SEVEN members of a drugs gang responsible for flooding the North-East with huge amounts of cocaine were behind bars last night.

The men - from Middlesbrough, Liverpool and Seaham, County Durham - were yesterday locked up for a total of almost 60 years.

Bulk shipments of the drug were regularly brought to the region where dealers high up the chain would cut it and sell it on.

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A judge described the gang as "determined, professional and sophisticated" but told members they played for "high stakes".

The plot began to unravel when police stopped a courier on the A19 on Teesside and recovered a half-kilo batch worth £23,000.

Driver Gary Ferguson had been watched during an undercover operation making a similar delivery to Seaham two months earlier.

A satellite navigation system in the Liverpool man's  car contained addresses of customers in parts of Middlesbrough as well as the former mining town.

Teesside Crown Court heard how Ferguson's mobile phone also gave away the identities of a number of those involved in the plot.

Peter Weston, 27, was the co-ordinator in Liverpool while Mark Jones, Ryan Hodgson and Brian Bell were the main recipients.

Bell, 49, a father-of-three from Seaham, and Jones, 30, and Hodgson, 30, from Middlesbrough, regularly received half-kilo deliveries.

The court heard how there were almost 20 cross-Pennines trips before 38-year-old Ferguson was arrested in January this year.

Hodgson also ran an "well-established" amphetamine business on Teesside which handled an estimated five to ten kilos.

He and two other Middlesbrough men, Liam Stephenson, 25, and James Joyce, 56, were involved in supplying the Class B drug.

Joyce was caught returning from a meeting in North Yorkshire with £15,000 worth of amphetamine - 1.54kg - on March 15.

Stephenson, who had nearly 2.5kg of the drug at his Coulby Newham home, acted as a warehouseman, the court heard.

Hodgson was caught with packages of amphetamine around him - a total of 1.5kg - in the kitchen of his home during a police raid.

In Liverpool, Sean Gould, 26, and Alan Kearns, 28, worked closely with Weston and were in regular contact with the North-East.

All seven men involved in the cocaine ring admitted conspiracy to supply Class A drugs between July 2011 and May this year.

Hodgson also admitted conspiracy to supply Class B drugs along with Joyce, Stephenson and Paul Greenwood, 47, from Bradford.

Weston was jailed for 11 years and two months, Gould received nine-and-a-half years, Kearns got eight years and Ferguson six years and two months.

Judge Simon Bourne-Arton, QC, jailed Bell for ten years, Jones for seven-and-a-half years and Hodgson for seven years and three months.

Greenwood received three years and four months, Stephenson got two years and eight months, and Joyce got a six-month suspended sentence.

The judge told the men that they were driven by greed and described Hodgson as "a determined, professional, persistent supplier".

He rejected defence claims that some of the gang members were naive and were put under pressure to take part.