A hard-hitting film written and produced by college students to highlight the dangers of cybercrime has been premiered in the region.

HACK was officially launched at New College Durham, as part of the Safe Durham Partnership’s work to prevent young people from engaging in illegal online activity.

Filmed on location in the North East, the production was created entirely by New College media students and features local actors and a compelling and relatable storyline with a clear message.

It follows a young man called Harry, a typical teenager who enjoys gaming, hanging out with his mates and going to school. One day, Harry’s best friend Dave decides to play a joke on him, and Harry’s embarrassment and need for revenge send him down a rabbit hole of criminal online activity that he does not understand and cannot stop. And why would he want to? After all, he finally feels good at something, and really, what’s the worst that can happen?

HACK sets out to answer these questions and raise awareness of the consequences of cybercrime, which can be as serious as a ten-year prison sentence. It will be shown alongside the National Crime Agency’s Cyberchoices videos at schools and events across County Durham to help deter young people from making the wrong choices.

The project has also given the students involved an opportunity to put their filmmaking skills to the test.

Lewis Smith, who is studying for a level 4 foundation degree in film and media production at New College, said: “Working on the Safer Cyber project is the closest I’ve got to working in the media industry, with the Safe Durham Partnership as a real client. The experience was a lot of fun but also showed me what it’s like to work professionally on a shoot. It’s something I would love to do again.”

According to the National Crime Agency, there are millions of incidents of cybercrime reported each year and the average age of those involved is 17.

In 2017, Durham County Council’s Safer Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee led a review exploring methods to prevent young people engaging in or continuing to commit cybercrime.

One of its recommendations was for Durham Safer Cyber Group to work with young people to produce a film. The group is a sub-group of the Safe Durham Partnership, which is made up of Durham County Council, Durham Constabulary, County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, the National Probation Service, local NHS organisations and other partners committed to tackling crime and reducing re-offending.

Councillor Andrea Patterson, Cabinet member for corporate services and rural issues at Durham County Council, which includes responsibility for cyber safety, said: “HACK is a fantastic production with a storyline that will resonate with young people. Most importantly, it will help them to understand the impact cybercrime can have not only on the victims but on those who commit the offence.

“The reality is that cybercrime can result in everything from a police warning, to a spell in prison. It can also leave young people with a criminal record that can affect their future education and career prospects.”

Cllr Heather Liddle, vice chair of the council’s safer and stronger communities overview and scrutiny committee, said: “Experience has shown that the young people involved in cybercrime are not always motivated by money but by the emotional buzz of completing a challenge or proving themselves to their peers.

“The students who created HACK understand the pressures young people face and that is what makes this film so effective. It has the power to make a positive difference and we would like to congratulate these young filmmakers for doing such a great job.”

As well as the film premiere, the launch event also included a question and answer session with the cast and crew.

Stuart Drummond, programme lead for the foundation degree in film and media production at New College Durham, said it had been a valuable experience for all involved, adding: “Working with Durham County Council and Durham Constabulary allowed us to access props, costumes and locations which really added to the quality of this production. We were also supported by actors from the college’s performing arts course.

“It was a challenging and fun project to make on a topic that is very relevant to young people.”

For advice on how to stay safe online, visit www.getsafeonline.org/durham/

For more information about further and higher education courses at New College Durham visit www.newcollegedurham.ac.uk or call 0191 375 4040