Immersive virtual reality technology has been used to recreate the murder of a North East teenager to help young people learn about the danger of knife crime.

Interviews with the killers of 18-year-old Connor Brown have been played to students taking part in a week-long trainee detective programme.

They also received expert medical testimony on Connor’s fatal injuries and the attempts to save his life, before paying a visit to Sunderland Magistrates’ Court for a unique behind-the-scenes perspective on the judicial process.

Backed by Connor’s family and friends, who also delivered input, the ground-breaking project intends to educate young children on the risks of knife crime and the devastating ramifications for their families, friends and the wider community.

The Northern Echo: Detective Inspector Angela Hewitt of Northumbria Police, Tanya Brown, Simon Brown, and NEROCU Detective Inspector Andrea Burns.Detective Inspector Angela Hewitt of Northumbria Police, Tanya Brown, Simon Brown, and NEROCU Detective Inspector Andrea Burns. (Image: Northumbria Police)Get more from The Northern Echo and stay informed with a digital subscription. Click here to find out more.

Connor’s mum Tanya Brown said: “This project is something very different, it’s a new way of learning and these children are learning so much about knife crime, including the consequences of their actions.

“It’s very hands-on and will definitely help younger generations engage with the sessions and leave a real impact on them.

“More communities should be looking to replicate this fantastic project; it’s been incredible to be part of something so important.”

The project is the first of its kind and has been the hard work of officers and staff from Northumbria Police with the support of the North East Regional Organised Crime Unit (NEROCU), the Connor Brown Trust and Education Partnership North East.

The Northern Echo: Connor Brown Connor Brown (Image: Contributor)Connor died after a fatal attack in an alleyway in Sunderland city centre on February 24, 2019.

He had been stabbed five times, with Leighton Barrass sentenced to life behind bars after being convicted of his murder at Newcastle Crown Court in December that year.

Barrass’ co-accused Ally Gordon was found guilty of manslaughter and handed a prison sentence of three years and six months.

The Northern Echo: Leighton Barrass and Ally GordonLeighton Barrass and Ally Gordon (Image: Contributor)The new project saw seventeen students, aged 11-14, from Hetton Academy, participate in the innovative week-long programme.

They were split into teams at Sunderland College’s Bede Campus and challenged to solve the case after being walked through each step of the Northumbria Police investigation.

Advanced 360 immersive technology and virtual reality in the college's Innovation Space allowed the diligent detectives to walk through the crime scene and a custody suite to evaluate the evidence.

Detective Inspector Angela Hewitt, of Northumbria Police, said: “Connor’s murder is just one example of the utter devastation carrying a knife can cause.

“Lives are lost, and futures destroyed in the blink of an eye, which is why as a Force we are doing all that we can to prevent further instances of knife crime.”

Det Insp Hewitt added: “This project is a brilliant and engaging initiative which has managed to deliver our key messages to children in an innovative and captivating manner.

“We would like to thank our partner organisations for all their efforts, and most importantly Connor’s family for their support.

“Without their continued strength and dedication to the cause, this hugely impactful week as part of our ongoing prevention efforts would not have been possible.”

The Northern Echo: Two students from Hetton Academy who participated in the Trainee Detective programmeTwo students from Hetton Academy who participated in the Trainee Detective programme (Image: Contributor)

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Detective Inspector Andrea Burns, of the North East Regional Organised Crime Unit, said: “This project is so important, the months of planning have ensured we delivered an impactful around knife crime and the devastating ripple effect it has.

“It is about getting them engaged and involved so that the message they leave with has a lasting impact. It has been great to see how much the kids have taken from the week- and our work doesn’t end here. We’re looking to continue to deliver the project and hopefully we can replicate it across the country too.”

The Northern Echo set up the North East Knife Crime Taskforce as part of a campaign to tackle the root causes of knife crime.

It is a public forum and works with the Connor Brown Trust, as well as the mothers of other victims, and agencies across the region to address the problem.

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Gerard Elder, Immersive Learning Lead at Education Partnership North East, said: "It has been a fantastic week and we are proud to host the Trainee Detective project at Bede Campus.

“The young people from Hetton Academy have enthusiastically taken part in the various activities and shown that they have marvellous brains that can evaluate crime scenes and piece together all the evidence.

“It's a humbling thought that projects like this could actually save a life.”