A GANG of highly organised drug dealers has been sentenced to more than 27 years in prison after their “sophisticated” operation was dismantled by Cleveland Police.

Ring leader Craig Wilson, who helped run taxi company Hoda 26, admitted conspiring to sell cocaine, amphetamine and cannabis in Hartlepool.

The 37-year-old was joined at Teesside Crown Court by Lee McDonough, 33, David Hall, 44, Adam Wilson, 25, and James Murphy, 22.

All five admitted to conspiring to deal a Class A drug and two counts of conspiring to deal a Class B drug between March 7 and September 7, last year.

The court heard how detectives from Cleveland Police raided premises belonging to Hoda 26, in Mainsforth Terrace, Hartlepool, on December 19 last year, along with homes in Relton Way, Lynmouth Walk, Gibson Grove and Sheriff Street.

Complex cannabis farms were discovered in two adjoining properties in Hutton Avenue with more than 11kg of skunk cannabis recovered along with nearly 10kg of cannabis resin and evidence of a further 20kg of resin that had been processed by the gang.

Officers also found 1.196kg of cocaine and 898g of amphetamine when they raided the properties.

The court heard that Craig Wilson was the principal organiser of the gang, arranging meetings outside Hartlepool, organising the rental of the two properties and providing the funding to get the farms up and running.

Sentencing the gang, Recorder Alistair MacDonald said: “This was a sophisticated operation which was not to go onto the street dealer level but to the layer of dealers before it got to the street.”

In mitigation, the barristers for all five defendants accepted their clients’ role in the operation and said they had entered guilty pleas at the earliest possible hearing.

Craig Wilson, was sentenced to six years and eight months, while McDonough, of Gibson Grove, Hartlepool, Hall, of Hutton Avenue, Hartlepool, Adam Wilson, of Lynmouth Walk, Hartlepool, were sentenced to five years each and Murphy, of Stanhope Drive, Liverpool, was sentenced to four years and six months.

Speaking after the sentencing, Detective Sergeant Daryl Tomlinson, who had led the investigation, said: “This court case should send out a clear message to any drug dealer operating in Hartlepool, that it will not be tolerated and we aim to investigate and prosecute anyone suspected of dealing drugs.”