Hartlepool men deny being part of drugs gang dealing cocaine across North East
Two Hartlepool men have denied being part of a drugs gang charged with cocaine dealing across the region.
Graham Wilding, 32, and Alan Baines, 32, are among eight people standing trial charged with being involved with a drugs conspiracy spreading from Hartlepool to South Shields.
The case also involves people from Peterlee and East Durham and prosecutors allege the operation was based in South Hetton and the surrounding villages.
Wilding and Baines are alleged to have been involved in the buying and selling of cocaine, and the transfer of cash, Teesside Crown Court heard.
Arrests were made after months of surveillance by Durham Police as part of the force's Operation Ebony.
Prosecutors allege the ringleader was 41-year-old Gary Mitchell, of South Hetton, assisted by Steven Horner and Christopher Hickson, who both lived at the time in nearby Haswell.
"Cocaine dealing is a business," said Matthew Bean, prosecuting.
"It's an illegal business, so it tends to be done in cash, out of the general gaze of the public, with few records kept.
"Cocaine has to be imported before being distributed down the chain.
"We say Gary Mitchelll played a leading role, assisted by Hickson and Horner.
"To the north, there was Darren Gates who was based in South Shields.
"South of Mitchell was Dean Pringle in Peterlee, and further south, there was Graham Wilding and Alan Baines, both in Hartlepool.
"We say those men were involved in the buying and selling of cocaine, and the transfer of cash."
The jury heard Â£110,000 cash was found in the footwell of a Galaxy car driven by Gates.
"After his arrest, there was a series of calls to Gates from a phone we say was linked to Mitchell," said Mr Bean.
"Later in the day there was a text asking Gates if he was still alive.
"We say Mitchell was concerned about what was happening to Gates and the cash.
"Gates, being in custody, was unable to respond to any messages."
The cash was forensically examined, the court heard.
"It was concluded the level of cocaine contamination was higher than on notes in general circulation," said Mr Bean.
"This suggests the recovered notes had been used in drug dealing.
"Dean Pringle was observed meeting Gary Mitchell.
"Pringle's car was stopped as he made his way back to Peterlee.
"Police recovered a package of cocaine from the roadside, which we say had been thrown from Pringle's car just before it was stopped."
The court was told Mitchell is alleged to have been linked to 'many' unregistered mobile phones during the duration of the conspiracy.
"We say that was to make detection more difficult," said Mr Bean.
"He would use a phone for a transaction or transactions, then stop using it and use another.
"Some of the numbers of these phones were stored in the memory of phones belonging to some of the other defendants.
"They were labelled with names containing the letter 'g'.
"We say that is a reference to the first name of Mr Mitchell."
The court heard Mitchell denies using some of the phones.
"He says the calls on them were not made by him," said Mr Bean.
"That is a matter, members of the jury, you will have to determine."
The following each deny conspiracy to supply class A drugs between August 2015 and July 2016.
Gary Mitchell, 41, of Pinedale, South Hetton, Steven Horner, 23, of Frederick Terrace, South Hetton, Christopher Hickson, 34, of Gloucester Terrace, Haswell, Dean Pringle, 34, of Little Eden Peterlee.
Graham Wilding, of Warren Road, Hartlepool, Alan Baines, of Stockton Road, Hartlepool, Darren Gates, 48, of Chaucer Avenue, South Shields.
A Sunderland man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, denies the same charge.
The case continues.