SUSPECTED organised criminals were greeted by more than just the sight of snow when they opened their curtains yesterday (Wednesday) morning, revealing a swarm of officers.

Northumbria Police executed warrants at a series of properties across the force area as part of Operation Branta, which was created to tackle serious and organised crime groups who target rural areas.

Officers teamed up with colleagues from Durham Constabulary and executed four warrants at addresses in Hedley-on-the-Hill, Stocksfield and South Tyneside.

A total of five men were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to steal, three of which have since been charged with the theft of a hydraulic breaker.

Meanwhile, a host of suspected stolen items including a Takeuchi excavator were seized in the dawn raids, along with two Land Rovers suspected to have been used during the commission of the offences.

Neighbourhood sergeant Ian Pattison, of Northumbria Police, co-ordinated the raids and said disruption to organised criminality is crucial in keeping communities safe and warned that anyone making money from serious and organised crime would be brought to justice.

He said: "While the rest of the area looked out their windows to find snow yesterday, the five suspects found a team of officers outside their homes with warrants in hand.

"This planned operation was a result of months of intelligence gathering as we work to build a clearer picture into organised criminality across Northumberland and further afield.

"Yesterday's activity shows how police forces across the country are working together to dismantle criminal networks and protect communities - whatever the weather.

"I hope yesterday's raids send a clear message to those who seek to take what is not there's to take and cause misery - we will not tolerate it.

"The investigation will continue to identify and target anyone involved and we will seek to re-unite property with the rightful owners."

Sgt Pattison added: "Community intelligence is vital to our policing approach and we urge anyone with any information that could help us disrupt and dismantle this type of criminality to get in touch with us."

Praising the Operation Branta team, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness, added: "There has clearly been a lot of hard work that's gone into this operation and it's paid off.

"Criminals targeting our rural communities need to think again. Officers are taking a really robust approach to fighting crime in our more remote neighbourhoods and will continue to do so. We will also be working with communities on security measures to help deter these thieves as well as preventative work to tackle the root causes."

Anyone who has information about organised criminality can contact police on 101 or via the Northumbria Police website. Alternatively, you can report anonymously via the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Mark Hurson (34), Castle Road, Prudhoe, has been charged with theft, while Robert Pearson (32), Masefield Drive, South Shields, has been charged with theft and driving while disqualified.

Kevin Lunn (37), Millburn Terrace, Shiney Row, has also been charged with theft.