Combatting the sense of belonging gang culture has created for young people in the wake of the pandemic remains the key area of focus for police.

At times in 2021, officers were responding to a stabbing or grievous bodily harm offence "on a weekly basis".

As two teenagers have been found guilty of the murder of Raymond James Quigley in Ipswich last year, Superintendent Andy Martin of Suffolk Constabulary has explained how officers have been working to keep Ipswich safe from gangs since his death.

During the trial, the jury heard of the young men's involvement with gangs including On The Money (OTM), IP3 Nacton Gang and the Norwich Third Side.

Ipswich Star: Supt Andy Martin, of Suffolk PoliceSupt Andy Martin, of Suffolk Police (Image: Suffolk Police)

“Both the gangs in Ipswich, Nacton and J Block, are subject to Operation Hull. Which is a response in the southern area to serious youth violence and it started around April 2021.” said Superintendent Andy Martin. 

Following Mr Quigley's murder, Supt Martin said further action taken by Operation Hull has been effective in reducing further violent offences.

Now it is about turning to a long term consistent approach.

Ipswich Star: Raymond James Quigley was murdered in January 2023Raymond James Quigley was murdered in January 2023 (Image: Suffolk Police)

He said: “Operation Hull was a massive success. Violence over the course of 2022 just went down and down. In 2021 we were getting serious violence offences – which means stabbings or grievous bodily harm – almost at one point on a weekly basis.

“We did not see anywhere near that level in 2022. We haven’t had anything like that for a while.”

He explained the pandemic and the cost of living crisis played a significant role in the sudden escalation of crime.

Ipswich Star: Several stores closed in Suffolk high street in 2023Several stores closed in Suffolk high street in 2023 (Image: Newsquest)

“Once restrictions were lifted we started seeing more gang criminality and county lines – all the stuff that requires physical contact.

“The cost of living crisis started around then as well, along with issues with inflation. On top of this, a lot of people hadn’t had school contact or been in youth clubs.”

Officers have also noticed a trend in those involved in gangs in Ipswich.

“One of the things we’ve identified is historically a lot of these young kids might have done it for money or status nowadays it seems much closer to a sense of belonging," said Spt Martin.

“They are people who don’t have close friends or family or the same structure that we would expect in society and instead they get it from a gang.

“That feeling of being appreciated, and wanting to be part of something is what attracts them.

“It’s also what makes it the hardest thing to combat.

“We can offer alternative routes to money and education but we can’t offer a sense of belonging.

“If you haven’t got a mother or father figure or you come from a broken home or a split family or you don’t have friendships – that’s really hard to offer an alternative to.”

Supt Martin said Suffolk were working hard to sever the Ipswich gang links to other areas.

Ipswich Star: The pair guilty of Quigley's murder: Alfie Hammett (left) was part of a Norwich gang and Joshua Howell (right) was part of an Ipswich gangThe pair guilty of Quigley's murder: Alfie Hammett (left) was part of a Norwich gang and Joshua Howell (right) was part of an Ipswich gang (Image: Suffolk Police)

“The easiest places to access on a railway line from Ipswich are Norwich or Colchester so our relationships are strong with Essex and Norfolk.

“There is nothing to say these gangs are heavily integrated. There is a crossover of association, but that is different to being heavily involved with each other. We work very closely with Norfolk.”

According to Supt Martin Operation Hull has resulted in 74 arrests, 41 charges, 24 convictions and 16 CBOs or Criminal Behaviour Orders.

A CBO means for 3-5 years the police can control where a person is allowed to go and who they’re allowed to associate with. Breaching it is a criminal offence.  

Suffolk Police also issued their first ever gang injunction as part of the operation, to stop a significant gang member associating with other affiliates.  

“Once you control the movement of people, as punitive as it sounds, it gives immediate safeguarding.

“It gives us the ability to come in with partners and offer alternative routes for people in gangs.” Supt Martin explained.

But he accepted the police will never be able to completely stamp out gang crime and said the force is taking a long-term approach.

“Ipswich is a big metropolitan town with big town problems."

“Unfortunately gangs can be a normality in big metropolitan towns so our response now needs to be a long term consistent response, not just get in, solve it and go away because in five years a new group of young people will come up.”