A HIGHLY organised gang of drug dealers are starting lengthy jail sentences for their roles in flooding Teesside with Class A drugs.

Members of the trans-Pennine drugs network were caught after Cleveland Police closed down one of the biggest drug cases in its history.

Operation Cobweb brought down a network of suppliers, couriers and dealers who carried out at least 100 major deals in a 15-month period.

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Teesside Crown Court heard how Ben Crombie, of Oldham, Lancashire, headed up the criminal network and had day to day dealings with people concerned in the supply of heroin, crack cocaine and cocaine between the North West and Teesside area.

More than £700,000 worth of drugs was recovered during the operation, which the prosecution described as just the 'tip of the iceberg'.

The court heard the network included several drugs gangs operating across Teesside, who received regular shipments of drugs from a number of couriers recruited by Crombie.

Today (Friday, May 2) the Recorder of Middlesbrough Simon Bourne-Arton, sentenced more than 20 members of the gang, after listening to two days of mitigation.

He said: "There was a conspiracy to transport Class A drugs from the North West to Teesside - heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine.

"This was a conspiracy which had these factors. It was carried out in a determined and ruthless fashion; it was put into effect by experienced criminals enjoying high financial reward; and it was a conspiracy that succeeded in bringing in drugs on a large scale throughout this period."

He said the true scale of the drug supply organization would never be known.

He added: “There were more than 100 trips made from the North West to the North East – I accept that not all of them were for the delivery of drugs but on two occasions half a kilogramme and 2kg were recovered.”

Following a trial in March, Scott Pickering (also known as McGowan), 28, of School Walk, Stockton; Robert Hickman, 28, of Shepherdson Court, South Bank; and Hannah Hesketh, 25, of St James Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, were convicted of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.

Many of the defendants had pleaded guilty ahead of the trial, including Crombie, and the majority of the members of the supply network on Teesside.

Crombie, 31, was sentenced to 14 years; his right hand man James Kelly, of Oldham, was sentenced to given ten years and eight months; Jamie Knox, 25, of Oldham, nine years and four months.

While Teesside gang leader Hickman was sentenced to 16 years; fellow gang leaders Pickering was detained for 15 years; David Hobson, 30, of Raglan Close, Stockton, eight years and eight months; Jason Turnbull, 32, of Lulsgate, Thornaby, ten years and five months; Martin Dougan, 31, of Cambridge Square, Middlesbrough, nine years and two months; Scott Hine, 31, of Laburnum Road, Ormesby, Middlesbrough, eight years

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and Junaid Mahmood, of Oxbridge Lane, Stockton, was sentenced to eight years and eight months.

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The North West couriers: Mark Dutton, 59, of Greater Manchester, was sentenced to six years and eight months; David Wrigley, 32, was given seven years; Ben Graham, 25, was sentenced to six years; while his girlfriend Hesketh was sentenced to three years and six months; Stephen Mayall, 30, of Greater Manchester was given six years and eight months.

The remainder of the network are from the Teesside area: David Cuthbert, 37, of Ware Street, Stockton received five years; Ricky Beresford, 23, of Easton Road, Thornaby, got six years and four months;

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Stephen Sparrow, 28, of Black Diamond Way, Eaglescliffe, got six years and eight months

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Mark Powell, 36, of Londonderry Road, Stockton, three years with three months consecutive for a suspended sentence;

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Mark Watson, 27, of Cunningham Drive, Thornaby, was sentenced to four years and four months;

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Danny Wilks, 24, of Grange Road, Stockton, received seven years and four months

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while Paul Gill, of Surbiton Road, Stockton, was sentenced to four years and four months.

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Five other members are already serving sentences for their part in the conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.

Speaking after the hearing Detective Sergeant Colin Helyer, of Cleveland Police’s organised crime squad, welcomed the sentences.

He said: “I think they were all reasonable and what they were expecting. None of them were excessive and none of them were particularly lenient, they highlighted the role that each member of the network performed during this conspiracy.”