FROM GUNS TO GUEST LIST

Brix­ton boy went from life of crime to Harry’s in­ner cir­cle... and an in­vi­ta­tion to the wed­ding

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - By Re­becca English Royal Cor­re­spon­dent r.english@dai­ly­mail.co.uk

THEY were clear from the start that their wed­ding would be about ‘real peo­ple’ rather than diplo­mats and dig­ni­taries.

And Prince Harry and Meghan Markle couldn’t get any more ‘real’ than Karl Lokko, a for­mer gang leader who has been shot at, stabbed and seen a friend killed – all by the age of 16.

Now a de­vout Chris­tian who works as a youth com­mu­nity ac­tivist, Mr Lokko has forged a re­mark­able se­cret friend­ship with Harry which has seen him se­cure a cov­eted in­vi­ta­tion to the wed­ding.

More than that, the 27-year-old is now part of the prince’s in­ner cir­cle of friends and trusted ad­vis­ers, although he is far too dis­creet to have ever com­mented on it.

One of the only clues to this un­der-ther­adar friend­ship was when Harry in­ter­viewed Mr Lokko, of South Lon­don, as part of his guest ed­i­tor­ship of Ra­dio 4’s To­day pro­gramme last year.

A source said: ‘He may be a boy from Brix­ton but he has be­come a re­ally good friend of Harry through their shared pas­sion for youth work and mu­sic.

‘The prince trusts him im­plic­itly and Karl is now on speed dial on Harry’s phone. They reg­u­larly text, speak and meet up. Harry thinks he is in­spi­ra­tional.’

Mr Lokko grew up on the gang-rid­den My­atts Field es­tate where he saw his first shoot­ing at the age of 12, an ex­pe­ri­ence he de­scribes as ‘trau­matic’.

‘Four years on, I was heav­ily in­volved in gangs,’ he wrote in The Guardian last month.

‘By the age of 16 I had been shot at, cut on the face and stabbed in the chest, and one of my best friends had been killed, just a cou­ple of days be­fore our GCSE ex­ams. I had strayed com­pletely off the path my par­ents had in­tended for me.

‘Crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity was an ev­ery­day thing: I would be armed on my way to the lo­cal chicken shop with friends. The rad­i­cal change in my per­sonal iden­tity was alarm­ing even to me. I would some­times re­flect on how far re­moved I had be­come from my pre­vi­ous morals.’

Mr Lokko is open about the fact that, de­spite see­ing one of his best friends stabbed to death in 2006, he him­self be­came a gang leader who was ‘per­ma­nently armed’, first with knives, then guns.

He headed a 40-strong crew who called them­selves MAD – ‘May­hem And Dis­as­ter’.

He has said: ‘I be­lieved it was kill or be killed, I be­lieved drug-deal­ing was an ac­cept­able way to make a liv­ing, I be­lieved a coun­cil es­tate was my ter­ri­tory and the end of my world; I be­lieved there was no hope.

‘I didn’t come into the world with the in­tent to join a gang. But af­ter be­ing at­tacked on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, I had a stark choice to make: Ei­ther I re­mained a vic­tim or took up power in my own way.’

Mr Lokko even­tu­ally joined one of the most feared and vi­o­lent gangs in the Brix­ton area and re­mem­bers a sum­mer in which the group ‘ran riot, mug­ging peo­ple for phones, sell­ing drugs, steal­ing cars, joy-rid­ing’.

He scraped through his GCSEs – pass­ing four – but was kicked out of sixth form col­lege on his first day and be­came fur­ther em­broiled in gang life.

He was saved by a neigh­bour, pas­tor Mimi Asher, who was des­per­ate to re­move her son Michael from the life­style of crime.

She said she had been ex­tremely wary of 6ft 5in Mr Lokko when the po­lice warned her he and her son were both ma­jor mem­bers of a crim­i­nal gang. Re­mark­ably, she opened her home to her son’s gang­land friends and at­tempted to help them see the er­ror of their ways through friend­ship, coun­selling and the Bi­ble.

It wasn’t all plain sail­ing – Mr Lokko was shot at out­side her home, with the bul­let go­ing through her front door – but he is now, ten years on, a changed man and an in­spi­ra­tional fig­ure.

‘She… led me to de­nounce my gang in­volve­ment and turn my life around. I was able to claim back my true iden­tity and strive to­wards ex­cel­lence,’ he says.

Mr Lokko vol­un­teers with the char­ity Youth In Ac­tion and of­fers other young peo­ple men­tor­ing and sup­port. He is in­volved in mu­sic, re­cently sup­port­ing hiphop singer Plan B, while he also de­scribes him­self as a poet and pub­lic speaker.

Mr Lokko came from a hard­work­ing home – his fa­ther worked in se­cu­rity while his mother was a nurse.

His crew made head­lines for post­ing a provoca­tive picture on the in­ter­net of them­selves pos­ing with guns.

He later told the Lon­don Evening Stan­dard: ‘I was ap­pre­hended at school and or­dered to hand over the gun.

‘The po­lice be­lieved it was a real gun, but it was a replica and I got a cau­tion. Other gangs, though, got the im­pres­sion that we had a real live pump-ac­tion shot­gun and sud­denly we had big sta­tus.’

The com­mu­nity worker, who has met Princess Beatrice through the Virgin Strive fundrais­ing chal­lenge, says in South Lon­don he is now known as Mary Pop­pins, con­stantly pop­ping up to help trou­bled youngsters.

Mr Lokko and his wife, Cassandra, whom he mar­ried in 2016, are now ex­pect­ing their first child.

Heav­ily pregnant Cassy will be at his side to­mor­row in St Ge­orge’s Chapel and, after­wards, at the Queen’s re­cep­tion at Wind­sor Cas­tle.

Mr Lokko says: ‘I am proof that, with the right sup­port, lives can be turned around.’ Clearly, Prince Harry agrees.

‘I be­lieved it was kill or be killed’

Close friend­ship: Mr Lokko with Prince Harry in 2014 Crim­i­nal past: Karl Lokko, cir­cled, holds a replica firearm as he poses with his South Lon­don gang while still a school­boy

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