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Services gap 'puts young at risk'

A lack of youth services is putting innocent children at risk of being caught up in gangs and violence on the streets, campaigners have said.

Gary Trowsdale, chief executive of the Damilola Taylor Trust, said youngsters were being left with no choice but to hang around on the streets due to the lack of other options as services were cut back.

And he warned they were living in fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time as police revealed they were considering the use of CS spray and water cannon in the event of future riots.

Mr Trowsdale, who helped set up the trust in the wake of the death of the 10-year-old schoolboy almost 12 years ago, was speaking as he launched this year's Spirit of London Awards (Sola) in which celebrities applaud young people who use their time and skill to build strong communities.

"The lack of youth services is putting at risk the innocent children who don't have any choice but to be on the streets in their communities," he said. "We have a problem with gang culture, but, if you like, we're like a big gang."

Sola, which now has more than 100 young ambassadors, was set up with the aim of reducing crime and saving lives by helping young people become who they should be, Mr Trowsdale said. "That needed to be the legacy of Damilola," he said.

Damilola's death in November 2000 shocked the nation. He had moved to Britain from Nigeria a few months before he was jabbed in the thigh with a broken beer bottle by a gang of youths as he walked home from the local library after school.

The youngster was found bleeding to death in a stairwell near his home in Peckham, south London, where local workmen tried to save his life. Two brothers, Danny and Ricky Preddie were convicted of manslaughter and jailed for eight years in October 2006.

This year's Sola show at Wembley Arena on November 22 will see up to 10,000 people attend what is being billed as the biggest ever live urban youth awards, just five days before the 12th anniversary of Damilola's death.

Sola also launched a search for the nation's young campaigner of the year, aged 14 to 25, who will be honoured at the star-studded ceremony in November. Last year's winner, Callum Fairhurst, 14, from Cambridge, raised more than £350,000 for the children's cancer charity Clic Sargent after his older brother Liam died from cancer at the age of 14.

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