Gangs in West Yorkshire using 'more extreme' levels of violence, says superintendent

Criminals in top positions in gangs in West Yorkshire are resorting to more extreme methods of violence to set an example to rivals, a senior superintendent has said.

Previous methods of violence used in gang conflicts are no longer enough, says Superintedent Damon Solley, Lead for West Yorkshire Police's Operation Jemlock which was established last year to tackle soaring rates of knife crime in the county's urban areas.

It comes after three men were jailed for life last week for the sustained torture of Mohammed Feazan Ayaz, known to friends as 'Fizzy'.

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Raheel Khan, Robert Wainwright and Suleman Khan kicked, stamped and urinated on 20-year-old Mr Ayaz at a disused business centre in Denholme, Bradford.

West Yorkshire has some of the country's highest levels of violence and knife crime. Picture: Adobe Stock Images

Raheel Khan, 27, was hiding from police at the time of the murder on June 30 last year, and invited the victim to the premises before carrying out the attack, which he filmed on his mobile phone.

The court heard Mr Ayaz had taunted Khan over video footage of him having sex, and that the attack was to teach the victim a lesson.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Supt Solley said: "It is true we are seeing more extreme levels of violence being carried out.

"Regrettably, that is one of the reasons for Operation Jemlock being set up last year."

Superintendent Damon Solley, pictured talking to the media at the launch of West Yorkshire's Violence Reduction Unit earlier this month. Picture: West Yorkshire Police

Referring to the case of Khan, Wainwright and Khan, Supt Solley said: "That is the level to which people will go in order to send a message to other gangs or other people who are thinking they can mess with them.

"The gang culture is such that if you 'cross us', 'dismiss us' or 'encroach on our area', then you should expect violence. Unfortunately, we are seeing that the violence is becoming more and more extreme and, in that case (of Mr Ayaz), horrific.

"It is unfortunate Operation Jemlock is doing what it is doing, but that is considered to be the kind of violence that needs to be used.

"People used to fight and punch each other on the nose to sort out conflicts, now that just no longer seems to be enough."

Raheel Khan, Robert Wainwright and Suleman Khan, all jailed for life at Bradford Crown Court this month for the torture and murder of Mohammed Feazan Ayaz. Pictures: West Yorkshire Police

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Turf wars have long been an issue in urban towns and cities in Yorkshire, such as Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield and Sheffield.

Meanwhile, rates of knife crime have increased year upon year in West Yorkshire in particular, although efforts to bring those back down through Jemlock's increased street presence and stop and search tactics have been successful.

Supt Solley added: "One of the most sinister weapons we are seeing are zombie knives. They are just horrible-looking weapons with long, serrated blades. They are designed for hunting but but they can cause significant damage."

Police at the scene of a gang-related shooting in the Chapeltown area of Leeds

Weapon sweeps, where officers search roadsides and shrubbery in parks, are now being regularly carried out to remove weapons from the streets as police step up the use of stop and search powers.

These stop searches mean people carrying weapons often secrete them into hidden places to avoid being caught.

Meanwhile, Operation Jemlock is also using decoys, sending young people who are visibly under 18 into shops to buy knives.

"I am pleased to say that very, very few of them fail the test. But if they do, we do not automatically prosecute. We will educate them on the law and hope that this message spreads to all other businesses."

As a result of the measures, more and more dangerous people are being apprehended and, Supt Solley said, knife crime is going down.

Some 2,400 people have been arrested under Operation Jemlock since its establishment, while 1,700 stop searches have been carried out.

Knife crime has fallen by nine per cent.

He added: "There is no complacency. We are not looking back at this figure and thinking, 'oh, yeah, a nine per cent reduction that's fantastic'.

"We are going to carry on trying to bring this number down."