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In one of London’s most dangerous areas, being in the wrong place at the wrong time can be deadly | UK News

“Jaden” was stabbed a couple of weeks ago while walking the streets of Croydon, south London.  

Luckily for him, it wasn’t serious. But a week later, he was arrested for carrying a knife of his own.

When we meet him, he tells us he is appearing before the magistrates in the morning.

The thing is, Jaden – which is not his real name – is only 13 years-old.

He seems a quiet boy, dressed in black tracksuit bottoms and wearing a dark coat with the hood pulled up over his head.

A bag is slung over one shoulder and he is constantly looking down at his phone.

We ask about the stabbing. What happened?

He pauses for a moment, then says: “Wrong place, wrong time.”

Welcome to Croydon, one of the most dangerous boroughs in the capital for a child to grow up in. Where “wrong place, wrong time” can be a lethal combination.

It is where local services have been decimated. The local council has declared that it is effectively bankrupt.

And it is where children carry knifes.

Youth worker James Watkins
Community worker James Watkins

There is another huge issue affecting Jaden’s life. He has not been to school at all this year, and that is putting him in huge danger, says James Watkins, a community worker.

“I think a lot of the older gang members target young people who have stopped going to school because they see them as vulnerable,” he explains.

“Sometimes young people just need to feel like they belong and because they’ve been kicked out of school they feel almost cast out of society and they can become easy targets.”

Nearly half of all children in Croydon who are excluded from school are black. And official figures show that excluded children rarely return to mainstream school. They are cast out to the fringes of an already overstretched education system.

Like most excluded kids, Jaden ended up in a pupil referral unit (PRU) – a segregated school for youngsters for whom no mainstream school can be found. He has been excluded from two PRUs.

This group of children run the risk of disappearing from the system altogether, and are often called “ghost children”.

But demand for PRU is high and places are often hard to come by, according to Nicola Peters, from the Project for Youth Empowerment.

“The situation is just getting worse by the day and I don’t see it getting any better. Demand is skyrocketing and the numbers of children being excluded keeps going up and up.

“There are pupil referral units popping up all over the place and we cannot accommodate all of the children who are being excluded.

“The education system for these kids is collapsing. For a lot of them, school is old and out of date and no longer supports their needs.”

Read more:
Thousands are missing school
The ‘ghost children’ crisis explained
Absence in schools is now at crisis point

The number of children regularly absent from school is double what it was before the pandemic.

Reports of an increase in anxiety among youngsters is also putting pressure on schools.

But there is also some evidence to suggest that there has been a “seismic” shift in parental attitudes towards school attendance.

A report, compiled by the public policy research agency Public First, draws on focus group conversations with parents from different backgrounds across the country, which shed some light on why children are not always in lessons.

A mother of two primary school children from Manchester told the report’s authors: “Pre-COVID, I was very much about getting the kids into school, you know, attendance was a big thing. Education was a major thing.

“After COVID, I’m not gonna lie to you, my take on attendance and absence now is like I don’t really care anymore. Life’s too short.”

But the bigger picture shows a lack of progress by government to tackle the problem.

A recent report by the Education Select Committee, made up of cross-party MPs, was critical of the government’s response to this crisis – saying there had been “no significant improvement in the speed” of reducing the absence numbers to pre-pandemic levels.

Andy Cook chief executive of the Centre for Social Justice
Andy Cook chief executive of the Centre for Social Justice

Andy Cook, chief executive of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a centre-right think tank, says the crisis could have far reaching consequences for society.

“You go into any prison and you talk to the people there, 90% of them say they missed a lot of school on a regular basis. So we need to take this seriously.”

The CSJ says up to 9,000 more young offenders, including 2,000 violent criminals, could be on Britain’s streets by 2027 because of a rise in school absence, according to calculations based on official studies.

“We are storing up ourselves a load of problems,” Mr Cook warned.

“This issue is the whole ball game. It’s the ticking time bomb that’s already gone off. It is the most urgent thing facing us.”

Brixton Academy will be allowed to reopen after deadly crowd crush if it can meet 77 ‘robust’ safety conditions | UK News

The Brixton Academy will be allowed to reopen after a fatal crowd crush at the venue last year – but Lambeth Council said the venue will have to meet 77 conditions to open again safely.

It comes after security guard Gaby Hutchinson, 23, and Rebecca Ikumelo, 33, died at the south London venue on 15 December 2022, when fans without tickets tried to enter a show by Nigerian Afrobeat artist, Asake.

Both victims were in the foyer of the building when they were critically injured, the Metropolitan Police said. About 1,000 people were outside the venue at the time.

The council said the Academy will have to meet 77 “extensive and robust” conditions “designed to promote public safety” before it could reopen, in a decision announced today.

Rebecca Ikumelo, 33, of Newham. Pic: Met Police
Rebecca Ikumelo, 33, of Newham. Pic: Met Police

Gabrielle Hutchinson has been named as the second woman to have died after a crush at the Asake concert in Brixton on Thursday
Gabrielle Hutchinson

Following the crush, which also injured 10 people, the venue was ordered to shut down after its licence was suspended by Lambeth Council in December.

A hearing of the council’s licensing subcommittee to decide the venue’s ultimate fate began on Monday.

The initial decision to close Brixton Academy was supported by the venue’s owner, Academy Music Group, which offered to voluntarily close the site’s doors over the suspension period.

The Metropolitan Police has also previously urged the council to act.

Gerald Gouriet KC, who represented the Met at an earlier licensing meeting, said officers found “large-scale disorder” with crowds eventually pushing the doors open in the moments before the crush.

A police investigation was launched, and the Security Industry Authority (SIA) opened an inquiry into corruption allegations that some security staff at the venue regularly took bribes.

Read more:
Families of victims will ‘never stop’ in search for justice
Probe into corrupt security claims

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‘People need to be held accountable’

Meanwhile, a petition was launched calling for the venue to reopen. It surpassed 100,000 signatures.

Members of well-known bands, such as Blur and The Chemical Brothers, supported the reopening of the venue.

Asake was forced to abandon the gig last December after performing three songs and released a statement saying his “heart is with those who were injured”.

His manager, Stephen Nana, later told Sky News he was “completely speechless and lost for words” after Ms Hutchinson’s death was announced.

Deadly cat virus in Cyprus could be ‘potentially catastrophic for UK’ | World News

A deadly outbreak of feline coronavirus that has killed hundreds of thousands of cats in Cyprus could be “catastrophic” if it were to reach the UK, an expert has told Sky News.

Around 300,000 cats – both domestic and stray – have died of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) on the island since January, according to Dinos Ayiomamitis, head of Cats PAWS Cyprus.

Britain has a long history with Cyprus, with ex-pats travelling to and from the island and many people rehoming cats to the UK.

But what is FIP, why have so many cats died – and is there a risk of an outbreak in the UK?

What is the disease that is killing cats?

FIP is a disease caused by feline coronavirus (FCoV).

FCoV is a common and contagious virus in cats that is spread through their faeces. Most cats will not show symptoms, and if they do it is limited to mild diarrhoea.

But in some cases, the virus mutates into FIP, which is almost always fatal.

Dr Jo Lewis, a feline veterinary surgeon, told Sky News “infection rates tend to be highest in cats living in close quarters and sharing toileting facilities”, like catteries and rescue centres, for example.

“It’s also important to note that the virus can be transmitted mechanically on grooming brushes, cat litter scoops and even on human feet and hands,” says the author of What’s My Cat Thinking?.

“That theory may explain why many indoor-only cats in Cyprus are being affected.”

Dr Nathalie Dowgray, head of the International Society of Feline Medicine, said the outbreak was “very concerning” for cats, cat owners and vets in Cyprus.

“For many, including stray cats, treatment will likely not be possible and sadly this will likely result in significant mortality.”

Whether a cat gets FIP or not depends on the “types of mutations, the load of virus and individual cat immune system”, Dr Dowgray said.

Stray cats in the old city of Nicosia, Cyprus
Stray cats in the old city of Nicosia, Cyprus

What are the symptoms of FIP?

FIP is hard to diagnose but most cats with the virus will have a fever, appear lethargic and go off their food.

There are two types of the virus – wet FIP and dry FIP.

In cats with the former, fluid builds up in the abdomen or chest, causing swelling.

“We tend to see cats presenting with a large fluid-filled belly and breathing difficulties, who are increasingly lethargic and picky with their food,” Dr Lewis said.

Cats with dry FIP have less fluid build-up but may have a poor appetite, high temperature and vision problems.

FIP is more likely to develop in young cats between three months and two years old.

Why has there been a FIP outbreak in Cyprus?

Cyprus is known as the “island of cats”.

Strays roam everywhere and the earliest evidence of cats being domesticated was found there, in a 9,500-year-old burial site.

Feline coronavirus spreads via cat faeces. Where there are lots of cats in the same place, the chances of cats catching it are higher, and experts have also found the virus is more likely to mutate into FIP.

Cats’ stress levels are also high when they live in crowded shelters, which could make them more susceptible to developing FIP.

How significant is this outbreak?

Generally, FIP is only reported in about 1% of the cat population, but in outbreaks such as the one in Cyprus, up to 40-50% of cats could develop FIP.

Dr Lewis said: “What’s concerning about the evidence from the Cyprus outbreak, is that a particularly nasty FCoV mutation seems to have already occurred.”

Cyprus is known as the ‘island of cats’

‘The risk to UK cats is significant’

An outbreak of this size is said to have not been seen anywhere before, so if it reaches the UK it could be quite serious and will weigh heavily on the minds of cat owners and vets.

Dr Lewis told Sky News: “There’s a genuine risk that if this gets into the UK it could have catastrophic consequences on our favourite pets.

“Anyone who has witnessed FIP heartache first-hand will understand the potential impact.”

The biggest risk to cats in Britain is importing the animals.

“We have a long history with Cyprus and plenty of British expats live and travel back and forth so the risk to UK cats is significant,” Dr Lewis added.

“We need to limit that risk by screening any cats leaving Cyprus and any nearby affected countries.”

She said cats leaving the island should be examined and blood tested for FCoV antibody levels, and any cat with symptoms shouldn’t travel.

Read more:
Arrest after cat thrown off cliff
Cats as good as dogs at helping us relax

Can FIP spread to humans?

No, humans cannot catch feline coronavirus and therefore cannot develop FIP.

How is it treated and how costly is it?

Dr Lewis said until recently there were very few treatment options available for FIP, which meant most cats who developed it were put down, and there’s also no vaccine in the UK.

“However, now there are now some, albeit very expensive, options that are available here in the UK – like remdesivir injections that are also used for humans with COVID-19, and a similar drug called GS-441524, an oral tablet.

“Unfortunately, the million cats living in Cyprus do not yet have access to these drugs.”

GS-441524 could be imported to Cyprus from the UK, but it is expensive – €3,000-€7,000 (£2,500-£6,000) per cat.

Anti-viral pill molnupiravir has also been considered as a treatment option, but it has not been licensed for feline use in Cyprus.