IN July of this year, thousands of people took to the streets to honour Bradley Lowery, the brave young Sunderland fan who lost his fight against a rare form of cancer early that month.

His funeral took place in his home village of Blackhall Colliery. Many mourners wore Sunderland football shirts in tribute to six-year-old Bradley, whose battle with neuroblastoma touched the hearts of the nation.

Crowds could be heard chanting ‘One Bradley Lowery’, releasing balloons as the procession drove past.

Among the funeral-goers was former Black Cats player Jermain Defoe, who struck up a close friendship with Bradley. Defoe travelled from a pre-season training camp in Spain for his new club Bournemouth, to attend.

Father Ian Jackson told the service: "Brad was a bright, brave, loving, cheeky little monkey.

"He loved cuddles. He was warm and embracing. He touched the lives of us all.

"Because of Sunderland Football Club, Bradley and his family have experienced some wonderful memories for which they will always be grateful."

Sunderland FC's chaplain Father Marc Lyden-Smith said Bradley taught others not to quit.

He said: "He has brought out the best in people. He has been an inspiration and a friend to sports stars.

"He has been much more than a mascot for Sunderland football club. He has been an encouragement to many and a loving smile to all of us.”

RECORD numbers attended a sun-drenched Durham Miners’ Gala, making it the biggest in a generation. Crowds swarmed through the cobbled streets to the sound of brass band music, and organisers of the 133rd Big Meeting estimated there were more than 200,000 on The Racecourse to hear a series of passionate speeches culminating in 35-minute address by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The Islington North MP was given a hero’s welcome on the packed field with the crowd chanting his name to the tune of Seven Nation Army. He said: “There is no finer place to be than Durham on the second Saturday in July.

“There is an incredible sense of community endeavour and achievement and ambition for people to achieve things for themselves.

“I have been coming here for a long time and have had a fantastic reception here, getting on really well with everyone. It is a great place to be.”

Also that month, The Northern Echo revealed how prison officers were said to be “dropping like flies” after unintentionally inhaling dangerous psychoactive substance called Spice.

Holme House prison in Stockton had seen up to 22 Spice related incidents since January according to the Prison Officers Association.

The association issued a safety alert when 5.6kg of a substance was found in cappuccino, Oats-so-simple and Weetabix packets during prison cell searches. The record find had an estimated street value of £200,000.

The Prison Officers Association said the drugs had been smuggled into the jail leading to unprecedented numbers of its officers being hit by Spice fumes, which can be smoked, vaporised in a boiling kettle or impregnated into objects such as paper.

Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham said he would press the Home Office to launch an inquiry into the discovery at the jail.

He said: "It is absolutely stunning that so much can get through the prison security system. Officers are clearly suffering. I've heard it's easier to get hold of drugs in prison than it is toothpaste.”

In Darlington, a murder investigation was launched after 34-year-old Michael Lawson was found stabbed in Geneva Road.

Earlier this month David Jeet Saunders, 33, of Esk Road, Darlington, admitted his murder and was jailed for 22 years and 44 days after a judge at Teesside Crown Court he took a knife to the scene with the intention of killing his victim.

Meanwhile, transport link plans were unveiled to support the creation of 25,000 new jobs in the region.

The transformation of major road networks in the Tees Valley area included developing a Darlington bypass linking the A66 to the A1(M), a new crossing over the River Tees and extra lanes being added to sections of the A66.

Residents in Darlington, Stockton, Middlesbrough, Redcar, Cleveland and Hartlepool will be consulted with blueprints before designs are finalised and submitted to the government.

Speaking at the public launch of the plans at Middlesbrough Football Club’s Riverside Stadium, Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “People have been talking about a new Tees Crossing and Darlington bypass for decades.

“A first-class road network is key to economic growth and our roads are central to helping me deliver our ambitious plan to deliver 25,000 new jobs over the next decade.

“I hope these proposals demonstrate just how determined I am to deliver a high quality, quick and safe road network for the people and business of our region.”

Labour’s shadow transport secretary and Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald welcomed the proposals, but expressed the need for action.

He said: “These are not new ideas – they’re a repetition of information and the Labour party made it abundantly clear in our manifesto that these are the improvements we would deliver.

“However, I’m delighted they’ve been reissued by the Tees Valley Combined Authority and we are at one with them on this.

“But the funding has got to come forward for it to happen, so I’m very happy to join with all of the leaders across the Tees Valley to try and progress the case.”

IT was revealed that Durham and England cricketer Ben Stokes had bought disgraced footballer Adam Johnson’s mansion in Castle Eden, near Peterlee, for £1.7m.

Former Sunderland star Johnson, 29, is serving a six year prison sentence for grooming and later engaging in sexual activity with a 15-year-old fan. He paid £1,575,000 for the luxury home back in 2012.

In Bishop Auckland, campaigners were celebrating after a government U-turn saved scores of jobs.

Civil servants working for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had been left with an uncertain future after the government revealed plans to close Vinovium House, in Saddler Street, in January. The proposals for were part of the DWP’s plans to downsize its estate to save £140m.

But following a campaign by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the Government announced the building will remain open – removing the threat of compulsory redundancy from staff. The union campaigned with Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman locally and in Parliament to oppose the closure. Ms Goodman said: “This goes to show it is worth campaigning and fighting for your rights and the PCS trade union was right to defend these workers.”