The borough’s historic reputation as London’s knife crime capital has been reborn following the tragic loss of a number of people to stabbings in 2023 including two teenagers.
This came after the false hope of 2022 which saw no teenagers stabbed to death in the borough.
While there have been 10 people killed in alleged murders in Croydon this year as well as a shooting right on the borough’s border with Merton, the September 27 tragedy of 15-year-old Elianne Andam being stabbed to death in front of fellow school children was the clearest example of the borough’s continuing struggle with knife crime, and the one that sent shockwaves through a town that’s no stranger to stabbings.
However, Elianne’s funeral and vigil attended by 3,000 people including grime legend Stormzy demonstrated a strong sense of community and an ability to come together in difficult moments.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) spoke to two individuals who sit at the heart of Croydon’s urban community and have played a leading role in tackling the issue of youth knife crime.
Andrew Brown is the CEO of the Croydon BME forum, the umbrella organisation for Croydon’s Black and Minority Ethnic voluntary and community sector.
The forum provides a range of events and training and was central to the community’s response following Elianne’s killing.
When asked for his reflections on the year, Mr Brown told the LDRS: “The [alleged] murder of Elianne has not just shocked the community but the wider world.
“We got emails and telephone calls from people around the world. People in America and Antigua for example were donating and sending emails directly to us as well. They all asked us to send their wishes to the family.”
He added: “What was good was to see how the community, the police, the school, and the council came together during those turbulent two weeks. It gave me hope that we still have a community. Having over 3,000 people turn up for the vigil was just amazing.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before, even for so-called famous people. This one moved everyone.
“Even the weekend after people were coming up to me and expressing how sad it was. Big men came up to me saying ‘that could have been my daughter, sister, or niece’.”
While Elianne’s case garnered interest from across the globe, it sadly was only one of a number of cases knife crime that occurred across the borough in 2023 which led to several deaths.
Lucas Sutton, 22, was stabbed twice in the back and died from his wounds after being chased down a street in Croydon on May 23.
Usmaan Mahmood was stabbed to death in Thornton Heath Recreation Ground in June.
The 20-year-old was found at the junction of Melfort Road and Sandfield Road by members of the public who flagged down a police car.
Felecia Cadore died in hospital five days after being stabbed in Grenaby Avenue in June.
The 29-year-old was taken to hospital in a critical condition but sadly died of her wounds.
Bradley Hutchins was stabbed to death on North Walk, New Addington, on September 12. And less than five week’s after Elianne was killed, 19-year-old Mehak Sharma was stabbed to death at a property on Ash Tree Way, Shirley.
The most recent knife killing in Croydon was a 27-year-old man who was stabbed to death on Mayfield Crescent, Thornton Heath, on December 19.
He has been named as Michael Patrick Afonso Peixoto.
Mr Brown also told the LDRS how the response to Elianne’s murder was effective in part because the world’s attention was focused on the borough.
He said: “We have been satisfied with Croydon’s response to Elianne. We were able to hold [the borough’s various authorities] to account because it was such a national story. Everyone had to stand up and there was no shying away.
“However, a week later there was another girl who died from [alleged] domestic violence (Mehak Sharma) and we didn’t hear a lot from that one.
“There was also Bradley Hutchings who died in New Addington a few weeks before. The response wasn’t as big as the one from Elianne.”
While Elianne’s death is still being investigated, with a 17-year-old charged with murder, Mr Brown pointed to wider failings within the borough’s schools that could be putting young people on the route to crime.
He told the LDRS: “The exclusions and managed moves of young boys in our schools are ridiculous.
“It’s still very disproportionate toward young Black boys as well. I would also like to see more training around how we can manage exclusions and managed moves.
“It’s not as simple as bringing in professionals. We need to bring in local people and groups who know our boys and girls. Maybe even people who have been through it. If this young man could have talked to someone the night before, would that have helped?”
Anthony King, Chair of My Ends, a community organisation that deals with youth violence, is another community worker who is close to Elianne’s family.
Mr King expressed regret at Croydon’s continually high homicide rate but in the same breath spoke of his hope for the borough.
He told the LDRS: “Whilst we have the highest number of homicides, I have to admit that the community’s relationship with the Met Police has increased and improved extensively.
“The community and the council’s relationship has also improved. I also feel that Croydon has done exceptionally well in investing in grassroots organisations to deal with some of their challenges about serious youth violence in the town centre.
“Croydon hasn’t had a gang-related teen murder in 24 months, since Zaian Aimable-Lina in December 2021.
“This is historically a big issue for the borough, we had the highest number of teenage murders in 2021 and 2020. All this despite us being widely known as the knife crime capital of London.”
Despite this, both were quick to identify problem areas they believe the borough must address. Mr King focused on what he saw as the town centre’s dilapidated state as a reason for the chronic levels of crime and antisocial behaviour.
He told the LDRS: “We had a stabbing last Friday on the High Street, it’s because Croydon is boarded up and shops are leaving us. It’s having that broken windows effect.
“As the town centre looks more deprived and derelict, young people will think it’s okay to treat it that way.
“It’s sad that our young people have to walk through their streets and see boarded-up shops, where there could be the possibility of employment.”
While both acknowledged that the council must lead the charge against knife crime, Mr King also called for businesses that make Croydon their home to play a greater role.
He said: “I think what needs to be done is that we need businesses to invest more in the grass routes organisations who are trying to prevent serious youth violence.
“The borough sadly is bankrupt so we need the bigger businesses in the borough to contribute to the grass routes organisations who are the boots on the ground in the street.”
While the recent announcement of levelling up funding offers a glimmer of hope for the planned regeneration of Croydon town centre, both Mr King and Mr Brown agreed the funding must meet the needs of the communities it’s meant to serve and not ‘new offices’, as Mr King put it.
Despite this year’s troubles, both said there are several reasons to be cheerful for the new year ahead and that progress is being made.
Mr King said: “Croydon has the best relationship with the Met Police. The Black and Asian communities have an amazing relationship with the Met, which is being observed across London.”
This is because it’s the first borough that has had community members engage with it. Young Black children in Croydon help train the police. This started in Croydon and hopefully, this will be replicated across the capital.”
Mr Brown furthered this tone of optimism, saying: “There has to be hope, if there wasn’t hope I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing.
“What we have to remember is that the majority of young people are doing amazing and wonderful things. We are still getting some of the highest GCSE and A-level marks in our schools in the whole of the country for example.”