Sheffield man reveals reason why he now forgives vicious thugsÂ who left him in hospital
It is a night that John Fowler will never forget '“Â and he still bears the scars to this day.Â Â Â
The night in question '“Â January 20, 2010 '“Â was actually his birthday.Â
Mr Fowler had visitedÂ his mum Barbara and was making his way back home to Nether Edge when he wasÂ attacked by a gang of young men.
The attacker demanded '˜notes' from him while others kept a look-out at either end of the darkened alleyway.Â
The gang only fled when they were disturbed by two passers-by and Mr Fowler was taken to hospital for stitches after losing up to a pint of blood.Â Â Â Â
But the former church community worker decided not to press charges and has told how he actually forgives the men who carried out theÂ brutal attack.
Mr Fowler said he wanted to share his story of forgiveness todayÂ at a time when Sheffield has had to face up to a rising tide of knife crime which resulted in eight fatal stabbings since March.
Only then, he says, will we see and end to the cycle of violence that passes throughÂ one generation to the next.
The 51-year-old said: 'I could have been killed that night but I forgave those who did it.Â There was so much anger and evenÂ fear in them, and we mustÂ understand where that comesÂ from.
'If society turns their backs on these young men, if they cant get a job or education and come from broken homes,Â then they can end up going down the wrong path.
'Just locking them up is like putting a sticking plaster on the problem. The anger within them will still be there when they get out.'
His comments also come just days after a 16-year-old boy was jailed for 32-months for stabbing to death Samuel Baker, aged 15, in Lowedges.
The teenage killer, who cannot be named for legal reasons,Â pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the basis he stabbed Samuel in self-defence.Â
Mr Fowler accepts the authorities faceÂ a tall order in trying to get to the crux of the problem of youth gang culture and knife crime.
But he believes all young people, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or background, can lead good lives so long as they are supported from an early age.
He said: 'From primary school age or even in the nursery they need to be taught about how important a sense of community is.
'And there should be more work done around helping families to stay together who are in a broken home.
'They will naturally mix and mingle with classmates, respect teachers and not be attracted to gang culture in the first place, because they have a sense of belonging and feel loved for themselves.'
HeÂ would also like to see young people supported later in life asÂ they reach their teenage years.Â
Said Mr Fowler: 'There should be more promotion around careers advice, and the jobs and training courses available to them.
'There should be a long-term plan to make these young men feel included in society.'
His thoughts were echoed by residents who attended a recent public meeting in Upperthorpe withÂ Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner, and Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield.Â
Dr Billings and Mr Blomfield said the authorities in South Yorkshire are now adopting a similar approach to tackling violent crime that has been used successfully in Glasgow.
The Scottish city was branded the '˜murder capital of Europe' by the World Health Organisation in 2005 but knife crime has plummeted in recent years.Â
This is thanks to police, council and other agencies working more closely to understand the root causes of crime such as lack of education and employment opportunities.Â
Dr Billings saidÂ a joined-up approach by the authorities was the best way forward as 'we cannot work in isolation.'
Detective Superintendent Una Jennings, South Yorkshire Police's force lead for armed criminality, said: 'Tackling knife crime and gang related criminality is a priority for the force '“ but it cannot be done by police alone and we, along with a number of key partner agencies, are taking a broad, proactive approach in relation to this.
'Identifying young people who are vulnerable to such criminality early on and using evidence-based interventions is a key factor in this, as often by the time the police come in to contact with them, earlier interventions have already failed.
'Together we will be working to identify those most at risk of being exploited in order to safeguard them and to put the necessary support measures in place so that they are not caught up in this type of criminality.'
Councillor Jim Steinke, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and community safety, said: 'Partners from various agencies including Sheffield City Council, SYP, youth services and social care are working together to share information and plan joint actions to address the causes of organised crime. Positive activities and support for young people will be provided to help them avoid becoming involved in issues relating to organised crime.'
'We have also been working with our partners in the police, local charities and voluntary groups to bid for funding from the Government's Early Intervention and Prevention Fund.Â
'If our bid is successful, youth workers will go into schools to educate children about the dangers of gangs and knife crime. They will do more targeted work with young people who might be more at risk to help divert them away from a life of crime. We want to reassure our local communities that action is being taken at very local levels and that we are supporting community organisations that are providing effective responses to addressing violent crime and its effects.'
Greg Fell, director of public health at the council, added: 'Of pressing concern to our communities and to public services is that the difficult experiences that some children are exposed to have immediate consequences and are obviously damaging to children. What is very clear now in the science is the life-long consequences on physical, emotional and mental health of exposure to adverse childhood experiences.
'There are also very clear links between exposure to adverse childhood experiences and criminal justice, employment and educational outcomes. Breaking the cycle across generations is important.'