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How can we reduce youth violence?


In our first episode, we ask the big question: how can we reduce serious youth violence? We look at what can lead to violence, and what can make a difference. We talk about how to improve relationships with the police and young people, why role models matter, educating young people, race and parenting. 

Our guest speakers are: 

Catherine Briody, Head of Violence against Women and Girls and Youth Safety Commissioning, Islington Council

Jessica Plummer, Founder of the Shaquan Sammy-Plummer Foundation, Violence Reduction Unit Parent Champion and Knife Crime Parent Ambassador with The Parent House. 

Sheri Lawal, Director of Choices CIC


You can listen on all the main podcasting apps by searching “Uniting Against Violence.” You can find us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube by searching for Uniting Against Violence, and you can email us at

Useful links 

Targeted Youth Support for Islington 

Sheri talks about the support Choices CIC can offer for parents when talking about difficult things with their children, and the LIFT Islington, which is a youth club. 

Catherine mentions Wipers and Chance UK for mentoring and support for young people, particularly around transitions. 

Jessica shares her story at a TEDx talk

Our funder and partners: 

The Mayor of London’s Violence Reduction Unit

Islington and Camden Councils

The Parent House 


This episode was co-produced by Victoria Sibanda and Sarah Hutt, with editing by Sarah Hutt and Content is Queen, and the host was Debbie Felix. 

Debbie Felix 0:08
Hi, and welcome to Uniting Against Violence. We’re a group of parents and we’ve come together to create a podcast for parents and anyone who’s concerned about serious youth violence and wants to take action to reduce it. Our group is a mixed group of Parent Champions from London’s Violence Reduction Unit and Parent Ambassadors from The Parent House, a charity based in Islington. Our aim is to equip parents and the community, and it’s really to reduce serious youth violence. So I’m Debbie. This series we’ll be inviting a range of guests and speakers and parents to look at specific issues related to serious youth violence, issues, such as mental health trauma, what is conflict and how we can learn to manage it better, and what it’s like for young people and the roles of parents, and school exclusions. We’ll be discussing how these issues affect us and our children and community and what we can do about it, because it is a serious issue. And that’s why, for us, it’s to come together. And together, everyone achieves more. But today, we are starting off our series with a big question, how do we reduce serious youth violence? And our guest speakers today, we have Catherine Briody, Jessica Plummer and Sheri Lawal. Thank you very much for joining us today. So can I ask Catherine, can you introduce yourself and why you care about this issue

Catherine Briody 1:46
Thank you. I’m Catherine Briody. I work for Islington Council. I’m the Head of Violence against Women and Girls and Youth Safety Commissioning. I think from my job title, you can tell that I am very interested in this subject matter, because my service area deals both with youth violence, but also we a lot of our focus is around violence against women and girls, which, of course, also affects young people.

Sheri Lawal 2:12
My name is Sheri Lawal, and I’m Director of Choices, which is a community development organization. So we do lots of projects in the community, especially with young people that are excluded from school. We work with the children and we work with their parents. I also chair Islington’s Stop and Search and the safer neighborhood board. I think, for me, I grew up in Islington. And I’ve seen a lot of young people lose their lives to knife and gun crime. And it’s, you know, every time I hear it, it’s really painful. I heard, again, yesterday that there was another stabbing on Elthorne Estate. Fortunately, the person didn’t lose their life. But we just need to be doing a lot more to prevent these kinds of incidences, you know, it’s just, for me, it’s just so unnecessary for a young person to lose their life.

Debbie 2:55
Okay, thank you, Sheri, I will come back to you and Katherine, because you’ve raised some very important points there. And we have a parent speaker, which is Jessica and Jessica, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about you.

Jessica 3:09
My name is Jessica Plummer. And I lost a son through knife crime. And so what I did was to set up a charity in memory of my son in order to go into school to try and educate young people about the implications of using the knife, and how it’s effected not only we as victims, but also our community. And I am the co founder of the Shaquan Sammy-Plummer Foundation, and also just recently joined the Violence Reduction Unit Parent Champions for Islington and Camden. And the reason why I wanted to do what I do in memory of my son is because I wanted to try and change the lives of our young people. Because every single day, I’m still reliving my son’s death. And I do not wish any other parents to go through my pain, because it’s seven years since I lost my son. And I thought it would be, I would be feeling better, but to me, it’s getting worse. So, by me going into the schools, giving the young people a voice, in order for them to learn to trust me, and then we can move on, by doing that work to prevent another child losing their life nd I do it because I love them. Because they’re not only somebody else’s child, they’re my children, too. I raise my children, not for myself only, by wisdom, for the whole world.

Debbie 4:41
So would you say it takes a village to raise a child, your child? Can I just go to Catherine, you mentioned about the Violence Reduction Unit. Can you just sort of tell us a bit about what that is?

Catherine 4:53
Yes. So the London Violence Reduction Unit is part of the Mayor’s office in London. And, and that has been set up to reduce violence across London. And as part of that they fund local authorities to do violence prevention work. We need to work with the whole community. And we definitely need to work with parents and young people. And the London Violence Reduction Unit recognize that. They’re funding projects across the whole of London. And we’re really proud of our parent champions in Islington, and everything that they’re achieving, because they are now advocating for other parent carers in the community, going into schools, and they’re a voice for parents across the borough of Islington and Camden.

Debbie 5:40
So what do would you say are some of the issues that cause the violence to sort of escalate? I mean, you know, there are things, there’s domestic violence, but what other things do you think that we should be concentrating on to help reduce this?

Catherine 5:56
There are so many issues, and I think that’s part of the challenge. And I think, underlying all of the violence that we’re seeing, it’s very fundamental issues around poverty and inequality and discrimination that we see in our communities. And also thinking about the aspirations of our young people, the impact of COVID. And then it’s about how violence is very pervasive across society. And unfortunately, quite normalized, I think. So I think in terms of the issues, there are so many, and that’s why you need a holistic response. And it’s not just one agency to fix. The council can’t do it on their own. Police certainly can’t do it on their own. We all have to work together. So yeah, it’s a hugely complex issue. But I’m very heartened by the really good work that our parent champions doing, which definitely are doing a brilliant job. And I think it’s by doing that grassroots work, organisations like Sheri’s, will really make a difference.

Debbie 6:57
And Sheri, you mentioned about stop and search and safer neighborhood. And I know it is to reduce life Pa. But there are some issues where young people feel that it’s disproportionate. Can you enlighten us a bit more as to what your feelings are? And if you can sort of give us any statistics, that’d be great.

Sheri 7:20
Well, I’ve got a terrible memory. So I won’t remember the statistics. But there is disproportionality within the stop and search. The police say that it’s an effective tool in reducing violence. Unfortunately, I don’t agree with that. Because when we are looking at the figures on a monthly basis, say out of every 100 stop and searches, less than 20 of them result in any further action. To me, that’s not effective. I think there is also disproportionality because there is this unconscious bias. And people feel like most of the crime that is committed in London, is committed by young black men. But we know that’s not the truth, we make up a very small percentage of the population in London. So that discounts that automatically. I would like to see them targetting the people at the top. People that are running the roads are not the ones that are benefiting from this, it’s usually the people at the top that are making the most money, but we very rarely hear about them getting stopped and searched or them getting targeted. And I think this is part of where the disproportionality comes in. And it also creates hostility. So whereas young people should feel like they can go to the police, if they’re in danger, they feel like, “Well, they’re the ones that are targeting us. So we don’t feel like that’s an option.” So this is kind of some of the work around what we’re trying to do to bridge that gap. So the LIFT is a community center where a lot of young people go to. And what we’ve done over the past year is we’ve brought the new police recruits to meet young people at the LIFT, and they call it the immersion project. So they meet the police. And they kind of explain their position, how they feel when they’re stopped and searched by police frequently. And then it gives the new recruits an idea of what it feels like because there is some role play as well. So the roles are reversed. And the young people get to actually, you know, stop and search the police. So which is quite interesting. But it also breaks down the barrier as well. Because, you know, initially both sides are very reserved, very quiet, don’t know what to say. But by the end of the sessions, everybody’s talking to each other. Everybody understands each other. So I think they’re the kind of things that we can do to improve the relationship between the police and young people.

Debbie 9:34
You did mention about when young people are stopped and searched and it could be for cannabis. So I know a lot of people do feel that cannabis plays a big role in crime because you know, nine times out of 10, somebody that’s committed a serious crime may be using some form of drugs. What would you say to that?

Sheri 9:58
I would disagree because a lot of the crime that is committed is, like Catherine’s alluded to, related to poverty. You know, people commit crimes sometimes because they can’t afford things. And I think that if I go and sell jobs, maybe that will lead to me, leaving a better life, leading to my family leaving a better life. But we know that’s just the hype.

Debbie 10:20
So education, community engagement are a big plus, what else do you think could be done? Or what’s missing?

Sheri 10:31
I think there’s definitely lack of opportunities. So often enough, you know, we’re asking the young people to give up what they’re doing. But we have to replace that with something that is going to benefit them. Definitely, we need more parent champions. And I’ve spoken to some parents who feel like, they need more men as supporters. So for instance, if they’ve got young men, and they’re in single households, it would be really beneficial if they had men within the community that they could go to and say, “Look, I’m having an issue with my son, I need some support, I need some help.” And that’s kind of what we’re trying to build up at the moment.

Debbie 11:08
There is a lot of imprisonment effect, a lot of people will say, especially with young men of color. And so I find that maybe young boys for that they don’t have many role models there. What do you think an answer to that would be? Because if they’re not there, how do we then start to educate young people and have these role models there, because…

Catherine 11:33
There’s some projects that we work with in Islington. And we fund. So we do mentoring. We work with a small charity called Wipers in Islington that do a lot of work around racial discrimination as well. And then we also work with Chanc who work with children aged five to 11. And there’s quite a strong evidence base around the difference and the impact that makes to that child and that family. It’s really important that all these services work with the whole family. We get amazing feedback from the schools, the difference on the children that participate from the parents, and from the children and young people themselves. And if you Google targeted youth support islington, there’s a lot of information there. You know, that’s that’s one example of what you can do. It’s not the complete answer.

Debbie 12:21
And all of that information we’ll put in this episode, so everybody knows where they can find these contests. So thank you, Catherine. And we also have an episode coming up on role models and parents, so we won’t touch too much on that because we want you to listen out for that episode. It’s going to be fantastic. Jessica, you mentioned that you do a lot of work by going into schools. How do you find the response when you go into schools?

Jessica 12:51
Very kind. The majority of them will say to me, because they adressed me as auntie, or some of them call me mom. The question I ask is, “Do you think it’s right for me to do what I’m doing?” And majority of them will say to me, “Yes, Auntie, but you need to go into a primary school. And what you’re doing is helping us to be better people.” So whatever I do with them, I do it with love, because I’ve lost Shaquan, and I have gained so many of them. And it’s like, you know, a lot of children need that love. And I’m not there to judge them. I’m just there to listen. Because a lot of us what we do is with the young people, we tend to talk down to them, or we think we know what we need to allow them to talk to us and tell us what they are going through. And to gain that trust from us. The tone of voice that needs to be changed, because you want them to trust you. But you need to trust them too. Because it goes both ways.

Debbie 13:58
I would say that’s very true. So I would say it boils down to having a respect, mutual respect. And so if a police approaches a young person, just to say, “Good afternoon, how are you? We just have to do some searches.” And explain to them what they’re going to do. And if the police do get it wrong, just to say, you know, “I’m really sorry to have wasted your time, but we’re carrying out our stop and searches,” which they’re entitled to do and that’s the whole thing with the community is making sure that we get knives off the street.

Jessica 14:34
And that not only that, when you have police patrolling in the street, you meet a young person, you can greet them, and you can say to them, “Hello, son, how are you? How are you getting on today?” That relationship can change because that child can then go back to a friend and say, Come on, we cannot judge all of them. We have to listen because there’s some good and is Some bad. And this is what I say to them, we have good and bad in all of us. Because remember, we have the police, we call the police when we have a problem, but we still judging them. If it wasn’t for this police, I would not have had any justice for my son. And because of them collecting all that evidence, I was able to have justice for myself. Otherwise, the person who killed my son would be back on the street killing many others. So like I said to them, we have to gain that trust with them. But then it takes the police to change what is happening because we can all work together. You want a relationship with the young people, you want a relationship with the community, we can all do that together.

Debbie 15:45
So some people have a perception that knife crime, serious youth violence, it affects white people less, what would you say? And can I ask you, Sheri?

Sheri 15:57
I don’t think it affects white people less. Obviously, I’m talking from the point of view of looking at the figures. It affects everybody. I think what happens though, with social media is they sensationalize the cases where young Black men are involved. And so it looks as though it’s only happening to Black people or within the Black community, which is not the knife knife itself is not racist. It doesn’t say, “I’m only going to kill Black people does somebody’s going to kill Black people. White people don’t say “We’re only going to kill white people.” It’s whatever’s going on within the community, whatever’s going on within their minds, that makes them behave like that. This is why I think it’s really important that the support comes in at a very young age. So Jessica, going into schools shouldn’t be just secondary schools, it should be primary schools as well. Because you know, if you can prevent this happening, it’s better than trying to address it at a later stage.

Debbie 16:50
Yeah, I totally agree. Because there are statistics where they say a lot of young people are being groomed at a very young age and men could be as young as nine. So Jessica, how would you feel about going into primary schools because it’s having to work? We’re talking about knife crime and having to work certain things to young children as young as five and six. Do you think that should be the age where we should be starting or older?

Jessica 17:19
Five Year Old? To me, I think they are a bit young, although they do know, because when I go into some of the PRUs, you do have children as young as five year olds, which…

Debbie 17:33
Five year olds? In the PRU? So the PRU is a pupil referral unit…

Jessica 17:38
Yeah but you have a section for the younger ones. And the way I look at it, I think it is wrong. Because the way I see things I will use Shaquan as an example some of the schools judge people, how should I put it? Shaquan going into primary school, the way the teachers are, they were a bit biased. But what I know now compared to back then…

Debbie 18:05
Sorry to cut you there Jessica, so when you say they were a bit biased, what do you mean by biased? In what way?

Jessica 18:14
Because if… back in the West Indies, we would say, if you have a godmother and a godfather, meaning if you come in from a family that’s well off, like your mother is a police officer, a doctor, for example, you will get treated different.

Debbie 18:31
So would you say if a child comes from a family where their parents are deemed professional, they get treated differently, that may be a family that maybe unemployed, or they have a stay at home mum or a stay at home dad?

Jessica 18:47
Yes..Now this is where I see the problem. With a child where these people, they label that child, because the child is coming from a poor background, so that child will be in that PRU. But you take a child where the families well off, that child never get to go into the PRU, because the family is well off. Which is the same problem I had with Shaquan, fighting social services. But when I became a Parent, Governor, everything changed, because what I know, I didn’t know them. I did not know before. So everything was done differently. So able to fight.

Debbie 19:24
Would you say it’s educating parents on things like school exclusions and how the school process works? Because there are a lot of parents that don’t understand. So with regards to school exclusion, it’s a really big topic, but we do have an episode on school exclusions coming up within the podcast, so we won’t go too much into that because that’s going to be covered in that episode.

Catherine 19:50
Thinking about doing work with children in primary schools, Islington Council did a consultation of all schools in Islington a few years ago in relation to reducing knife harm. And one of the clearest messages we got back from primary schools is they wanted more interventions, and more information, not necessarily starting at five. But I think whatever you do, obviously, it’s age appropriate. And it’s really important. And I think some of the work that’s been done through the parental support project is about getting more information to parents. What are the signs, what are the things to look out for, and what actually is going on in the community around knife crime and guns and county lines, because I think the more equipped parents are the stronger they are to identify where they might, you know, their children, young people may be vulnerable. But also to give the picture so that parent champions understand all the opportunities in Islington for their children and young people. In particular we have a very rich youth offer in Islington. The council just invested another half a million pounds in that issue. So it’s very unusual compared to other local authorities. We’ve got amazing youth hubs and youth clubs, and adventure playgrounds. And what we don’t want is that parents are so fearful that their children don’t get to access these wonderful opportunities. So it’s also about raising their awareness of safe places where their children, young people can go meet other young people make friends and have a fantastic time.

Debbie 21:23
That’s great, especially with the youth hub and youth centers.

Sheri 21:27
I just wanted to mention something that Kevin has spoken about. And it’s about the schools and the young people. So when I used to go into schools, we used to keep it really basic around bullying. The parents would want the information around all the other stuff, but the teachers were very, very reluctant to let us talk about knife, crime, gun crime, what’s going on within the community. And I understand that. [But] Like, a couple of years before children are leaving primary school, they definitely know what’s happening on the streets, you know. They go down, when they finish school, they go down to their local chicken and chips shop, and they’re hanging around on the streets. So they definitely know. So I think it needs to be more focused within schools. And I think schools just need to be open and transparent and say, “Look, we know this is going on.” How can we help our schools? They really have to be part of the solution. Because if they’re not allowing people like Jessica to go in and talk about it, then young people will pick that information up on the streets. And we know when young people pick information up on the streets, it’s not always accurate.a

Debbie 22:25
So would you say year five and six? So I know Islington does do a lot. And I do believe Catherine, correct me if I’m wrong, they do a transitional program. And that’s from year six to year seven. What does that look like for parents who don’t know what transitional program is?

Catherine 22:43
Okat, that program is also funded by the Violence Reduction Unit, actually, in Islington. And it’s run by targeted youth support and also the parental support project. So through that project, they will get picked up by a key worker who will work with the whole family, with that child, and the parents. And they support them going into the secondary school. They support them before. And they work in partnership with Arsenal during the summer, they bring children across Islington and Camden together, they do lots of fun activities, they do sports, they build friendships, they break down these postcode issues. And again, the feedback we get from the children is how much more confident they feel when they go into the secondary school. We’re seeing reductions in detentions, and in exclusions for those children, and a really good process where they’re settling in well. And if they are able to do that, they’re much less likely to get involved in sort of issues that we’re talking about today and thrive, as they should do.

Debbie 23:41
And you made a really valid point there, that you work with the family. So it’s not just a young person. And that’s really important. So you mentioned county lines, and grooming and obviously, grooming is probably not just about getting them to sell drugs, but it’s also getting them to carry weapons. So would you say, I don’t know, in your opinion, or what you’ve heard from young people, are they groomed at times to carry a weapon that they wouldn’t normally think about carrying?

Jessica 24:13
The reason why a lot of them carried a knife, they say it’s to protect themselves. They will do it in a sense where they’re trying to protect their friend, but they end up in trouble. And some of them don’t care. Because it’s like, at home, there’s nothing at home for them. So they will say to you, “I don’t care. So I’m going to do it.” You understand? So it’s a lot of – how you call it – peer pressure…

Debbie 24:38
Yeah, I think that does play a big role in how children sort of see the world and the lack of understanding that they have and that’s why it’s really important for us as parents and adults to educate them. But that means, you know, adults educating them himself. Because unless you’re educated yourself, and you know exactly what’s going on out there, it’s really hard for you to – and that’s not saying that parents are not parenting in the right way. But it’s just informing yourself with the right information.

Jessica 25:15
Yeah. Because what they will say again is, “Okay.” They’ll come to you and they’ll say, “Okay, you know what? I went to Catherine. And I told Catherine, this person is doing that to me. And I’m telling Catherine, but Catherine is telling me, “No, it’s not true.”” But another person will tell Catherine and Catherine will believe them, you understand. And they say, “Nobody believed me, I tell my mum, my mum don’t believe me. I tell my dad, my dad don’t believe me. I tell my sister, nobody believed me.” But the person out there, who is providing them with the stuff will listen to them, because that person wants to use them. So obviously, they will forget about us, and go out there to them.

Debbie 25:54
So they gravitate more to the abuser in a sense, which is the person who’s grooming them, as opposed to a family member.

Sheri 26:03
And don’t forget, groomers are experts in what they do. And I’ve seen it happen in front of my eyes. And it’s only if the child is comfortable to come to an adult and say, “Look, this is happening to me,” can there be intervention. Because if you don’t know, as a parent that something is happening, then, you know, you can’t prevent it from happening. But then I think what has to happen is that safe space, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the parent, as long as there’s a responsible adult that that young person can go to, and say, “Look, this is happening to me, I don’t know how to deal with it.” I think that’s what we need more of, we need more of these, like the LIFT type of community hubs, you know, for young people to go to, because I know a lot of young people, they go in there, and they feel free to express what they’re feeling. And then there are also, you know, professionals in there that can pick up on, you know, the behavior. Because sometimes things happen. And then parents are like, “I never knew that was happening.” They don’t put the dots together. So they know that something is wrong with their child, but they don’t like their my finger on it. “I’m not sure what’s happening here.” But they don’t know how to have that conversation. And so it’s equipping parents with, you know, the tools to be able to say, “Look, let’s sit down.” And you know, give them little pointers, how to start that conversation, you know, what are the pertinent questions?

Debbie 27:28
Very important thing is, how do you start that conversation? You know, parents tend to have, you know, a general chitchat with their child, how was school, but asking in those really serious delicate questions can be sometimes difficult. You said you’re involved in Choice? And is that something they would do? Educating parents on having that conversation, because it can be difficult for some parents?

And I will also facilitate having the conversation with a parent and the child and the family sometimes. So it’s about getting people to feel comfortable and having it. So even if the parent doesn’t want to ask that question, somebody else can ask that question. And they can say, well, actually, you mentioned so and so was, why was that, and you have to get the child to disclose the information. And once they start disclosing a little bit, they will disclose everything, you’ll find that everything comes out and the parents are like, Oh, my God, I never knew that was happening. Oh my god, I’ve not been protecting my child.

So for parents, once they get this information, a lot of parents don’t know what to do with that information. So what would you what would your advice be to parents?

Sheri 28:41
My advice and unfortunately, there are a lot of resources like Catherine said, targeted youth support, you know that there’s so much information but people don’t know where to go. So we need to keep signposting.

Debbie 28:53
If you had a magic wand, what would be the one thing you would change to tackle the issue in the future? And can I ask Catherine first…

Catherine 29:03
I find that really hard to answer so, there’s much that we need to do in this space. But I think a real priority for my service for this year is raising awareness of domestic abuse between young people and providing more support genuinely to children who’ve experienced domestic abuse in their childhood to repair and recover from the trauma that they’ve experienced. I think we need lots of safe spaces for young people and families to go to. And I’ll keep referring to the LIFT. But it to me it’s just such an ideal place where there are opportunities, there’s education, there’s training, there is a gym, healthy cooking all of these different things all under one spot. And the young people go there not because they’re forced to, but because they want to. So definitely youth centres. It’s not even youth centres but like family centres where the families can come. Because parents come there as well. They need to know that if “I go here, I’m gonna get some help. You know, I’m not dealing with this issue on my own, or I don’t have to wait for my child to be attacked, or I don’t have to wait for my child to attack someone, before I’m picked up or I guess support.” you know, let us –

Debbie 30:21
sounds like it’s a one stop shop for families and children. So it covers the whole entire family. It’s not just based on just young children. So Jessica,

Jessica 30:34
To have a big building, where I can have different spaces where children can come and learn more things, educate themselves, and just to change their lives a bit. I can do so much for them, and give them so much love and support, Oh My God. Endless.

Debbie 30:54
Thank you so much. And it was a absolute pleasure to have you guys on this podcast. So to the listeners, and everybody else, thank you for your ears. We’ve covered quite a lot of issues within this episode. But I would really like you to check out the next episodes that we have, which is going to cover issues such as mental health school exclusions, what it’s like for young people, and role models, and that’s Dads in particular, and conflict management would also be one of the episodes that we will also be covering. So please, please do check it out. And it’s going to be fantastic.

So thank you for listening to uniting against violence, the podcast about reducing serious youth violence in our community. We’ve put some useful links for you to check out. And we’ve talked about a lot of issues today, which are going to be in other episodes. And if you find the episodes useful, please subscribe, share and live on social medias at @unitingagainstviolence. And if you’d like to get in touch with us, you can also email us on Reducing violence is a big topic and we know we can’t cover everything and every perspective. So if you’re listening to this thinking about something we’ve missed, we encourage you to start a conversation where you are. Together we can unite against violence. One of our ethos is team and team stands for Together Everyone Achieves More. So this episode was co-produced by Victoria Sibanda, and Sarah Hutt. Our guest speakers were Sheri Lawal, Catherine Briody, and Jessica Plummer with editing by Sarah Hutt, and the host myself, Debbie Felix. We’d like to say a special thanks to our partners, Islington and Camden Councils Public Health, the Parent House and Crux and our funders, the Mayor of London, as well as, of course, Choices CIC and our guest speakers. Thank you for listening and tune in for our next episode.

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