FOUR men were arrested in connection with drugs and money-laundering offences after dawn raids.
From 6am today, officers from Durham Constabulary swooped on properties in George Avenue, Paradise Lane and Tyne Terrace, in Easington Colliery, as well as a house in North Shields and a holiday park in Hutton Sessay, near Thirsk, in North Yorkshire.
Those arrested – aged 41, 40, 35 and 27 – have been taken into custody at Peterlee and Durham City police stations where they will be questioned later today.
More than 50 detectives, uniformed officers and specialist staff took part in Operation Madrid, a joint venture planned by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and Durham Constabulary.
Assistance was also provided by Northumbria Police in relation to the action in North Shields.
The raids were part of the force’s ongoing Sledgehammer campaign, which targets organised crime gangs operating in County Durham and Darlington, many of whom have links to criminal activity in other force areas.
The police action this morning was watched by Durham’s Police Commissioner, Ron Hogg, and Chief Constable Mike Barton.
Officers from the local neighbourhood policing team will be on the streets later today to provide reassurance to any concerned residents.
Specialist advice on issues such as drug misuse and financial worries will also be available at Easington Welfare Club throughout the day as part of a multi-agency week of action.
Inspector Vince Addison, of Seaham and Easington Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: “Today’s operation has been planned for some time and is the result of close collaboration between SOCA and ourselves.
“We have targeted a small group of people who live in our area suspected of committing crime across the region, which we realise is far removed from the normal day to day concerns of local residents.
“The Durham force area remains one of the safest places to live in the country with crime currently at its lowest level since the 1980s.”
SOCA’s regional head of investigations, Gerry Smyth, said: “SOCA and its partners remain absolutely determined to protect the public, in the North-East and across the UK, from organised crime threats.”