SEVEN people have now been arrested as 150 police officers raided properties in County Durham this morning as part of an operation into an organised criminal gang.

The gang is believed to be responsible for thefts and burglaries committed over the last year totalling more than £1m.

Brothers Brian Thexton, 43, and Ronald Thexton, 35, of Park Road, Witton Park, are wanted after making off from the scene. 

Police attended a total of 13 properties in Witton Park, Willington, Crook and Stanley Crook, in County Durham, and Morecambe, in Lancashire, on Wednesday morning.

The Northern Echo:

RAIDS: Officers raid a house during an operation in County Durham targeting a suspected organised crime gang

Durham Police Chief Constable Mike Barton said: "They've always been on my radar since I've been here. There are eight or nine crime gangs that have always been on everybody's lips as people who commit crimes with impunity.

"What we've found is this particular criminal gang very rarely now operates in Durham because they know we are on their backs.

"We've found we've displaced their criminality to Northumbria, Cumbria and Lancashire and that's why we're working with two of those forces today to get them arrested."

Six men from the local area were arrested, along with a 26-year-old woman, who was arrested in the Morecambe area on suspicion of conspiracy to commit theft. 

Two men aged 39 and 22 were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit theft. 

A further two men aged 70 and 48 were arrested on suspicion of theft, while a 24-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender.

A 39-year-old man was arrested later in the day on suspicion of theft.

They all remain in custody.

The offences, committed across the North, include high value commercial plant theft, stealing ATMs and cash in transit thefts, as well as burglaries at domestic properties.

The operation was led by Lancashire Police, with help from officers in Durham. 

Inspector Andy Reeves, from Bishop Auckland Neighbourhood Policing team, said: "This is a huge scale operation this morning involving Lancashire, Durham and Cumbria forces and around 150 people tackling organised crime

"These people live in the community they are committing large scale crime of high values of up to £1m, we believe. 

"It's important for our communities to see the police tackling these criminals.  

"This family that's being targeted today will be well known. We are here to reassure the community that we are tackling the crime." 

Detective Chief Inspector Rebecca Smith, of Lancashire Constabulary, said: “Firstly we’d like to thank our colleagues in Durham and Cumbria constabularies for their assistance in the coordinating and planning of today’s activity.

“Today’s arrests are the latest stage of a long running investigation into an organised criminal gang which we believe is responsible for a large number of thefts which have been committed across the north of England in the last year.

“The activities of organised gangs can have a dramatic effect on our communities, causing fear in our neighbourhoods and causing businesses to suffer. We will not stand for this in Lancashire and we hope today’s activity shows our commitment to tackling this type of crime.

“We’d also like to remind members of the public that we rely on their information to make us aware of this type of criminal activity, so that we can investigate and continue to disrupt organised gangs. I would encourage anyone who feels that they have information to get in touch."

The raids were part of Operation Sentinel – Durham Constabulary’s new joint initiative with neighbouring forces, Northumbria and Cleveland to disrupt and prevent organised crime.

Police have been gathering evidence in preparation for the operation for the last six months.

Mr Barton added: "These operations take a long time in the background. We've got to painstakingly accumulate evidence because, quite rightly, in court, people like this can challenge whether the evidence is relevant or not.

"We have to be meticulous to make sure when we do get to court we have a good case."