FORENSIC specialists training with the National Policing Improvement Agency at Harperley Hall, near Crook, have set up mock crime scenes at Lafarge Cement's old Weardale works at Eastgate.

Office buildings, sports fields, shunting yards and car parks look like something from the American TV crime series CSI, with realistic props, including fake blood and life-like dummies, used to help in teaching the latest technology and investigation techniques.

Instructors set the scenes for groups of students to learn how to find, collect and analyse examples of forensic evidence, which is the key to solving 38 per cent of all UK crimes.

Students are sent to Harperley from all over the world, and some already have several years experience of investigating major crimes.

Training is supported by a major incident vehicle equipped with the latest communications devices.

Lee Aspery, team leader for continuous professional development, said: "We carry out crime scene training all over the world. This site, helpfully very close to Harperley Hall, provides a sealed and secure environment, the perfect protected location for us to carry out in-depth forensic training away from the public eye."

Lafarge closed the works in 2002, and the giant chimney and furnaces were demolished in 2006. Plans are being finalised to build a renewable energy village on the land.

Lafarge's regeneration project manager, Lloyd McInally said: "In order to avoid interfering with planted 'evidence', we are very much kept at a distance, but even from the other side of the cordon, the training exercises look fascinating.

"We hope many more crime scene managers qualify following their training at this site."