Top Boy – the gritty truth of London gang culture


SW Londoner’s Mansha Haurdhan explores the troubled social and domestic issues trapping many of the capital’s youth.

By Mansha Haurdhan

London’s gang culture is tangled with troubled social and domestic issues that trap many of the capital’s youth.

A prominent feature in inner cities’ gang culture is drugs.

Approximately two-million people in the UK smoke cannabis and half of 16-29 year-olds have admitted to trying it at least once.

At the beginning of November, Channel 4 aired a ‘raw four-part drama about young lives lived on the edge in east London – an honest and gripping rendition of inner-city drug and gang culture’.

The drama covered the dark secrets of London gang culture and issues that inner city youth face on a daily basis, including murder, conflict between rival gangs, drug dealing and selling, gun culture and family problems.

The story, based in east London, is reflective of the lives of inner-city youth and with youth unemployment seeing one in five not in full-time work, education or training, the reality is becoming more prominent.

Simon Crawley*, a night worker from South-West London, started growing twenty cannabis plants when he was 16 years old for approximately a year.

The 22-year-old bought the seeds and equipment online and set up a small ‘home-grown’ warehouse in an empty flat in East Croydon, London.

He said he started because it was easy money.

“People from school asked me if I knew anyone that was selling it so there was already a growing demand,” he said.

Mr Crawley stopped growing the drug when his warehouse was raided by police in 2007.

“It’s a tricky business because you need to know who to deal to and who not to. I dealt to young and older people and it was a successful business but it does come with its risks.”

Growing cannabis carries the constant threat that rival gangs raiding warehouse and taking goods or the more serious threat of murder by local competition.

Since securing a full-time job in retail Mr Crawley has not returned to growing drugs.

“If I didn’t have my job I may have started growing the plants again but I buy and sell it on now and it’s less hassle, quicker to make money and carries less of a danger.”

Selling drugs is seen as a reliable income to many youth and as the number of unemployment rose with the recession, a growing number of young adults became involved in the drug appeal.

Kiera Solomon*, a 22-year-old sales assistant, started selling drugs when she was unemployed and struggling to find work.

She said: “Of course it’s easy money, especially if you know people that want to buy it but it does have its dark side.”

In 2010, Ms Soloman and her partner Antonie Gylia* set up a deal to pick up 10 ounces of cannabis, worth approximately £1,500, from another dealer.

The couple, along with two other passengers, drove to meet the dealer in South Wimbledon, London, where they arranged to make the deal.

Mr Gylia got a small sample from the dealer to look at before they brought it and once he returned he instructed Ms Soloman to collect the money and make the final exchange.

“One of the passengers in the car started acting really shifty and said he needed the toilet so I was trying to let him out,” said Ms Soloman.

“He just jumped out the car and ran round the corner and my partner ran after him. He then saw the guy shoot the dealer’s car and the dealer sped off.

“It was the scariest situation I’ve ever been in. The thought that he had a guy in my car and he was capable of shooting a dealer’s car is the reason I stopped selling.”

The pair has never reported the crime to police out of fear of being jailed for supplying cannabis, which carries a sentence of 14 years in prison.

With youth unemployment hitting a new record of 1.2 million, over a three month period up until September, who can predict the increasing number of youths lured into the drug seduction and struggle to escape?

The dark story of ‘Top Boy’ has opened a crucial insight into the troubled lives that some of the next generation are tragically caught in. 

For further information and advice when it comes to drugs visit

* These names have been changed to protect identities.

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