Former criminal urges teenagers to ditch the knives

Hanif Mohammed says youngsters often think carrying a knife will protect them when it could actually put them in greater danger
Hanif Mohammed says youngsters often think carrying a knife will protect them when it could actually put them in greater danger

A man convicted for manslaughter after a stabbing a teenager in Todmorden is now working to deter people from a life of crime.

Hanif Mohammed was one of three men jailed in 2008 for manslaughter after stabbing a teenager Alex Holroyd.

He turned his life around and, having been released on licence halfway through his 10-year prison sentence, now works with troubled youngsters to help them avoid making the mistakes he did as a young man.

In Calderdale, there have two recent incidents in Rastrick and Halifax involving teenagers and the use of knives.

As assistant director of the Sheffield-based organisation In2Change, the 34-year-old works with young offenders and visits schools and prisons to tell his story - both as a warning and proof that redemption is always possible.

One of the things he tries to impress upon young people is the danger of carrying a knife, both to themselves and others.

"Not having one puts you at a disadvantage in the eyes of young people, whereas in reality that knife could land you in prison and cost you, or someone else, your life," .said Mr Mohammed.

"There are a lot of scared children out there who are getting bullied and carrying a knife because they think it will protect them.

"Most of them don't think they will ever use it, but sooner or later someone's going to call your bluff and you will either end up using it or it will be turned on you."

Mr Mohammed says it is hard for police to get the message across so ingrained is the distrust of authority figures in the audience they are trying to reach.

Only hearing it from their peers or from people like him who have experienced the consequences will persuade them to ditch their weapons and stick to the straight and narrow, he argues.

"I'm deeply ashamed when I talk about what I did but I believe it's my past that enables me to get into the mindset of these young people and understand the pressures they face," he said.

"Often the problem is not the message but the messenger. I've been to drugs workshops run by old, middle class ladies who have probably never seen the substances they're lecturing young people about, let alone used them, and you can see the kids aren't listening."

The reformed convict left school aged just 14, having been expelled for carrying a knife, and soon became a runner for drug dealers before quickly climbing the rungs of the criminal ladder.

He has no hard luck story to tell, having come from what he describes as a loving, law-abiding family and attended a good school where he had been predicted decent grades.

For him he says it was the promise of instant riches, without the hard slog of years spent studying with no guarantee of a job at the end, which lured him into the underworld.

He believes an increasingly materialistic society, in which young people lust after the latest iPads, PlayStations and motorbikes, means many more youths are being tempted by the promise of what they see as easy money without fully grasping the consequences.

"I was like that. I used to think I could get up in the morning, sell drugs and get more money than some guy who'd spent 10 years studying and got a degree," he said.

"I was disillusioned and wanted everything at once. I was too immature to understand that life is a marathon and not a sprint."

Mr Mohammed now works with many young people who have been excluded from school to ensure they get an education.

He says schools are often 'astounded' when they see the results achieved by former pupils who had appeared so demotivated their teachers thought they would never succeed academically.

The key, he claims, is the way in which he and others at In2Change talk to young people and relate to them.

His past has taught him the vital importance of a good education, he says, and he is determined to ensure others grasp the opportunities he spurned as a young man.