More than 150 young people from 16 Derby schools have attended a youth summit in the city to discuss the dangers of knife crime.

The event, held at Pride Park on Tuesday 21 February, was part of Project Zao  – an operation to take knives off the street and educate people about the dangers and consequences of carrying a blade. The pupils heard some emotional and hard-hitting personal stories from those who had been directly affected by knife crime.

The summit, jointly organised by Derby City Council and Derbyshire Police , included accounts from ex-gang members who admitted to having previously carried knives

Jason Farmer was an ex-gang member from Merseyside who admitted to regularly carrying knives for ‘self-protection’ in his past. He explained that he eventually realised he had choices and that he had chosen a life away from crime, even though his friends and fellow gang members were pressuring him to join them in drug dealing. He admitted that these had been tough choices for him as they were his friends and seemed to be making a lot of money. However whereas some of his old friends had been murdered and jailed, he has gone on to have a successful career and was now fostering young children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Jason said:

I am pleased to speak about my experiences at events like this as it gives young people an opportunity to hear from and speak to someone who has been there and been faced with difficult choices. Hopefully this will show that they do have choices and will encourage them to take a more positive road.

Also speaking at the event was Yvonne Upton, whose son Connor Upton, was stabbed and killed outside a Burton nightclub in June 2010. Yvonne explained:

I spoke at the event in the hope that it will educate and engage young people by delivering the harsh realities of what can happen if they carry a knife.

Marcus Shepherd is the Head teacher of Merrill Academy who sent pupils to the summit.

He said:

We had 11 young people attend the event. It’s particularly good that the messages are being delivered by their peers rather than juts adults. It is so important that they realise that if they carry a knife it could kill someone and what affect that has on them everyone.

Councillor Asaf Afzal, Cabinet Member for Cohesion and Integration, said:

It is vital that we can provide funding for such a powerful scheme. The group of speakers have remarkable stories and it helps educate pupils on the importance of making the right decisions and the consequences if they make the wrong ones. It is important that we promote the dangers associated with drug use, joining gangs and carrying knives because we want everyone in the community to be safe.

Superintendent Tracy Harrison, who is in charge of operational policing in Derby opened the event and said:

This is part of a package of measures we are delivering as part of Project ZAO. We were particularly keen to engage with young people to let them know what the consequences are of them making a decision to carry a knife.

Some of the messages were particularly tough, not just from us but also from their peers and ex-gang members about the horrible realities of the injuries and dangers involved.

Events like this are key to the message that we are trying to deliver about the consequences of making that decision to carry a knife and are supported with the inputs that our Safer Neighbourhood teams are delivering in schools across the county.

If you have any information relating to knife crime in your community you can call your local safer neighbourhood team on 101, or send them a message online by visiting the contact us section of the Derbyshire Police website.

You can also anonymously contact the independent charity Crimestoppers, on 0800 555 111 or by visiting the Crimestoppers website.

Published: Thursday 23rd February