Three men have appeared in court as part of an ongoing cross-border police operation to disrupt criminal gangs behind a campaign of violence and intimidation.

Taylor Ford and Josh Wilson, both aged 18 and from Stockton, and a 17-year-old who cannot be named for legal reasons, were arrested over the weekend as part of a Durham Constabulary investigation supported by Cleveland Police.

All three were charged with three counts of conspiracy to possess a firearm, two counts of conspiracy to possess ammunition and one count of conspiracy to commit arson.

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Ford was additionally charged with possession of a prohibited weapon.

They appeared before magistrates on Monday and were remanded into custody and will appear before Teesside Crown Court on May 16.

Last month, a dispute between rival gangs operating in South Durham sparked a series of tit-for-tat incidents between criminals in South Durham, culminating in an incident on Good Friday when a firearm was discharged at a house in the village of Staindrop.

More than 20 arrests have since been made in a sequence of planned and spontaneous raids as part of an intelligence-led operation to tackle organised crime gangs operating across County Durham, Darlington and Cleveland.

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Durham Constabulary, backed up by specialist teams from the National Crime Agency and the North East Regional Organised Crime Unit, carried out co-ordinated strikes at addresses across South Durham on March 20 and made 11 arrests.

A 12th man was arrested later at Newcastle International Airport as he arrived back in the UK from Tenerife.

Another four suspects were arrested during a second wave of raids in Stockton supported by officers from Cleveland Police on March 28 and a further eight arrests have been made over the last two weeks.

Officers carried out the latest two arrests at addresses in Newton Aycliffe last night (April 17) where two men aged 60 and 26 were arrested on suspicion of possession of a firearm, the man in his 60s was further arrested for possession of class A drugs.

They remain in custody.

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A spokesman for Durham Constabulary said: “Although thankfully no-one has been injured as a result of this series of incidents, those responsible for this violence and intimidation are putting others in danger and we will be relentless in our pursuit of them.

“We have worked closely with our partners in the CPS to bring these charges and this operation will continue to target these criminal enterprises.

“Organised crime has no place in our communities. Residents can be reassured that we will continue to take robust action to disrupt and dismantle criminal activity.”

Anyone with information on potential criminal activity in their area should call us on 101 or via Crimestoppers anonymously on 08000 555111.