AT eight he was running cash and drugs to the corners. At 10 he saw his gangland father’s face slashed on his doorstep. At 16 he was arrested for dealing, while he was sitting an exam at school.

A year or so ago this young man - let’s call him Tommy - got out of jail aged 19. He should have become another soldier in western Scotland’s underworld turf wars, perhaps to hurt others, perhaps to be hurt by them.

Instead Tommy is OK; Tommy is doing good; Tommy is training to be a mechanic. “I have never had a smile off my face for the last year,” he says, beaming. “Everything seems right.”

Why? Now 20, and with two children under two, Tommy has come through a Glasgow-based scheme designed to wean young men out of organised crime: even if that is the only world they know, even if that is their family.

Action for Children, the charity running the project, yesterday announced three more years of funding from the lottery and the city’s council.

Since 2012 Action for Children has worked with around 50 would-be, could-be gang enforcers, most between 12 and 16. A study has found two-thirds of them showed meaningful reductions in offending. One young man is understood to have had carried out hundreds of crime alone before engaging. By targeting those at highest risk of offending most, it has huge impact, even financial impact.


Another Action for Children scheme helps youngsters ready for work

Academics reckon the scheme kept 71 per cent of its teenage clients out of secure accommodation. It costs £5000 a week to lock a youngster up. Action for Children’s project is £3000 a year per youngster.

Tommy knows he could have been back behind bars. Action for Children, he reckons, has helped him understand the consequences of his choices. He knows how much he has to lose.

“I missed my son being born,” he says, looking at the floor. “The social work told me I would lose my wee girl too if I did not sort myself out.

“There was no other option. I wanted my children. My girlfriend said that if I go back inside now, that will be it. We started going out when I was still in the crime lifestyle and doing the drugs. She hates it and everything to do with it.”

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Tommy, like so many teens involved with - or on the edge of - organised crime, feels he had been trapped in a lifestyle. His words echoes those of his peers. “If you spoke to anyone from my past, when I was 12 or 13 or 14, right up to when I was 19, they - people, my family - would have wrote me off, saying I would never be anything,” he explains. “I was in the jail for for three years, since I turned 16. “You just become a number inside: as long as they feed and water you, that’s their job.”

Action for Children can be coy about what it is doing. For good reasons, it doesn’t make a big song and dance about its clients and who they are, where they come from. It does not want to name the scheme - it has many - because it does not want the youngsters labelled, or even for them to label themselves.



Tommy is frank though. His father, he says, was a Glasgow cocaine dealer involved in turf wars. “When I was ten I seen my dad slashed at my own front door,” he says. “He has got a big scar on his face.

“It was all to do with drugs and money. I have seen friends stabbed when I was 14, once again through drugs and money.

“The kind of life you live. You can’t walk to a different postcode without somebody chasing you with a bat. My dad was kinda the main man and I was the only boy and I had to do right by him, I had to be the man he was. That is why I followed that life for so long.”

Tommy reckons his father - left alone with kids and unable to get a job - was forced in to crime. He too is out of the business. The family has moved away from the neighbourhoods they fought over.

He says: “My dad is proud of me for the changes I have made. He was one of the people who wrote me off. He has sorted himself out.”

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Was Tommy’s father guilty about bringing his son in to his business? “Yeah, he was looking at me and saying ‘I have done that to my boy’, and ‘I want him to sort himself out.”

“Now me and my dad go out and play golf and watch the football. When I was 16, we’d be running about the streets fighting people for the drug trade.”


Justice Secretary Michael Matheson listens to those who have turned their lives around

Tommy started going to the corners, running errands with cash and drugs, when he was eight. By the time of his arrest, by six officers during one of his standard grade exams, he was using his own product. And anger was eating him up. “The rage,” he says, was the worst. “You’d be ticking timebomb. Someone slamming a door. Someone looking at you wrong. The rage was just there to snap.”

And when there was no anger? “There was times of emptiness,” he says, again diverting his eyes to the ground. “You would sit wondering ‘Is this all my life is?’ ‘Is this all I will ever be?’”

“I thought: ‘I’ll probably be dead before I am 20.’

“There were times I knew I could not walk about because of things I had done.”

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All Tommy got was a hard man image. “That was the only good feeling,” he admits. “It is harder to walk away from the reputation that it is from the drugs.”

Paul Carberry has heard these stories before. And not just from Tommy. He is the Scottish director of Action for Children. He is also a member of the Scottish Government’s Serious and Organised Crime Task Force. His portfolio? Divert.


Paul Carberry

Mr Carberry calls the scheme a “Scottish success story”. International observers - already watching how Scotland has reduced youth offending and territorial gang culture - are looking to learn lesson.

There is an alternative to Mr Carberry’s scheme. “They will either be in jail or dead. They will either be dead through being murdered or dead through using their own products.”

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Scotland’s justice secretary, Mr Carberry says, “gets it”. The minister himself, Michael Matheson, heard out Tommy and his peers. “I am extremely impressed that they accept they can change.

“Some of them were exposed to organised crime before they had even finished primary school. “Some were becoming involved before the end of primary school. We can’t simply think enforcement is the answer, that you deal with this by having more police officers. “

Are people too quick to give up on young men who look doomed to be gangsters? Mr Matheson thinks so. So does Tommy. “These people write you off, “ the 20-year-old says. “Walk in my shoes That is all you can say. “You have not lived the life I have lived. You’ll probably never see anything I’ve seen, even when I was eight.”