The Northern Echo is today stepping up its existing knife crime campaign by announcing its intention to launch a regional body to prevent young people from being stabbed on our streets.

The North East Knife Crime Taskforce will be a public forum focussed on saving lives following the shocking and senseless deaths of several teenagers across the region in recent years.

It will allow individuals, groups and organisations to share resources in a positive and proactive way with the aim of changing the culture and mindset of young people who go out armed with a weapon.

Read more: Open letter to Prime Minister for action on knife crime

The idea is to address multi-layered root causes of knife crime to stop the heartache and devastation by educating our children, enabling access to activities and ensuring funding is in place for early intervention strategies.

The Taskforce plan has the backing of senior police officers, politicians, council leaders, crime commissioners and headteachers as well as the mothers of murder victims desperate to reverse the rising trends of knife crime.    

County Durham and Darlington Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen said: “I’m fully behind this campaign and the attention it gives to joint problem-solving.

“Every organisation needs to play its part in supporting young people to make safer choices.

“Knife crime shatters all lives, whether victim or perpetrator, and has a ripple effect in our communities, creating fear and anxiety.”

The Northern Echo: Joy Allen, Steve Turner and Kim McGuinness are all backing the North East Knife Crime Taskforce Joy Allen, Steve Turner and Kim McGuinness are all backing the North East Knife Crime Taskforce (Image: Contributor)

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness said some of the causal factors of the current rise in knife crime lie in fewer police officers and cuts to youth services as part of a reduction in public service spending.

She said: “Mums, dads, teachers, youth workers - they’re all telling me the same worries and concerns around kids getting drawn into crime or carrying knives.

“It shouldn’t need campaigns like this pleading for change and pleading for funding, but something needs to be done and I am thankful to the Northern Echo for pulling all our voices together in the fight against knife crime.”

Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Steve Turner said: “Every life lost to knife crime is one too many. I want to see our streets safer for everyone, and less young lives lost needlessly to knife crime.”

The Northern Echo intends to have a section of its website dedicated to the North East Knife Crime Taskforce with useful information for organisations involved in working with young people.

The aim is for it to include contact details, articles about how to access funding and success stories on projects taking place in the North East that can be adapted for different areas. The Northern Echo: The Taskforce aims to stop knives like this, which was used to fatally stab Jack Woodley, being carried on our streetsThe Taskforce aims to stop knives like this, which was used to fatally stab Jack Woodley, being carried on our streets (Image: Contributor)

The Northern Echo is also proposing to produce downloadable teaching materials that can be used classrooms, and in youth and community centres, to teach young people about the dangers of picking up blades.

We will also endeavour to produce hard-hitting videos, using social media to reach vulnerable members of society who may be at risk of getting involved in antisocial behaviour and knife crime.

Paul Marsden, headteacher Belmont Community School in Durham, said: “We fully support The Northern Echo's campaign against knife crime and our thoughts are with any family or community that have been affected. 

“It is right for The Northern Echo to try to bring the whole community together on this issue, as everyone has a role to play - parents, police, schools, youth workers.

“Youth work is an area that has seen significant cuts over the last decade.

"There are some fabulous organisations in Durham and the North East that do brilliant work in our local communities and would benefit from increased funding.”  

Paul Hillary, principal at Delta Independent School in Consett which works with almost 60 young people outside of mainstream education, said sharing resources within the Taskforce, was "absolutely what is needed" to tackle knife crime.

He said: “Students at our school are scanned every day with a metal detector for this exact reason.

“Education plays a huge part of this and knife crime is something that is a feature of our curriculum and I will definitely play any part I can in this campaign.”

The Taskforce will aim to attract grants to enable more education projects and emphasise the need to Government for more funding for youth workers, youth clubs and intervention strategies.

It will also call for tougher sentences for those convicted of carrying blades and using knives to injure others as well as offer support to those affected and bereaved by knife crime.

Councillor Amanda Hopgood, leader of Durham County Council, said: “We are happy to support The Northern Echo’s knife crime taskforce in continuing to work to keep our communities safe and ensure County Durham is a supportive place to live, work and visit.

“One incident of knife crime is one too many and only causes hurt and devastation to families and the wider community.

“This campaign will provide another avenue for us to work together in preventing this needless act.”

Knife crime does not just cause the needless loss of life, but also ruins the futures of the perpetrators, destroying the lives of their families at the same time when they are jailed.

The ripple effect does not end there, and everyone involved, from police officers to paramedics, doctors and nurses, as well as members of the public, suffer as a result.

Assistant Chief Constable of Northumbria Police Brad Howe said: “We support The Northern Echo’s knife crime campaign and welcome initiatives which encourage communities to come together to help keep our region safe.

“As a society, we all have a collective responsibility to tackle knife crime.

“Whether that’s as families sitting down to talk about the dangers of carrying a knife or reporting someone you know to be in possession of a weapon.

“Your actions today could help to save the life of a loved one.

“Ultimately, we would urge those who do carry knives to think again.

“The consequences of doing so could be devastating for so many people, including your own family and friends.”

Knife crime rates on Teesside are the second highest in the country and John Holden, Head of Cleveland’s Unit for the Reduction of Violence, said work to reduce the number of incidents is already underway with the commissioning of high quality intervention strategies.

He said: “This campaign will give us a platform to further highlight some of the great work we are already doing, and it will show that working together as a partnership with our communities is the only way to tackle knife, and violent, crime.”

In recent years, The Northern Echo has had the sad duty of reporting on the tragic deaths of several teenagers.

The Northern Echo: Clockwise, from top right, Gordon Gault, 14, Tomasz Oleszak, 14, Connor Brown, 18 and Jack Woodley, 18Clockwise, from top right, Gordon Gault, 14, Tomasz Oleszak, 14, Connor Brown, 18 and Jack Woodley, 18 (Image: Contributors)

Connor Brown died in 2019 after a fatal stabbing trying to protect others from Leighton Barrass who pulled a knife during an argument over two £5 notes.

Police are continuing to investigate the fatal wounding of 14-year Gordon Gault in Newcastle, and 15-year-old Leighton Amies is facing a life sentence for the murder of Tomasz Oleszak, 14, in Gateshead in October.

The Northern Echo: Leighton Amies Leighton Amies (Image: Contributor)

A 16-year-old Gateshead boy has been charged with murder following the stabbing of 15-year-old Holly Newton in Hexham in January.

Jack Woodley was fatally stabbed during a savage gang attack as he left a fun fair in Houghton-le-Spring, in October 2021, and his ten killers were jailed for life for murder.

Jack’s mother, Zoey McGill, from Newton Aycliffe, said: “It is important that there is good communication so that different organisations are aware of what is going on in each area and they can give feedback to one another.

“It enables people who are doing this work to share their ideas so the aims of the Taskforce are really good.”

Tanya Brown launched the Connor Brown Trust in memory of her son and plans to campaign full time, visiting schools across the region to show children first-hand the impact of knife crime.

She said: “The Northern Echo has my full support.

“Using the powers of social media to reach our youth is no doubt the best way forward with young people.

“Any awareness highlighting knife crime is what is needed.”

The Northern Echo: Zoey McGill and Tanya Brown Zoey McGill and Tanya Brown (Image: Contributor)

Tanya and Zoey met with Sir Keir Starmer and Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper last month after the Labour leader responded to our front page plea to the Prime Minister for action on knife crime.

Sir Keir said their testimonies would help shape policy if his party forms a Government after the next General Election.

Read more: Powerful video shows County Durham mum singing to her murdered son on death bed

The Northern Echo: Tanya Brown and Zoey McGill talk to Sir Keir Starmer and Yvette Cooper Tanya Brown and Zoey McGill talk to Sir Keir Starmer and Yvette Cooper (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

Sir Keir said: “Zoey and Tanya’s deep and profound loss must be a wake-up call to us all.

“Knife crime doesn’t just take the lives of victims, but sends shockwaves through communities from which some struggle to ever recover.

“Zoey and Tanya’s courage in speaking out about their experiences to help others must not only be supported, but acted on with urgency. Jack and Connor’s deaths can never be just statistics.

“The Northern Echo has my full support in their campaign for change.”

During the meeting Ms Cooper wept as she saw a powerful and moving video of Zoey singing to Jack as he lay on his deathbed in hospital.

Ms Cooper said: “What happened to Jack and Connor was just devastating and it is unimaginable what Zoey, Tanya and their families have been going through.

“To lose young lives in this way is terrible.

“Hearing Zoey and Tanya describe the impact their loss has had on their families and local communities shows how urgently we need action to prevent knife crime in our communities.

“Thank you to the Northern Echo for the work you are doing this - we strongly support your campaign for change.”

Read more: The Northern Echo calls on the Prime Minister for urgent action on knife crime

The Prime Minister and Home Office has not responded to request for comment about the Taskforce but the initiative has won cross party support in the North East.

Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison said: “The Northern Echo are touching on a hugely important issue by launching this Taskforce.

“Knives are not a means of protection, they are offensive weapons - a fact that the mothers involved have to live with for the rest of their lives.

“The Government remains committed to taking knives out of the hands of criminals and supporting prevention through education.

“I will support anything we can do to stop the lives of our young residents being cut short early through violent crime, and I want to wish the Taskforce all the best of luck in preventing further tragedies.”

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Andy McDonald, MP for Middlesbrough, said it was ‘imperative’ organisations work together to tackle knife crime, describing it as a ‘scourge on our society’.

He said: “I wholeheartedly support the Northern Echo’s campaign to create a North East Knife Crime Taskforce. 

“Knife crime and fatalities caused by knives are a scourge on our society and it is imperative that we work collectively to highlight the danger of carrying knives, especially among young people across the region.

“Too many families have lost loved ones and it falls on us all to do all within our powers to prevent further deaths.”

The Northern Echo: The powerful image of Jack Woodley lying on a life support machine before he died was released by his mother Zoey McGill The powerful image of Jack Woodley lying on a life support machine before he died was released by his mother Zoey McGill (Image: Contributor)