Proposals to stop lives being lost on the streets by tackling knife crime, shaped following a meeting with mothers of North East murder victims, have been announced by Sir Keir Starmer.

The Labour leader heard powerful testimonies from Zoey McGill and Tanya Brown during a visit to the region organised by the Northern Echo as part of a hard-hitting campaign for action.

Afterwards he pledged to develop a strategy to implement if he succeeds in becoming Prime Minister and has today (Wednesday) revealed the blueprint for a £100 million youth programme.

The Northern Echo: How the Northern Echo reported the meeting in Hartlepool last year How the Northern Echo reported the meeting in Hartlepool last year (Image: Northern Echo)It has been welcomed by the campaigning mums and Northern Echo editor Gavin Foster, who chairs the North East Knife Crime Taskforce, which was formed last June as part of the campaign.

The new plan, a direct echo of New Labour’s SureStart childcare scheme, would see a nationwide targeted programme aimed at identifying and supporting young people at risk of being drawn into violent crime.

Alongside better support, Labour is also promising ‘real consequences’ for knife crime with an end to ‘empty warnings and apology letters’ for those guilty of knife possession.

The Northern Echo: Sir Keir Starmer Sir Keir Starmer (Image: Contributor)Sir Keir said: “No more apology letters, no more weak warnings. If you carry a knife, you’ll carry the consequences.

“But this is not just about sanctions once the choices have been made.

“I saw as chief prosecutor the power of prevention – lives are being lost to knife crime because Tory governments don’t.”

Labour said it would include a network of hubs for young people with youth workers placed in A&E units, custody centres and communities.

Mentors will also be placed in pupil referral units, with funding for the plan coming from the commitment to charge 20 per cent VAT on private school fees, as well as from recouping the full cost of gun licensing and promised public sector reforms.

The support measures will be accompanied by a promise of tougher sanctions for those carrying knives, with every offender required to be referred to a youth offending team and receive a mandatory and ‘bespoke’ action plan to prevent re-offending.

The Northern Echo: Tanya Brown and Zoey McGill talk to Sir Keir Starmer and Yvette CooperTanya Brown and Zoey McGill talk to Sir Keir Starmer and Yvette Cooper (Image: Sarah Caldecott)Tougher guidance would also be introduced to ensure serious penalties, including curfews or tagging, are considered where appropriate.

Sir Keir said: “We will give young people real support to achieve their potential and stay on track, but flout that chance, and they’ll feel the full force of the law.”

It comes as the party said it would oversee a ‘total crackdown’ on the availability of knives on British streets, promising a comprehensive ban that would also target the sale of dangerous knives online including Rambo knives, swords and machetes.

The party has hit out at the delay in ministers legislating to ban zombie-style knives, after it was promised last August.

The Northern Echo: Northern Echo editor Gavin Foster Northern Echo editor Gavin Foster  (Image: Contributor)Mr Foster said: “This is a huge step forward in what the Northern Echo's has been fighting and campaigning for on behalf of the families who suffered devastating loss to knife crime.

“We set up the knife crime taskforce to try to bring together police, politicians, victims and families, health chiefs, councils and many other organisations to try to co-ordinate efforts in ridding our streets of knives.

“Indeed, Sir Keir and Yvette Cooper met with some of the mums we have been working with and Yvette has already commented how moved she was by their harrowing accounts.

“It appears our collective voices have been heard.”

Zoey, from Newton Aycliffe, lost her son, Jack Woodley, who 18, after he was fatally stabbed leaving the Houghton Feast in October 2021.

Zoey, who is 37, welcomed the news but would also like to see the prisons reformed so it is a real deterrent after a rap video of an inmate she believes is Jack’s killer, Calum Maddison, emerged on Tik Tok.

The Northern Echo: Zoey McGill Zoey McGill (Image: Sarah Caldecott)She said: “It seems Keir and Yvette are the only ones who have stuck to their word on helping stop this horrific pandemic we are in.

“I really hope and pray we can put words into action.

“It can be stopped, or at least hugely reduced, and we are simply not doing enough.”

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Tanya Brown, from Sunderland, formed the Connor Brown Trust in memory of her 18-year-old son who was stabbed to death outside a nightclub in 2019.

She believes the Labour leader is right to hit out regarding the delay in changing the law regarding the availability of knives.

The Northern Echo: Tanya with husband Simon at a taskforce meeting Tanya with husband Simon at a taskforce meeting (Image: Contributor)Tanya said: “The Government has a responsibility to the public and in delaying this is quite honestly not taking the problem seriously enough.

“Knife crime is on the rise and how many more lives need to be lost before the Prime minister takes notice and actually is pro-active instead of just words.

“All knives should have already been banned there is no reason whatsoever for anyone to have these knives as they are deadly weapons.

“The fact he is also planning on tackling online sales is crucial and would be so beneficial in tackling knife crime.

“I really welcome this proposal from Labour as they seem to be the only ones listening to us.”

The Northern Echo: Clockwise from top left, Connor Brown, Chris Cave, Tomasz Oleszak and Jack Woodley . All four North East teenagers lost their lives to knife crime.Clockwise from top left, Connor Brown, Chris Cave, Tomasz Oleszak and Jack Woodley . All four North East teenagers lost their lives to knife crime. (Image: Contributor)Our graph below shows how knife crime has risen across the North East in recent years

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Theresa Cave, from Redcar, who formed the Chris Cave Foundation following her 17-year-old son’s death in 2003, has been campaign for action ever since.

She said rather than banning weapons, energy should be focussed on funding education programmes and creating real deterrents.

She said: “Talk is cheap. It is deterrents we need, deterrents that will make a huge difference and make people think twice before even picking up a knife.

“Pay the people who know what they are doing to deliver the education and concentrate on fighting to strengthen sentences that fit the crime and are carried out to the full for repeat offenders.”

“Had the Government not taken away all the young people’s services and thrown these kids back onto street corners then maybe it wouldn’t be so bad now.”

The Northern Echo has contacted the Home Office for comment.