A CRIMINAL network has been dismantled and members of a notorious North-East crime family are behind bars for their part in Britain’s largest car insurance scam.

The Wright family, from Burnhope, County Durham, are thought to have masterminded the £3m "cash for crash" scam to defraud insurers by staging accidents and making false claims.

In the Derwentside area, there were so many crashes car insurance premiums for law-abiding motorists increased by around £100-a-year.

Sixty people across the region were been convicted of taking part in the scam, making it the largest of its kind in the country.

Mike Barton, Chief Constable of Durham Police, said the Wrights and their associates were once the county’s "number one crime family" who thought they were "untouchable".

Trials have been going on at Newcastle Crown Court, for the last year and crime boss Alan Wright, 48, from Burnhope, has been jailed for four years, but legal restrictions mean the case could not be reported until today. (Monday, March 18)

Mr Barton said: “The family that organised these crashes were the number one crime family in the county and that’s why they were targeted.

“There is no doubt that some of these criminals thought they were untouchable, but none of them are. We are going to make County Durham and Darlington a no-go area for organised crime.”

Judge Roger Thorn lifted the reporting restrictions following the completion of the trial of the sixth set of defendants.

Remanding them in custody last week he warned them they were facing jail.

He said: “Each defendant must have known when they pleaded not guilty that a prison sentence would be inevitable on conviction.”

The Northern Echo:

Police estimate the value of the fraud could be far higher than £3m and will now be looking recover the money made through the courts with a series of Proceeds of Crime hearings.

Mr Barton said he intends to maintain pressure on organised gangs to prevent them returning to crime when they have served their prison sentences.

He said: “We believe millions of pounds have been criminally gained by these people and we will now actively seek that money back.

“The key to all of this is to strip them of their criminal gains and that is the next step.

“Of course they aren’t going to prison for life, so we are preparing for when they come out. Either they start to behave or we will start to target them all over again.”