A GANG involved in a new crimewave sweeping the country was caught after carrying out a series of raids in the North-East.

The thieves were looking for nitrous oxide canisters which is used as a "controlled drug" at raves and music festivals.

Commonly known as laughing gas or hippy crack, just one cylinder could make the criminals between £2,000 and £3,000.

Intelligence suggests dealers - attracted by the lucrative profits - charge £2 or £3 per gas-filled balloon at the events.

Now, the Government is moving to ban the sale of nitrous oxide because of the dangers. In 2015, there were several deaths.

Detective Constable Steve Barrow, from the North East Regional Special Operations Unit, told last night of the investigation.

The 33 break-ins were carried out at NHS and private hospitals across England and Scotland between 2014 and 2015.

There were also linked offences of theft, taking vehicles without consent and making off without payment, Det Con Barrow revealed.

He got involved in the case in April 2015 as a result of a burglary at the Woodlands Hospital on Morton Park Way in Darlington.

Closed circuit television footage identified a Honda CRV, which was later involved in a chase on the M6 in Staffordshire.

The breakthrough led to four men originally from the Aldershot area of Hampshire, who have been jailed at Teesside Crown Court after pleading guilty to conspiracy to steal.

Benjamin Marett, 27, James McNeill, 28, and Mark Fosh, 29, each received three years, and Nicholas MacDonald, 24, got 18 months.

The court heard how the gang also targeted hospitals in Shotley Bridge, near Consett; Harrogate and Alnwick in Northumberland.

Generally, they would travel to the locations in the dark, and usually not all together, and stay in local accommodation.

Det Con Barrow said: "They would often use hire vehicles and stolen vehicles on false plates, and were prepared to go long distances.

"They were believed to complete a ‘recce’ of the offence area prior to targeting it.

"The internet site ‘Booking.com’ was used to book accommodation and they would often stay in the area at various hotels or B&B the same day of the offence was committed.

"A mobile phone found in the vehicle after the pursuit had been hitting cell sites all over the country, so it was a very active crew."