THIS is the dramatic moment armed police swooped to stop a suspect vehicle on a busy residential street.

A Transit van was brought to a halt by plain-clothes police travelling in unmarked cars on Yarm Road, in Darlington at around 5.30pm last night.

The van mounted the pavement and crashed into a garden wall, where it was surrounded by several police armed with machine-guns, quickly backed up by dozens of uniformed officers.

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Three people believed to have been inside the van were forced to the ground and held at gunpoint on the pavement before being led away by officers.

Several witnesses reported hearing a number of bangs, although police insisted that no shots had been fired during the operation.

The drama unfolded in front of several householders and bystanders on the residential street, one of the main routes in and out of Darlington.

One eyewitness told The Northern Echo: “We were watching the football and heard a noise like someone was banging on the window.

“I looked outside and there was a Transit van which had gone into the garden wall of a house - it looked as if the van had crashed.

“There were unmarked cars in front of it and at the side and then two or three normal police cars came behind.

“There were three people on the road: there was one of them on the road, another bent over a car and another about 15 yards behind the van.

“Some of the police had guns and there was a lot of shouting”.

He added: “It was quite a few minutes before the police took them away.

“The police just kept coming and coming. In the end, we counted 13 cars with flashing lights and a police helicopter circling overhead.

“A lot of people arrived at the scene and the police moved them back”.

Another eyewitness, who was driving behind the van when it was stopped, said: “The van was forced off the road into the garden wall of the house “There were unmarked police cars in front, at the side and behind of the van blocking it in. There was more police vehicles behind the van and cars.

“There was at least six armed police officers surrounding the van, with one stood on the wall aiming into the van, another was stood on the bonnet of the front police car and there was one aiming into the driver’s side window”.

She added: “We heard at least two gunshots and we saw one of the officers’ guns smoking after being fired.

“The car in front of us, which was right next to it as it happened, reversed and then mounted the pavement and drove passed to get out the way.

“We had to do a U-turn around the traffic island.

“We were very shocked and scared to be honest”.

Uniformed police closed Yarm Road, between Bright Street and Cobden Street, during the operation.

A spokesman for Durham Constabulary said they were not in a position to release any further details about the incident, but added: “We can confirm that an incident has taken place on Yarm Road. No shots were fired”.