Teen terror: Why are we no longer safe in our suburb, our street, our car or our home?

Since the days of Oliver Twist, our society has battled to contain the mischief of street urchins committing petty crimes. But the question of youth justice in Queensland has taken on a much more sinister, deadly persona in recent times, writes Madonna King.

Sep 28, 2022, updated Sep 29, 2022
Brisbane couple Matthew Field and Kate Leadbetter and their unborn son were killed by a teenager driving a stolen car.

Brisbane couple Matthew Field and Kate Leadbetter and their unborn son were killed by a teenager driving a stolen car.

A year ago, former Wallaby Toutai Kefu was attacked during an early morning home invasion in inner-Brisbane Coorparoo; he and his wife sustaining serious injuries.

Four youths – one as young as 13 – were charged with dozens of crimes, after police also found a knife, an axe and a machete.

On Tuesday night, in the same suburb where Kefu was attacked, former Matildas soccer player Elissia Carnavas was sitting in her car conducting a live radio interview when she was allegedly surrounded by five men who attempted to open the car door.

One of them allegedly brandished a knife. The 37-year-old’s blood-curdling screams could be heard through the radio before the line dropped out.

In both cases, knives were allegedly involved – and they are now a common accessory to teenagers arrested for almost anything. In both cases, also, the alleged culprits included a gang of young men.

And in both cases, the attacks were staged in Coorparoo; a leafy inner-city suburb where the Lions train mid-week, where private and public schools balloon with new enrolments and where young families choose to live because of the liveability it offers – from cinemas and restaurants to bus and train stations and health centres.

A suburb where this type of crime is new.

But while the attacks on Kefu and Carnavas are big news, this phenomenon of middle-of-the-night assaults and robberies on service stations and late-night shops, homes and parked cars is now becoming commonplace in good inner-city Brisbane suburbs.

Almost nightly in Brisbane’s inner south-east, Facebook community groups light up with discussion and CCTV footage of groups of teenagers up to no good.

A suburb away from Coorparoo, on the same night of Carnavas’ nightmare, one resident penned this: “Chased off three hooded guys from our carport – 2.30am’’.

And then this: “A neighbour just showed footage of the same little &@&$s trying to get into their place at 1.58am. Same group.’’

A half an our earlier – less than four hours after Carnavas’ incident and only a couple of kilometres away – it was another group of youths. “Attempted break-in at Cannon Hill 2am – 4 young boys (plus a driver) with socks/bare feet, all with gloves and 2 with masks’’. “Was shitting myself when I woke to them trying to get in the front door and 000 wouldn’t answer the phone.’’

“Same dudes as our place two nights ago,’’ someone adds. “Same team and car that were in my house Monday night?’’ another scribe asks, and includes clear CCTV footage of the culprits.

No, it’s a different crowd, apparently. Minutes later. “Group of four wearing face masks just got into a car…’’

And so it goes on. A check with friends across Brisbane shows it is no different. Sometimes police arrive. Sometimes, residents are asked to fill out a form the next day.

This is a bigger challenge for the Palaszczuk Government than any of the ‘good news’ announcements it tries to make into headlines.

So far, the groups of youths breaking into cars and homes haven’t carried the same tragic consequences we saw earlier this week when Hemmant man Michael Warburton, 59, became the fifth Queenslander to die in two years in a crash involving teenagers allegedly driving stolen vehicles.

Three of those five were Alexandra Hills couple Matthew Field and Kate Leadbetter and their unborn son, Miles, who were killed by a teenager driving a stolen car on Australia Day 2021.

But youth crime is now out of control. Carrying knives needs to become a real offence. In the inner suburbs and the outer suburbs. In affluent suburbs and those with bigger socio-economic challenges.

On some Facebook pages, residents are now wanting to form their own ‘gangs’ to take teenagers on, believing they have a better chance than police at catching them.

In recent cases, the youths are being dropped off, with drivers waiting up the road in cars, with the lights turned off. All cases, it seems, involve juveniles; their young faces captured on the CCTV footage that now is a standard part of any renovation upgrade.

Where are their parents? And where are the deterrents to stop these nightly incidents before they grow bigger? Where is the discussion about ensuring police are patrolling suburbs, and that families are safe in their homes at night?

Another death at the hands of juveniles in an alleged stolen car should have big repercussions for those making policy, ignoring recommendations and pretending youth crime will go away. They have been warned, repeatedly.

And the fact that a lower grade, more common assault on people’s privacy is now being waged nightly is a huge red flag to meandering Government that chooses not to act.

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