A MASSIVE two-night operation aimed at combating rural crime took place over 1,200 miles of North-East countryside last week.

Operation Idaho involved 145 personnel keeping a look-out over Teesdale, Wear Valley, North Yorkshire and Cumbria and was the biggest rural crime operation ever organised in the area.

And, although no arrests were made during the hours of the operation, several were made in the lead up and following the major initiative which involved police, Farm Watch volunteers, gamekeepers, water bailiffs and street wardens.

About 170 vehicles were stopped by police, some following surveillance by the volunteers and some whose registration numbers were flagged up by a new scheme, the Auto Number Plate Retrieval unit.

Insp Kevin Tuck, who led the operation in Teesdale, said: "Although no arrests were made, there were no crimes either between the hours of the operation. But one spin-off is the reassurance it gives to people in isolated areas that we care about them. Yes, we want to recover stolen goods and arrest criminals, but we also want to reduce crime. And an operation such as this is a good preventative measure."

As activity stepped up in preparation for the operation, several arrests were made, one involving a Bishop Auckland man suspected of stealing farming equipment from Hamsterley. And following an attempted burglary at Barnard Castle Co-op, a local man was arrested and released on bail while inquiries continue.

But one of the most successful arrests came just after the operation wound down when two quad bikes, worth more than £5,000, were recovered before they had been reported stolen.

The bikes were recovered after a sharp-eyed farmer called police after spotting a white van being driven suspiciously near his land at Marwood, and his vigilance led to the solving of three crimes.

Police pursued the van, catching up with it at Toft Hill where it failed to stop. The driver continued down the A68 to West Auckland, abandoning the vehicle at Spring Gardens.

Insp Tuck said the van had earlier been stolen from Bishop Auckland and been fitted with a set of false registration plates.

A West Auckland man was arrested and is on bail.