Police have outlined how they pinpointed seven gang members for their actions after a bitter dispute with a rival gang exploded into a weekend of violence and destruction.

As reported earlier today, (Thursday September 7), seven members of “organiser” James Stephenson’s drugs gang, based in the Horden and Peterlee areas, received prison sentences collectively totalling almost 100 years at Durham Crown Court.

Following ram-raids, car arson offences in Hartlepool and a street shooting in Horden, over the weekend of January 7 and 8, detectives launched a complex and intense investigation.

It uncovered significant digital and forensic evidence leaving those responsible no option but to admit their crimes.

The Northern Echo: Drug gang members jailed for more than a total of 94 years.  Top, from left, James Stephenson,

Operation Coastal saw a 100-strong team of officers and staff examine more than 400 hours of CCTV, analyse communication data, gather information from the community and execute a series of dawn raids on several properties.

As a result, seven men were quickly charged and were sentenced today by Judge James Adkin.

Read more: 7 gang members jailed over feud with rival group in Horden

Stephenson, 32, of Leazes Rise, Peterlee, received a prison term of 16 years and nine months; Wayne Griffin, 48, of North Avenue, Horden, received a sentence of 19 years and nine months; Connor Ellison, 26, of Thorpe Crescent, Peterlee, was jailed for 13 years; Jonathan Miller, 31, of Jude Place, Peterlee, received a jail term of 16 years and nine months; Shane Leigh, 22, of Braithwaite Road, Peterlee, received a nine-year prison sentence; Graeme Oliver, 30, of Inchcape Terrace, in Grants Houses, near Horden, was sentenced to five years and four months; while, Paul Frain, 56, of Church House, North Road East, Wingate, was handed a 14-year sentence.

The trouble began on the evening of Saturday, January 7, when a Mitsubishi Shogun was rammed into the front of a house in Hartlepool, which had four children sleeping inside, along with their mother.

Despite the damage caused, no one was injured.

Read more: Man charged with attempted murder after gun incident in Horden

The gang also smashed up the parked car on the drive before setting fire to it and making off, leaving the blaze dangerously out of control.

Less than 24 hours later, Durham Police received reports of an aggravated burglary in South Crescent, Horden, where the defendant Graeme Oliver lived at the time.

While officers were making initial enquiries at the house, Oliver contacted Stephenson, the gang leader, to tell him what had happened.

Stephenson then gathered other members of the group together before they armed themselves and waited at an address in Seventh Street.

Shortly afterwards, news came into police of two shops being ram-raided with a stolen Ford Transit van, in nearby Fifth Street.

It was at this point Stephenson, who owned the tanning salon and a vape shop, was captured on CCTV along with other members of his gang, piling into a second Mitsubishi Shogun and speeding off, from Seventh Street.

On arrival outside the shops, the occupants of the vehicle fired several shots in the direction of the van.

Detectives were able to later confirm, using the angle of a bullet found in the wall of one of the shops, that it came from the Shogun.

Both vehicles left the scene in pursuit and were last seen in the Haswell area, while the Shogun involved was later found burnt out.

Inquiries led armed officers to a remote farm nearby where a bullet casing, including one identical to those fired in Fifth Street, was found.

A bottle of accelerant dropped outside the house in Hartlepool also provided key DNA evidence.

After initially denying the charges put to them, and in some cases offering no comment in interviews when questioned by detectives, they admitted a range of offences at Newcastle Crown Court, in late June.

Detectives used the CCTV to create a timeline of movements and data from several digital devices, including messages on mobile phones, which was used as vital evidence to piece together what had happened and who was involved.

Several magistrates’ warrants were executed under the Firearms Act in the days that followed, leading to the recovery of a gun, ammunition, plus heroin and cocaine with a street value totalling £75k.

But, the gun fired during the incident on January 8, has never been recovered.

A spent casing from the same gun fired during the ram-raid was found at a farm linked to Frain, matching casings found at the scene in Fifth Street.

Detective Superintendent Andy Reynolds, Senior Investigating Officer for Operation Coastal at Durham Police, said: “Incidents like this are very rare in County Durham and Darlington.

“I hope this investigation sends out a clear message to criminals that we will not tolerate such extreme violence on our streets.

“Durham Constabulary quickly mobilised a significant level of resources to investigate this offence and bring the offenders to justice.

“Given the nature of the crimes they commit, members of organised crime gangs will do what they can to avoid facing punishment, but the overwhelming evidence gathered in this case meant they had no option but to plead guilty to all charges.

“The outcome in this case is a testament to our communities who stood up and said this was completely unacceptable.

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“I would like to thank them for their continued help and support.

“I am extremely proud of all our hard work.”

He added: “This was a real team effort, which has ultimately brought these men to justice and made County Durham and Darlington a safer place to live.”