Magazine article The Spectator

The 'Bovver Birds' Are Back

Magazine article The Spectator

The 'Bovver Birds' Are Back

Article excerpt

Sarah Standing's daughter was attacked by a girl gang - but it wasn't an isolated incident. Female thugs, of the sort who ran riot in the 1970s, are roaming the streets again

It was a beautiful balmy evening when my youngest daughter finished school last summer. The A-level results had just arrived, and she was happily ambling home from supper with two girlfriends. They were in no rush.

They're 18 and were about to spread their wings, leave London for the first time and head off towards various universities. They were finally 'grown up' - with parental curfew lifted, able to judge risks for themselves. And walking along the King's Road in Chelsea, they had little reason to anticipate what was about to befall them.

Three girls approached them, asking the time. They seemed much younger, and their request was innocuous and unthreatening. The street was well lit and, according to my daughter, still buzzing with post-pub stragglers. Suddenly one of the girls turned around and whistled. Only it wasn't an ordinary whistle; it was a call to arms. Within seconds, it was answered. Tilly and her friends were surrounded by a girl-gang who had evidentially been lurking in a side street.

The gang were as professional as they were feral, fast and foul-mouthed. They cunningly separated their victims, yanked a handbag off one friend's shoulder and viciously shoved the other to the ground with brute and unexpected force. They grabbed my daughter's mobile phone out of her hand and, once they had it, scarpered off into the shadows whooping with delight and victory.

All random acts of violence are abhorrent, yet there is something about the weaker sex turning on their own that makes the crime seem even more unconscionable.

When Tilly and her friends reported the attack to the police, the police wearily took down their details and then made them plough their way through a bulging book of suspects' photos in the futile hope they might be able to identify a face hidden beneath the ubiquitous hoodie. It was, of course, futile.

My daughter had fallen victim to something which is becoming a nationwide epidemic: the new breed of British girl gangs.

The figures spell it out. Crimes committed by girls (some as young as ten) have soared by 25 per cent in the last three years. More than half a million assaults last year were either carried out by women or involved female members of gangs. This frightening escalation of girl gang barbarity is apparently rooted in the need to earn 'respect' on the streets. These young thugs seek approbation through violence.

We are living in a terrifying Clockwork Orange environment where aggressively pushing a pensioner or mugging an innocent passer-by gains you kudos and street cred. The media blame all the obvious socio-economic factors such as boredom, binge-drinking, peer pressure, lack of education, truanting, the destruction of the nuclear family, and the absence of father figures, but these girl gang members also appear to have a pathetic underlying yearning to belong. To belong to anything - even a gang - is something to aspire to in the Noughties. It's a badge of honour.

For many young women today, proving themselves is apparently no longer about passing exams or getting a decent job. They choose to prove themselves by acting tough.

These girls observe the gangster life and actively want to be a part of it. It's perceived as glamorous and edgy, a club they want to join. Gang behaviour starts with petty stuff, just girls hanging out with their friends, then escalates almost imperceptibly. …

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