MORE than 20 people are facing lengthy jail sentences after Cleveland Police smashed one of the biggest drugs networks in its history.

Today (Friday, March 14) three members of the trans-Pennine gang were convicted of supplying Class A drugs at Teesside Crown Court.

The court had heard how the drugs ring was headed by people in the Manchester area who had affluent lifestyles and children at private school, including Ben Crombie, 31, from, Oldham, Lancashire.

Scott Pickering (aka McGowan), 28, of School Walk, Stockton; Robert Hickman, 28, of Shepherdson Court, South Bank; and Hannah Hesketh, 25, of St James Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, were convicted of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.

Many of the defendants had pleaded guilty ahead of the trial, including Crombie, and the majority of the members of the supply network on Teesside.

A heat-sealing device, large sums of cash and a money-counting machine were seized from Hickman’s addresses, the court heard.

Hickman used more than 20 mobile numbers, Pickering 13, to communicate with co-accused, most of whom pleaded guilty earlier this year.

Pickering was associated with two other men who were involved in a high-speed police chase where almost 2kg of heroin was thrown from a car window. The drugs were later recovered by detectives.

Danny Wilks, 24, of Grange Road, Thornaby, changed his plea from not guilty to guilty for one charge of conspiracy to supply class A drugs in the early part of the trial.

Jordan Harrison, 22, of Briar Road, Thornaby, near Stockton, was unanimously cleared of the same charge by the jury of nine women and three men.

In March last year, officers working on Operation Cobweb, a 15-month investigation into the distribution of Class A drugs, including heroin and cocaine, raided addresses in the Greater Manchester and Cleveland force areas.

Speaking after the verdicts, Detective Inspector Dave Mead, who led the operation, said: “The trial went as smoothly as we could expect and the two people that we really wanted, Robert Hickman and Scott Pickering, who were the heads of their crime networks, have been convicted.

“It has been a brilliant investigation and I want to praise everyone who took part in what turned out to be a long and complex case.

“The fact that so many experienced criminals pleaded guilty shows how good the quality of the evidence was.”

All the defendants who have not already been imprisoned will be sentenced by Judge Simon Bourne-Arton QC. No date for the hearing has yet been set.

DI Mead added: “This is one of the biggest drugs cases in Cleveland Police’s history. Throughout the investigation we recorded more than 100 journeys between the North West and Cleveland where couriers were carrying a variety of drugs of varying weights and quantities.

“There were deliveries at least every couple of days and sometimes there would be two in one day. There was millions of pounds worth of drugs being shipped from the North-West to the Cleveland area.

“This is a major drugs network that has been closed down.”