from Manchester City Council and the Anti-Social Behaviour Action Team (ASBAT) to address the issues, and deter and disrupt those carrying out these offences.

“We are also conducting a youth intervention project, which targets youths carrying knives or weapons, and have officers from the Neighbourhood Policing Team attending schools and youth provisions such as the Manchester Youth Zone where outreach work is co-ordinated.

“This is part of the preventative work we carry out to help avoid young people getting caught up in crime, as we work to educate on the implications of this type of crime and help focus their time more positively.

“Plant Hill Police Station closed as an operating police station over five years ago and Neighbourhood Policing Teams work from Harpurhey Police Station, which is only a short distance from the Blackley area.

“This does not affect our commitment or ability to service the communities in Blackley.

“We will continue to target those responsible, and last week, five male juveniles and one adult male were charged in connection with offences committed in the Blackley area, including robbery and wounding and possession of knives, and as a result will be appearing in court in the new year.

“We encourage anybody with information that can assist us in identifying those responsible to contact us.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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