FIFTEEN people have been arrested in dawn raids across the country, as part of the largest intelligence-led operation a North-East police force has ever seen.

More than 200 police officers, including some from the National Crime Agency, swooped on homes across County Durham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Market Drayton, in Shropshire, shortly before 6am today (Wednesday, March 27), under Operation Russett.

The simultaneous raids followed a 12-month operation against organised criminal gangs and drug dealers.

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Fifteen people were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs – 12 men, two women and a youth.

In County Durham, around 130 officers were raided six houses, in Sherburn Village, Thornley, South Hetton and West Rainton.

Six men, aged 27 to 48, and a woman in her late 20s were arrested. Tonight, they are still being held in custody for questioning.

Cannabis, amphetamine and three vehicles were seized and police called in the RSPCA after discovering a puppy farm at one of the Durham addresses.

An investigation will now be held into its legitimacy.

It is the largest intelligence-led operation Durham Police has ever been part of and continues its Operation Sledgehammer against organised crime.

Afterwards, police were on patrol in the villages where the raids took place, explaining what had happened to residents.

Neighbourhood Chief Inspector Andy Huddleston said: “Today’s operation has been an overwhelming success.

“This 12-month campaign would not have been possible without the support the support of local people who have given us invaluable information.

“Organised crime affects everybody and today’s activity shows that we will act in response to community concerns and put criminals out of business.”

Chief Inspector Elaine Taylor added: “Those who deal in drugs are often part of a wider criminal network and by taking action against them we are sending out a clear message to others involved in criminality that we will continue to dismantle, disrupt and destroy these networks.”

Anyone with information about drug dealing or criminal activity is asked to call the police on 101 or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800-555-111.