Does knife and gun crime have anything to do with controlling drug markets?

An updated version of an article from several months ago.

In an article of February 2019, the Sun, as numerous other newspapers and activists have done before and since, claimed that ‘knife crime and shootings are on the rise fuelled by gang rivalry and disputes over drug markets.’ This theory is appealing, but erroneous. It is the effect of cannabis on the mind, not a desire to control the trade in it, that is the more common and important factor. To analyse this, let us examine the 132 cases of homicide that occurred in London in 2018.

Over 70 of these cases patently have nothing to do with gangs seeking to control a drugs market, but may have a lot to do with minds unhinged from drug consumption. They include:

  • a man who violently murdered an elderly neighbour, then set fire to her house;
  • a man who killed his wife with a meat cleaver;
  • a man who stabbed his wife to death, then drugged their two sons with a sedative and threw them and himself off a cliff;
  • a man who stabbed and strangled his wife in front of their young son;
  • a man who killed his heavily pregnant wife with a crossbow (which the eight-month-old baby survived);
  • a man who killed his wife of 50 years after she left him for another man;
  • a man who strangled his wife and set her body alight after taking out a £300,000 life insurance policy;
  • a woman stabbed over 50 times in her home by her nephew, who once claimed he was Jesus Christ and wished to be renamed ‘Emperor’;
  • a mentally ill man who strangled his mother and stabbed her with a knitting needle the day after she had taken him to hospital;
  • a man who strangled his mother after she asked him to move out of the family home;
  • a ‘paranoid schizophrenic’ man who stabbed his mother;
  • a man who killed his ex-wife after she refused to sleep with him ‘one last time’;
  • a man who stabbed his heavily pregnant girlfriend to death with a pair of scissors, killing the seven-month-old baby;
  • a man who stabbed his girlfriend over 50 times after he discovered another man had sent her a photo of his penis;
  • a woman who killed her neighbour with broken bottles, scissors and an ashtray;
  • a woman who killed her friend with a pair of scissors after a drunken night out;
  • a man who stabbed his brother to death, barricaded himself in his bedroom, and was eventually sectioned;
  • an inmate at HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs stabbed to death in his cell;
  • a shopkeeper killed by a head injury suffered during a fall caused by a drunk 16-year-old boy to whom he refused to sell Rizla papers;
  • a burglar who stabbed a pensioner in his home;
  • a fashion model who stabbed another model in a row over a girlfriend;
  • an illegal immigrant who stabbed a colleague 12 times with an axe after the victim discovered he’d been stealing money from their employer;
  • a man who stabbed his flatmate in a ‘drunken row’;
  • a man who stabbed his flatmate with a potato peeler;
  • a man who killed a friend in a row over a motorbike;
  • a ‘paranoid schizophrenic’ man who stabbed his 56-year-old female flatmate repeatedly and doused her body in lighter fluid after she failed to flush the toilet;
  • a prostitute who deliberately started a fire at a hotel that killed one of the hotel’s employees;
  • a young man stabbed in a shopping centre by a gang of five “hell bent on causing as much torment and misery as they could that evening, to anyone in particular”, according to a senior police officer;
  • a man who knocked a fellow bus passenger to the ground and repeatedly stamped on his head, then falsely claimed in court that he knew the victim and murdered him over a previous dispute;
  • a former altar-boy who viciously stabbed a convicted paedophile to death after learning that he once sexually abused a six-year-old girl;
  • a former ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ finalist murdered by her boyfriend;
  • the crushing to death of three-year-old Alfie Hoare;
  • the poisoning of prominent American businessman Eric Michels by a man he met on a gay dating app;
  • a man who killed a transgender woman.

In a further ten cases there is no mention of drugs or drug gang rivalry, while 38 cases are awaiting a verdict or a trial, or are still being investigated, but without any mention or suggestion that the death was the result of gangs fighting over trading areas.

That leaves 11 cases, nine of which say little about the wisdom of legalising cannabis as a pleasure drug and a great deal about the staggering effects it can have on mental health.

In one, a cannabis dealer named Mark Fontaine was stabbed to death by three teenagers because he refused to return a phone one of them dropped in his car during a failed mugging some days earlier.

In a similar case, Abdirahman Abdullahi was acquitted of both the murder and manslaughter of 25-year-old Ali Al Har, whom he knew, after robbing him at knifepoint of a large quantity of cannabis, of which he was found guilty. Moments after being robbed, Mr Har chased his assailant and a grapple ensued, in which Abdullahi fatally stabbed his victim in ‘self-defence’ with a ‘fearsome’ knife he had been carrying.

In another, 20-year-old Osman Shidane was stabbed to death by his 16-year-old cannabis dealer during a rendezvous that was not the first of its kind between the two, and to which both went armed with knives. The cause of the dispute is unknown, but there is no suggestion that the killer considered the victim a threat to his illegal trade.

46-year-old Ian Tomlin was beaten to death with a baseball bat and stabbed in the neck by two drug dealers he had aggressively confronted (the bat was his own) near his home in Battersea, the climax of many months of tension between the three men.

Daniel Frederick was stabbed to death in a case of mistaken identity in an unprovoked attack outside his home as he returned to his pregnant girlfriend by five stoned youths seeking revenge for an attack on one of their friends in prison by a member of a rival gang they wrongly believed their victim to be part of.

Alex Glanfield-Collis plunged a seven-inch hunting knife into her ‘controlling and domineering’ boyfriend as he slept, then smoked a joint and drank a beer as he lay dying.

Martin Welsh was stabbed to death by his wife during one of their frequent rows, which occurred despite the fact or because the couple smoked cannabis together.

30-year-old Marcel Campbell died after being stabbed 17 times by 22-year-old Reece Williams, who was cleared of murder, but found guilty of manslaughter. Williams claims the reason he joined Mr Campbell in a van being driven by one of Campbell’s friends the fateful afternoon was to purchase cannabis from Mr Campbell.

Why Gary Hopkins decided to violently murder his young drug-dealing associate Abdi Ali with a claw hammer and knife one August day in the house he (Hopkins) shared with his wife and three children remains a mystery (he is said to simply have “lost it”), but the nature of the crime, the fearful testimony of his wife that her husband was a “loose cannon” and Hopkins’ subsequent attempts to intimidate other dealers by showing them the body of Ali in his loft (which would lead to his arrest and conviction) suggest a level of mental lucidity that is less than total.

Finally, there is the murder of Rotimi Oshibanjo by his half-brother Mark Tyrone Thomas, who was wrongly convinced that his sibling was having an affair with his girlfriend. A report of the trial notes: ‘Over the last sixth months before the incident, [Thomas] started to change… His appearance declined, he was scruffy and he stopped bathing. He was listening to conspiracy theories on his laptop and smoking cannabis.’

That leaves two cases, the murders of Balbir Johal and Memunatu Warne, that ostensibly occurred because of rival drug gangs fighting over trading territory. When the trial in the former case ended, the Daily Mail claimed in its headline ‘Two drug dealers who killed rival, 48, with large kitchen knife after they caught him selling crack cocaine and heroin on their patch are jailed for a total of 43 years’, but this is contradicted by the defendants’ barrister, who said in mitigation, “there is no evidence of a drugs war or drugs feud…Southall [where the murder occurred] is a large place”, adding that the meeting of victim and assailants was a coincidence. It also appears that the defendants initially wanted only to intimidate the victim, but one of them, when beaten off, went back to his car to fetch a large kitchen knife. Put all this together, and what we have is not a simmering gang rivalry exacerbated by slim profit margins, but two young and likely drug-addled men who, after a pitiful attempt to intimidate a fellow drug dealer, reacted with savage violence.

The tragic death of Memunatu Warne, a 46-year-old headmistress from Sierra Leone, in a fire that was started deliberately, is the only remaining case that appears to fit the popular theory that London and the UK are awash with charismatic drug dealers who make calculated business decisions to eliminate rivals. Even here, though, as the prosecuting barrister in the trial acknowledged, there is no “direct evidence what the motive for it was”. Without that evidence, we are left with a case that resembles many others in this list and on this site in a number of telling ways: young men (aged 26 and 22) of no fixed address, with ready access to mind-altering drugs, commit a psychotic yet cack-handed and failed assassination. Had they crunched the numbers, and decided that the only way their illegal enterprise could survive was to eliminate a particular rival? Or was there very little in their heads at all, other than paranoia, insecurity and rage? Naturally, the Evening Standard, a new mouthpiece for Big Dope, claimed that this was a case of drug dealers attacking a ‘rival’s’ home, as it elsewhere claims that only with legalisation of cannabis will attacks like this cease. It is instead, as so often, the effect of cannabis on the brain, not a desire to control the trade in it, that is the prime factor.

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