We were walking the dog, taking my daughter on her bike to meet friends on Northampton’s Racecourse park, coming from the Barrack Road entrance towards the old loos, where we saw two young lads practicing wheelies on bikes. It was around midday on Sunday May 19. We had a short conversation with the two boys about the best tips for doing a wheelie: they were very polite and friendly.
Around an hour and half later, after dropping my daughter with friends, the dog and I walked back the same way to find a group of around seven other boys on bikes, and one of the original ‘wheelie’ boys we had spoken to standing away to the side of the old toilets sobbing, being consoled by his friend while the others rode around them.
I asked what whether he was OK, he said he’d been beaten up and that his bike had been smashed up. The other boys still circled on their bikes. I turned and asked what had gone on, one of two said ‘he’s a racist’. I asked why, and there were shouts of, ‘he said the N word’. The crying boy denied it, sobbing louder. There followed a debate about whether this had been said that day or week before, as the crying boy’s friend said it was the second time they had beaten him up.
I was angry and asked each boy I could see staying around, sitting astride bikes, ‘was this you? Is this how to behave? Is ganging up and beating someone up how you deal with things, big man?’
Another woman with a dog, and an Eastern European accent arrived, she also started shouting at them about violence being unacceptable: “You want to know what racism is? You have no idea, you are pathetic boys who use racism as an excuse for violence.” The gang of boys started to cycle away off towards Barrack Road, shouting at us to f*ck off as soon as far enough away not to be chased.
We stayed with the small boy, still holding his ribs although saying he was OK. He said he was in Year 7, (the first year of secondary school, so aged about 11 or 12 at most). His friend was also in year 7 and had apparently not been hurt. After establishing neither had phones with them, and that the victim lived further away than his friend, we went to look at the damaged bike, which was smashed to bits; the wheels off, the gears mangled, and we could only find one of the pieces to thread the wheels back on. Two other white boys, with accents, arrived on bikes and started to try and help put the broken bike back together. I asked if they all knew each other. ‘No, but the same gang tried to beat us up and steal our bikes a couple of days ago,’ they explained. ‘Definitely the same ones?’ Yes. Definitely.
I asked if they wanted to call the police – they hesitated at first. They said they knew who the boys were, most were from Kingsthorpe College and a couple from Malcolm Arnold. Year 8 and couple of Year 7s. They were clearly terrified. As we tried to work out what to do next I saw the gang on bikes appear at the bottom gate by Barrack Road, watching us. “I don’t want to walk home that way, they’ll follow us,” blurted out the victim’s friend. At that point I rang the police, telling the kids that this needed to be dealt with.
At first the police call handler seemed keen to send someone immediately – he could tell there was a potential for further trouble. But he came back after a pause to say there were no officers available as a serious missing persons search was underway, and that our call had been downgraded. The gang of boys on bikes had moved off towards town. I gave the call handler some details of what had happened, and the address of the nearest boy’s house where I was going to walk them to. ‘Did any of them have knives or any weapons?’ asked the call handler. The victims didn’t think so, and despite the recent news coverage, this was the first time it had even occurred to me that one of them might have had a knife. They were just kids on bikes, kids younger than my own boys.
By this time, it was starting to rain heavily, the bike couldn’t be mended so we carried it in bits. I phoned the loyal friend’s mum, explaining to her what had happened, not to worry and that we were on our way to their house if she could watch for them coming down the road.
They got home safely, and the friend’s mum texted me to say the victim’s dad had come to get him and his mangled bike.
So, what happens next?
When you hear the news about kids getting stabbed, is this where it starts? A frightened kid wanting to defend himself from bigger kids? Or one of the kids in the group wanting to look harder, be braver, get respect? A kid pushing another off a bike resulting in them smashing their head and ending up dead? Do you know where your kids are when they say they are going off on their bikes to meet their friends? Should you? Do you even ask? Just a day ago a fellow mum and I were mulling over letting our daughters out on their bikes alone, as we had done as kids at a much younger age. Would we after this? Nope, not until these stupid bike-gang kids are dealt with.
Police resources are so stretched that it’s a lottery whether you get an immediate response to a call for help. Had there not been another emergency, the police might have rocked up in minutes and been able to catch these boys, who seem to be finding safety in numbers. Chances are they don’t even know each other that well, and maybe they weren’t all involved. But hanging out on the edges of a gang like this, watching what goes on, feeling part of the action, makes you complicit. If you’re a kid with a bike, where’s there to go? How many of you must there be to feel ‘safe’? What other resources are there around the Racecourse for young teens to keep them from beating each other up in broad daylight? Nothing. And as long as we do nothing, and keep our heads down, and keep walking, and don’t ask our kids where they’ve been, and what they’ve been up to, more interested in our phones and our busy lives, are we then really surprised to hear stories like this?