A gang of up to ten masked and armed men travelled from London to the North East intending to plunder a large-scale cannabis growing operation.

But, Durham Crown Court heard that the otherwise well-planned raid failed as the gang went to the wrong premises - although they were in the right vicinity in Chester-le-Street.

Four of the gang are now beginning prison sentences for their involvement in the attempted “taxing” raid, with two other members, both with no previous offences on their records, given suspended sentences.

All six appeared at the court for sentence this week (Monday, July 3) having each admitted two counts of burglary at different stages in proceedings, following initial pleas of not guilty.

Read more: Cannabis 'gardener' fled house in County Durham when police raided

Jonathan Harley, prosecuting, said the gang travelled in convoy from London to Chester-le-Street, in up to five vehicles, four cars and a Transit-type van, arriving at a car park at the rear of Sambuca restaurant in Front Street, in the early hours of November 28, last year.

Mr Harley said entry was gained to an upstairs storage area at the rear of the restaurant by forcing fire doors.

But there was no evidence of a disturbance to anything other than the storage area, where a flat-screen tv set was damaged by being trampled on, with footwear marks later attributed to members of the group.

Nothing was taken from the premises, where it appears the gang did not remain for long.

Mr Harley said those that entered were seen on CCTV leaving in their respective vehicles.

But a short time later they returned on foot to the car park, where they were joined by a Nissan Almeira, which was used to ram the roller shutter at the rear of the nearby Furniture Warehouse store.

Mr Harley said some members of the gang then entered the rear storage area for a short time, before they all emerged and fled the premises as police arrived on scene.

The only evidence of damage and disturbance to the store was to the roller shutters and in the storage area.

Read more: Officers 'sniff out' Chester-le-Street cannabis farm and arrest three suspects

Mr Harley said defendants Delaney Abolaji and Reece Bartholomew were arrested nearby on Cone Terrace.

Officers recovered £332 and a mobile phone from Abolaji, while Bartholomew had a craft knife and a face mask.

A crowbar was also found in the BMW car in which they had travelled to Chester-le-Street.

Two other members of the gang were arrested in the car park, with their vehicle parked nearby while a further suspect was arrested as they tried to hide in the back garden of a nearby home, where the householder was awoken.

A police dog handler found another of the defendants, Mehmet Behcet, who was trying to hide in a bush, while co-accused Mahdi Lourdjane was arrested after a fight in the car park of a nearby Wilko store.

Mr Harley said he was in possession of a “burner” phone and a balaclava mask.

A mallet and a hammer were recovered from the van, in which false registration plates for the Almeira were also found.

Other implements, including a crow bar and machete, were found abandoned in the road where various gang members had attempted to flee along, prior to the police arrival.

All seven arrested men were interviewed and the majority gave “no comment” replies to police questioning.

Mr Harley said a police search in the area uncovered a cannabis grow containing 1,500 plants in a nearby building, which it is believed was what the defendants were looking for when they went to Chester-le-Street.

Abolaji, 24, of Waltham Forest, 22-year-old Bartholomew, of Southall, Behcet and Agit Dereli, both 23 and from Islington, Lourdjane, also 23, and of Walworth, plus Baran Pisiren, 24, of Southwark, all travelled from London for the sentencing hearing.

The case of a 31-year-old co-accused, also arrested the same morning, will be mentioned later in the year, as he has other court hearings, elsewhere, in coming months.

Defence barristers told the court that the men took with them the various tools not for violence, but for use in the planned burglary.

Passing sentence, Judge Jo Kidd said at least ten people travelled North in a convoy of five vehicles.

“It was planned. The numbers they were in was so if they got to the premises where the cannabis grow was, it would have the effect of threatening, at the very least, those who were growing the cannabis.

“That’s the reason why they were there with crowbars, hammers, a Stanley knife, with balaclavas and scarfs, in order to conceal their identity.

“The message needs to be sent out if you travel the country to behave in lawless fashion and engage with those involved in the production of drugs, you will be treated severely by the courts.

“It’s an unusual case, but it can only be seen to be targeting premises which contained highly lucrative criminal substances which would have been guarded.

“You travelled to rob it and that’s why you travelled in such numbers, with crow bars and other weapons and balaclavas.”

Abolaji received a 30-month prison sentence, Lourdjane and Behcet received prison terms of 25 months, each, while Dereli received a straight two-year sentence.

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Bartholomew and Pisiren received sentences, respectively, of two years and 21 months, both suspended for two years.

Both must also complete 200-hours’ unpaid work and attend 41 rehabilitation activity days, as well as observing four-month 8pm to 6am home curfews.

Judge Kidd also ordered forfeiture and destruction of all the weapons and tools seized from the defendants upon arrest.