In November the Government revealed it costs the UK economy £37billion a year, with gang activity killing or affecting more UK citizens than all other national security threats – terrorism, war and natural disasters – combined.
There are around 4,600 serious and organised crime groups in the UK, according to the latest assessment from the National Crime Agency.
And a string of violent and public order incidents in Preston in the last few weeks, seemingly linked to gang activity, has no doubt caused further concern to Lancashire’s communities.
On January 4 a firearm, suspected to be a handgun, was discharged at the porch window of a house on Garstang Road, Preston.
Two days earlier, a 15-year-old boy had his head stamped on at Preston Bus Station after he was set upon by a gang of youths who identified him as being “from Tanny”.
The youths set upon him as he waited his a bus, kicking him and stamping on his head. The incident ended only after a passer-by intervened.
The boy’s father, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “My lad’s not a fighter or involved in any gangs, he just plays his football, minds his own business and gets on with his life.
“These gangs have names like ‘defenders’ – if they want to defend something, why don’t they join the army?
“I’m gobsmacked sometimes when I wander through Preston city centre at how large these gangs are.
“There can be between 30 and 40 of them – I’m nearly six and a half feet tall and I’d find that intimidating.”
The furious father says his son has been left “terrified”, but escaped with only bumps and bruises.
Meanwhile, the man who intervened to help the stricken teenager says he did “what anybody would have done” – and now just wants those responsible caught
Brendan Nicholas had already witnessed a gang of youths at the bus station and overheard them planning to “chase another bus to Tanterton”.
“You see it all the time in Preston and when there are five or more of them, they have no fear,” Brendan said.
After he helped the teenager to escape, Brendan kept hold of the bike of one of the gang. But he feared he, too, would be attacked, until he met up with a friend.
“There were more than 10 in total and they were yelling at me. Later, I saw them having a go at another adult,” Brendan added.
Late last year a much-publicised fracas involving youths – in which one stood on the roof of a car containing a mother and child and halted traffic – upset residents in Ashton, Preston. It attracted hundreds of comments, with some residents saying trouble between gangs from Tanterton and the Savick and Larches estates was a problem.
Ashton resident Michael Balshaw says: “I think it’s very common for people, or at least those involved with gangs, to be attacked for coming into someone else’s neighbourhood. We need to do more work in schools and fight back against the ever increasing American culture where you can’t go into different areas – we don’t want it to ever get like that so we need to nip it in the bud now.
“It’s a real and important issue.”
Other neighbourhoods have also had their share of trouble. Mobile phone footage circulated online appears to show a group of boys fighting and assaulting another boy in a park in Longton on November 24 .
On December 17, a teenager was stabbed during a mass brawl on Kent Street, Deepdale, as two groups of men, understood to be from rival gangs, had an armed street fight.
And a month earlier on November 17, two men, aged 17 and 18, were arrested after they attacked each other with samurai swords in Romford Road.
Resident Robin Maudsley who is involved with a local community group, said: “It has been going on for years, it used to be disputes between Fishwick gangs coming into Deepdale or vice versa – it’s like every town, where one group plays against another. It happened in Broadgate and Kingfold.
“None of the residents at the PACT meetings have really mentioned gangs as a major issue, but I think residents are worried because we don’t see as many police officers on the beat to tackle it when it does happen.”
While such crimes are undoubtedly frightening for residents, they do not appear to be on the scale of the gang issues that blighted Preston a decade ago.
In the late 2000s the city was rocked by a string of serious crimes involving rivalry between gangs in Callon and Deepdale.
While the situation does not seem quite as dramatic in comparison at the moment, there are concerns that inevitably budget cuts could affect public safety.
Detective Chief Insp Richard McCutcheon, of Lancashire Police, said: “Since September 2018 there have been nine separate incidents reported to police in Preston relating to serious crime.
“These matters are of obvious concern to the community and in response we have established a dedicated team of detectives, increased high visibility patrols in the areas where these incidents have taken place and used uniformed and plain clothes officers to target those individuals involved.
“These incidents have involved fights between groups of local males and appear to be targeted attacks using weapons and damaging property.
“The last reported attack was on December 26.
“We continue to work with local communities and partners to tackle this problem. We have acted on community intelligence and a number of arrests have been made and various weapons recovered. We would encourage residents to continue providing this information.
“As part of this operation we are still trying to locate Miguel Di Palma Jnr, 21, in connection with an offence of violent disorder in the Plungington area of Preston on December 23. I would ask that if members of the public know where he is they contact the police on 101 or via Crimestoppers on anonymously on 0800 555111 or online at crimestoppers-uk.org.”
The force launched Operation Chihuahua in 2016 following an increase in incidents where serious violence had been used.
As a result a criminal gang was jailed for a total of almost 50 years for supply of Class A drugs in Preston.
The force also runs Operation Nemesis, a response to gang-related violence.