POLICE have admitted gangs of youths are fighting a "turf war".

Officers across Greenwich, Lewisham, Southwark, Lambeth and Croydon are working together to combat the problem.

Greenwich borough commander Chief Supt Chris Jarratt says his officers are focusing on the Woolwich Boys, the Younger Woolwich Boys, the Cherry Boys from Charlton and T Block in Thamesmead.

Mr Jarratt says the gangs are fighting for power, leading to increased violence against one another.

He said: "Greenwich hasn't had the deaths of other boroughs but it's only through poor aim or the skill of surgeons we haven't."

Police are working with Greenwich Council and community groups to deal with the problem, which Mr Jarratt says has grown worse over the past year.

He added: "I think there's a growing desire for people to make money quickly and also for people to have something to latch on to.

"Sometimes people think gangs can give them both of these things."

The admission of a gang problem follows a spate of violent incidents.

Ben Hitchcock, 16, died after he was stabbed in a fight in Southend Road, Beckenham, on June 23.

Eyewitnesses described youths wielding metal chains, poles and pick-axe handles in the fight, thought to have involved two gangs from Penge and Lewisham.

In the early hours of June 23, youths, believed to be members of the Woolwich Boys and T Block, fought outside the Mermaid club in Woolwich High Street.

Two 16-year-olds were stabbed and gang members then took part in a running battle across General Gordon Square in Woolwich town centre, using metal rods and rubbish bins as weapons.

One victim was stabbed multiple times and was left with a punctured lung.

Two people were arrested on suspicion of causing an affray and released on police bail.

A further fight in Charlton Road, Charlton, on June 27 is thought to be linked to the Woolwich attack.

One victim required around 70 staples in his head after he was repeatedly hit with a hammer inside a convenience store. He also suffered 14 stab wounds.

Outside, youths believed to be from the Woolwich Boys and the Cherry Boys fought using cricket bats, golf clubs and knives.

Twenty one people aged from 15 to 20 were arrested at the scene.

Four of these were bailed pending further inquiries.

Two were charged with attempted murder and 15 with violent disorder The 17 who have been charged will appear at the Old Bailey on October 5.

On June 25, a 20-year-old university student was stabbed at least four times in the back after being attacked by a gang of up to 10 youths, believed to be from Kidbrooke's Ferrier Boys gang.

The attack happened next to the McDonald's restaurant in Eltham Road, Eltham.

Several doctors battled to save the man's life and he is now expected to make a full recovery.

Two 16-year-olds and a 19-year-old have been charged with attempted murder.

Another 19-year-old is wanted in connection with the attack.

In a bid to tackle youth violence, the Met Police launched Operation Curb on June 29.

London boroughs will be targeting known gangs using increased patrols by officers and PCSOs.

People under 20 who are involved in serious violence will be the focus of borough intelligence teams.

Officers will use an intelligence database to discover who gang members are and understand what drives them to commit crime.

Met Commissioner Sir Ian Blair said: "This is not something police can tackle in isolation.

"Families, schools, communities, and authorities have an extremely important role to play in preventing and tackling these dreadful crimes."