THE mastermind behind a plot to flood the North-East with £1.5m of drugs has been ordered to hand over £110,000 after his remaining assets were seized by a judge.

John James Stewart, who is serving an 11-year jail sentence for conspiracy to supply Ecstasy and cannabis, was the head of a criminal gang whose operations were smashed by the National Crime Squad.

The eight-strong gang, five of whom are from the North-East, was sentenced to more than 50 years in jail in total in February, and its members have already been subject to court orders to seize cash and property.

Yesterday, Stewart, 36, of Front Street, Hutton Henry, County Durham, appeared at a financial hearing at Newcastle Crown Court to determine how much of the proceeds from his drug dealing should be recovered.

Judge Richard Richard Lowden said he was satisfied that he had made £595,538 from his involvement in the drug trafficking.

But in making a seizure order it was accepted that he only had £111,459 in realisable assets he could surrender.

The hearing heard that Stewart made £175,000 from the sale of his home in Hutton Henry, with the money being transferred into his girlfriend's account.

However, she used some of the cash to buy herself a house in Sunderland and only £99,000 now remained.

A further £12,000 was already in the hands of police in the form of cash and jewellery seized after his arrest.

If Stewart fails to surrender the assets within a three-month period he is liable to a further three years behind bars. An order will now be sought by the High Court for the £99,000 in his partner's bank account to be released because it is currently the subject of a restraining order preventing anyone having access to it.

Last night, Detective Chief Inspector Dave Wright, of the National Crime Squad, said: "Stewart was the head of this organised crime group and ran a large regional distribution operation and this is a satisfying result in our fight against such individuals."

National Crime Squad officers seized 40,000 Ecstasy tablets, 248 kilos of cannabis and 7.5 kilos of cocaine, with a street value of almost £1.5m, from the criminal gang as a result of an undercover operation, codenamed Byng.

Those from the North-East jailed as a result of Operation Byng included: Neville Greylish, 37, of Fuschia Place, Blakelaw, Newcastle; Allan Hodgson, 22, of Wear View, Sunderland; John Brett, 49, of Blyton Avenue, Ryhope, Sunderland; Derek Harker, 37, of Office Row, Eldon, Bishop Auckland, County Durham, and Darren Littlefair, 37, of Lancaster Way, Thornaby, Teesside.