MEMBERS of a drugs ring which operated in the North-East and across the country have been jailed.

The men, who built up cannabis farms in Northumberland and the East Midlands, were caught in an undercover police investigation.

Ben Smith, 26, of Essex Close, Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, and Jason Flannery, 19, of Lansdowne Road, Darlington, were jailed for their part in the operation.

A third man from the region, Ross Hemington, 21, of Milner Road, Darlington, walked free from court after he was given a community service order.

Gregor Purcell, prosecuting, described the enterprise as “productive and profitable”

and the court heard that bank deposits of more than £30,000 belonging to gang members had been traced by police.

The court was told the organisers of the conspiracy had rented a house in Loughborough for £575 a month to grow cannabis.

Although the enterprise was run mainly from Derby, another production unit was set up in Ashington and a van used by the gang was stopped by police on the M1 travelling back from the North-East.

Mr Purcell said: “Police carried out covert surveillance.

“They tracked the vehicles, carried out extensive research, checked CCTV footage and bank payments. It was diligent and painstaking police work.”

Judge John Burgess told the gang: “The bulk of this case concerns the illegal growing of cannabis.

“Given the prevalence of this kind of offending, the courts have to make it obvious the risks of being caught are not worth the money that might be made.”

The three men from the North-East pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cannabis. Smith also pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine.

They were sentenced, with another four gang members from the Midlands, at Derby Crown Court.

Flannery was jailed for two years, while Smith was jailed for 62 months. Hemington was ordered to complete 200 hours community service.

Kevin Peters, 30, of Derby, was jailed for 32 months, 19- year-old Nathan Lawrence, of the same address, for three years, Roger Whitmore, 56, of Derby, for 38 months. Stacey Bush, 34, of Derby, was given a ten-and-a-half month suspended sentence and was ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work.