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Our Crime: Daylight robbery

Updated Friday, 30th March 2012

A teenage robbing spree is the starting point for a debate about youth justice.

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TEXT ON SCREEN: In April 2011 a group of teenagers in Liverpool began a ten day armed robbery spree.

CHRIS HARKNESS (C): Just er coming into Norris Green now.  Not one of my favourite areas at the moment obviously.

TEXT ON SCREEN: Taxi driver Chris Harkness was one of their victims.

SUE HARKNESS (S): Chris is not a violent man he’s like a gentle giant. He’s the one who’s looked after us and the fact just some punks got the better of him on that night upsets me it really does, cause he’s the one who makes me feel safe. And I don’t sure for one minute he didn’t feel safe that night.

C: After it happened I think I went through every range of emotions to be honest. Guilt, anxiety, I couldn’t sleep, I’ve been to the doctors. The doctor thinks I’ve got post traumatic stress.

S: I don’t know how he’ll ever get over that so no, no I won’t forgive them. They don’t deserve it.

TEXT ON SCREEN: Eight days later the group struck again. This time their target was the Pulendran family’s shop.

PRIYA (P): I moved up to Liverpool  around a year ago with my husband Raj, because he runs a business here, erm a convenience store. l like the area I like the people. Yea.

(UGC of robbery)

P: Okay, this is where the boys are entering the shop….. The boys come in…one of them’s holding the gun and the staff would be feeling really helpless because they don’t know what to do they don’t have any panic alarms or they can’t call anyone.

P: And Ravi he would just be thinking what have I got myself into? Cause it was his first day. He doesn’t work there he just came to help out and he, he experienced this.

P: When I got married erm I had all these expectations, these ambitions, these dreams erm of starting a new life with my husband. Erm, but just a few months into our new life, erm, you know, all these unexpected events happened. And erm, it’s made me erm, anxious about you know what lies ahead.

RICHARD HESTER:  Why is street robbery important?  Why should we care about street robbery as opposed to white collar crime and the swindling of the taxpayer of millions of pounds by, you know, the previous Chief Executive of RBS and so on.

ROD EARLE:  Well, you know, again it’s the criminal justice agencies, you know, if you’re working in a youth court then a robbery is a serious event and it’s a serious prosecution, the consequences of which can involve the loss of liberty of a young person and obviously do cause an enormous amount of distress, they’re distressing events.  I thought, you know, the programme conveyed that very powerfully, the suffering and harms that come out of these events. 

RICHARD HESTER:  What did it say to you the coverage of the robberies Mary Jane?

MARY JANE KEHILY:  Well one of the things that struck me was that the need for young people to see themselves cinematically.  So, you know, robbery, it’s not just the event itself, it’s the way it was recorded, and there was a constant attempt in that programme and the one on violence for young people the need to document what they were doing, the need for a commentary.  So it’s a way of narrating their lives and.  So I suppose, you know, YouTube and social networking sites they become powerful mediators that say who we are, you know. 

ROD EARLE:  I mean I think that’s a really powerful point.  It’s something that was really striking across all of these programmes I felt this kind of almost compulsion to record, to perform, but then I wondered it does relate to the sort of classic kind of sociology of disorder around deviancy amplification doesn’t it?  But it seems to have become sort of personalised and individualised, these are little circles of deviancy amplification almost.  I don’t know if you feel that that sort of operates that, you know, when Stan Cohen was writing about moral panics and deviancy amplification he was talking about the way the media covered the outbreaks of sort of fighting on the beaches.

RICHARD HESTER:  It’s DIY, moral panic.

ROD EARLE:  Of Brighton was it or Southend?

RICHARD HESTER:  Both.

ROD EAERLE:  And then sort of it was blown up in the newspapers in the kind of early days of I think black and white television, and then, you know, the things that flowed out of that, that cycle of sort of amplification, and it was watching one of these programmes, I just felt these are little sort of microcircuits going on of amplification of who are they broadcasting to and I suppose again the question all the time of who’s the audience and a flipping of positions.  It used to be that to be behind the camera was a position of power. 

RICHARD HESTER:  How do those ideas connect with ideas of masculinities?  That’s an area which I know you’re interested in and identities.

ROD EARLE:  Well again there was I think across all the films there’s again the sense of performing to the camera and playing to the camera, and I just again found I think elements of a lot of kind of contemporary masculinity seem to be about, you know, projecting a performance to a sort of an audience.  So there is this sense of it kind of sort of being sort of telegraphed out so sort of the need to perform, and it was the sort of juxtaposition I guess of the sort of the innocence of performing in the shots where they’re kind of performing in a dance routine in the bedroom and the sense of kind of in inverted commas for childish fun to the sort of the way that that carries across to then the need to record the slapping and the filming of fights effectively.

RICHARD HESTER:  It’s interesting how girl gangs well certainly in last couple of years receives a lot of attention and the idea of ladettes and drunken behaviour and visible street violence is now being associated as much with girls, well it’s recently just dropped again, but it’s an interesting phenomenon not least because traditionally youth justice has been in a sense working with young men who are going through the system and only very few young women.

MARY JANE KEHILY:  Well I suppose if you think about contemporary gender relations there’s been so many shifts in recent years.

RiRICHARD HESTER:  Indeed, yeah.

MARY JANE KEHILY:  And, you know, deindustrialisation has meant that there’s a whole layer of the labour force that employed young men, that’s completely gone and it’s the young women who are taking up jobs in the economy in present times.  So there’s a sense in which young men are a little kind of out on a limb in the job market.  There aren’t jobs there for them and the kind of the jobs there are in the service sector which they don’t want to do anyway.  But to come back to your point about masculinity’s being performative, there’s quite a body of sociological work that says well masculinity it’s difficult to achieve, it’s difficult to embody and a lot of male displays are among the peer group, they’re trying to consolidate a kind of, you know, a hypermasculinity, a kind of gender identity that actually is really difficult to embody.

And so it’s as much for a kind of self-convincing charade as anything else, and I suppose there’s a whole literature on this about how one particular study I can think of it was how young men were constantly upping the ante around stories they could tell, and the idea was that the story had to have a point, so like if someone could say so what at the end of a story then the guy hadn’t done his job properly. So it’s kind of like it has to be spectacular, it has to be dramatic and it has to entertain your mates.  And one of the things that the programme was doing was showing how these are mini dramas, they’re mini performances that are doing that kind of hyper display.

The team are debating some of themes from the BBC Three/Open University co-production Our Crime.

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