Sunderland and Hartlepool men guilty of playing part in 'drugs gang' revenge shooting

Clockwise from top left, Tony Trott, Lee Barnett, the scene of the shooting, and James Ratcliff.
Clockwise from top left, Tony Trott, Lee Barnett, the scene of the shooting, and James Ratcliff.

Three men from Sunderland and Hartlepool are facing years in prison after being convicted of taking part in a revenge shooting.

Six shots were fired through the front window of a house in Craigshaw Square, Hylton Castle, Sunderland, in the early hours of September 12, 2016.

Craigshaw Square.

Craigshaw Square.

The shooting was in revenge for a burglary a few hours earlier at a house in Hylton Road, occupied by Stuart McDonald, his girlfriend, and the couple's two children, Teesside Crown Court heard.

One of the men hurled abuse at the jury forewoman as she read out the panel's guilty verdicts, reducing her to tears.

Other members of the jury appeared distressed at the outburst, and Judge Deborah Sherwin ordered the dock and the court's public gallery to be cleared.

Judge Sherwin apologised to the jury and excused them from jury service in future.

"On the whole the defendants have been well-behaved in front of you," said the judge.

"But one of the reasons the trial has taken so long is we have had to deal with various outbursts.

"I am sorry you had to witness that, it would appear some people are incapable of behaving themselves."

During six weeks of evidence, the jury heard Tony Trott used Mr McDonald's house as a 'safe house' for drugs.

Mr McDonald denied he allowed his house to be used for that purpose.

He was found not guilty of the firearms charge he faced half way through the trial after Robert Woodcock QC, defending, successfully argued he had no case to answer.

Prosecutor Peter Makepeace QC said Trott learned of the burglary within hours of it happening.

"Trott set about recruiting others for a retaliatory attack." Mr Makepeace told the jury.

"Within a few hours several shots were fired through the front window of a house in Craigshaw Square in Hylton Castle.

"This was an extraordinary event, it happened in a densely populated area of Sunderland, not downtown Los Angeles.

"But as remarkable as the event itself is the fact that none of the occupants called the police."

Mr Makepeace said both houses were 'drugs houses', and the shooting was carried out by members of a drugs gang who believed the second house was occupied by members of a rival gang.

"The Crown say that those responsible for that shooting were the men who agreed to it taking place," Mr Makepeace told the jury.

"Trott who headed the drugs operation, and who had his property and reputation to protect.

"James Ratcliffe who Trott recruited to do the shooting itself, and Lee Barnett who accompanied Trott and Ratcliffe to the scene, and helped with the logistics of the attack."

Trott, 30, of Maritime Buildings, Sunderland, and Barnett, 32, of Throston Grange, Hartlepool, denied illegal possession of a firearm between October 1, 2015, and March 1, 2016.

James Lee Ratcliffe, 34, of no fixed abode, Trott, and Barnett, denied conspiracy to possess a firearm and ammunition with intent to endanger life on September 12, 2016.

The three men declined to give evidence in their defence, and mostly made no comment when interviewed by police.

Trott accused officers of listening to 'gossip and tittle-tattle' from other criminals which named him as being involved in the shooting.

All three men were convicted of all the charges they faced.

Also on trial was Anthony Sweeney, 31, of Spout Lane, Washington, and Paul Kennedy, 21, of Seaham Street, Sunderland, who both denied possession of a prohibited weapon.

Mr Sweeney was accused of test firing the revolver allegedly used in the shooting on waste ground behind his house in Washington.

Mr Kennedy was alleged to have been the driver of an Audi car when a gun was fired by a passenger.

Both men were found not guilty of the charges they faced.

Trott, Barnett, and Ratcliffe were remanded in custody and will be sentenced on a date to be fixed.