A gang of burglars who threatened children as young as three with knives during a month-long crime spree have been jailed.

Clayton Ophield, Brandon Parker, and Rodney Smith carried out fifteen separate offences throughout June last year, primarily breaking into houses to steal jewellery, cash and cars.

On several occasions the trio armed themselves with machetes and hammers, which they used to smash patio doors and threaten their victims with.

Their campaign of thefts began on June 5, when a blue Ford Fiesta was stolen from the Middlesbrough area.

The car was later used as one of their getaway vehicles, travelling on false number plates and frequently captured on CCTV.

They continued to commit offences in the Silksworth area of Sunderland, and a week later were interrupted during a burglary in Easington when the sleeping 85-year-old occupant of the address was woken by loud noises from downstairs.

When she entered the kitchen, she saw a man dressed all in black, who quickly fled the scene in a nearby waiting car.

On June 14, after having already stolen a Hyundai Tucson from another address earlier in the day, the suspects smashed their way through the glass patio door of an address in Murton armed with machetes and wearing balaclavas.

They confronted the occupant and her three young children, threatening to ‘cut their heads off’ unless she handed over money and jewellery, later leaving the house with around £300 in cash.

The mother and children were unharmed but left extremely shaken by the ordeal.

Between June 16 and 21, six more incidents took place, amounting to over £3000 stolen cash, a stolen Seat Ibiza, every downstairs window of an address being smashed with bricks, and a man being assaulted inside his own home.

Two further burglaries were attempted on June 23 and 28 but were aborted when the suspects were interrupted by occupants at one address, and scared away by a German Shepherd dog at another.

A lengthy investigation involving many hours of CCTV footage, forensic evidence recovered from crime scenes, and interviews with suspects was carried out by detectives to identify the individuals involved.

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Clayton Ophield, 22-years-old of Baldwin Street, Easington Colliery, was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary.

Brandon Parker, 23-years-old of South Hetton Road, Easington Lane, was also charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary.

Rodney Smith, 25-years-old of Windemere Road, South Hetton, was also charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary.

Appearing at Durham Crown Court on Thursday, Ophield was jailed for 11 years, Parker was jailed for 9 years, and Smith was jailed for 10 years and 6 months.

Acting Detective Sergeant Anthony Wild, of East Durham CID, said: “This has been a long and difficult investigation, but the officers involved are pleased to know that the offenders will now be taken off the streets for the foreseeable future.

The Northern Echo:

“Ophield, Parker and Smith were indiscriminate in choosing their victims, even going so far as to threaten children, and didn’t seem to care whether the homes they invaded were occupied or not.

“It goes without saying that nobody should have to live in fear of violence inside their own home.

“Given the particularly violent nature of these offences, I hope that this result makes clear the fact that we will not tolerate such behaviour in our community, and will not stop tracking down offenders until we get justice for their victims.”