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Parents buying body armour for children after teen murders

Adam Fresco
London Times
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Scores of worried parents are buying body armour for their children in a desperate attempt to keep them safe as street violence escalates.

A firm that supplies stab- and bullet-proof vests to government agencies around the world has sold 60 jackets, at a cost of between £300 to £425, to concerned parents who have flooded the company with inquiries after several murders of teenagers on London streets.

The company has received more than 100 calls from parents in the capital over the past few weeks. The company, VestGuard UK, usually gets one or two calls of this type per year.

The fatal stabbings of Adam Regis, killed three days after 16-year-old Kodjo Yenga, are the latest in a series of violent incidents involving teenagers in recent months.

One mother, whose 13-year-old daughter goes to a school where a pupil has been shot to death, has saved up to buy her child of the best vests available after she was targeted by a gang of older girls. She is now saving up for another vest for her 11-year-old daughter who has also been abused by the gang.

Too scared to give her or her daughter’s real name, the woman, a chemical engineer, explained why she felt she had to resort to buying body armour.

“My daughter is being attacked by girls who are much older than her and the problem is continuing. I have never seen them with a knife but you never know when they are going to use a gun or knife until it is too late.

“The vest is very expensive and we do not have a lot of money but I have no choice. My daughter has been attacked five times in a few weeks and I would rather be safe than sorry.

“I cannot let my child go out and be killed. I will do anything I can do defend her. She does not like wearing the vest and says it is heavy but I force her to wear it - I said ‘life comes first’.

The mother has been to the police but nothing has happened. “They are really busy and I know that and by the time they get here the gang has gone. I am now consulting a solicitor and will go to my MP."

Shaun Ward, the sales director at VestGuard UK, said that the volume of calls had been unprecedented.

“We sell body armour to the Ministry of Defence police, foreign office, embassy protection teams and specialised police units around the world but in the past several weeks parents have started getting in touch with us asking to buy vests for their children.

“They are concerned by what is happening on the streets - the level of violence. A 13-year-old girl has been our youngest customer but most are about 15 or 16. Most of the calls have been from London.

“The 13-year-old’s mother bought the most expensive vest we have, it will stop a bullet from a 45 Magnum but it is the lightest one we have.

“We have a factory in Bolton and since Christmas we have been making really small vests that have a 28” chest and weigh 800 grams. The children have been mostly boys, but there are a few girls.”

The firm, who have sales of £31 million a year, say the light stab-proof vests will stop anything up to the force of a crossbow. A kevlar soft armour plate is put into the vests, the level of safety they provide depends on how much you spend. The cheapest version will stop any knife attack while the higher end will stop a bullet from any handgun or sub-machine gun.

Last month, at a gun crime summit at Downing Street, senior police officers from London and Manchester gave warning that the perpetrators and victims of gun crime were becoming younger.

Mike Todd, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, said: "We have got 14 and 15-year-old kids walking around in body armour. And we have 13-year-olds where, when we do house searches, we find Section 1 firearms in their houses because they are being used to hold them"

In London last month three teenagers were shot in less than a fortnight, including one who was shot in his bed by gunmen who broke into his home.

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: “The fact parents are having to resort to spending large amounts of money on such drastic measures betrays the Government’s failure to get a grip on violent crime.

“This is a consequence of having very little police presence on our streets and in our communities to detect and deter violent crime. While our police are tied up in red tape innocent children are having to wear police equipment to protect themselves. This is a very sad reflection on society under new Labour.”

Camila Batmanghelidjh, who works with disadvantaged children at the charity Kids Company, says she can fully understand the parents' concern and warns that street violence is only going to get worse.

“I see kids of nine who are drug dealing and by ten they are carrying knives, that is not unusual. I have been doing this for eleven years and things at street level are definitely worse now.

“I don’t think vests are a solution as you can get stabbed or shot in the neck.”

Ms Batmanghelidjh, who was recently shot at in a drive-by shooting, added: “The violence is going to get worse. The Government thinks it is a policing problem but it is a social problem and the social services are at breaking point.

“A robust solution is needed or the street violence is going to have a huge impact on civil disorder.”

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