Video captures moment police uncover huge cannabis farm run by North East underworld crime gang

A crime boss jailed for his role in a gang-land shooting is to spend another two years in jail after admitting he ran a cannabis farm empire.

By Fiona Thompson
Monday, 3rd August 2020, 5:55 pm

Among them was a £40,000 farm in College Road in Hebburn, uncovered as Northumbria Police probed a series across the North East – often using cheap labour from Vietnamese nationals.

Their boss was Darren Appleby, who is already serving 24 years for his role in a six-man gun conspiracy.

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A still from the video released by Northumbria Police following the sentencing hearing of the gang, showing inside the cannabis farm in College Road.

Now the 24-year-old, who ran the farms with Dylan Hepple and Michael Fleming, has been back in court accused of controlling a number of farms worth an estimated £158,000.

On Valentine’s Day 2018 officers searched Appleby’s safe house and found cash, drugs and the firearm linked to the shootings.

Later searches were made and that April, officers watched as Appleby, Fleming and Ross Carlson dismantled the Hebburn farm.

They were loading bags of skunk into a van hired by Gemma Hopkirk when Appleby spotted trouble, tried to drive down the street and crashed into a police car.

Darren Appleby, top left, Michael Fleming, top left, and bottom right, Dylan Hepple, with some of the cannabis plants found by Northumbria Police during its raids.

He attempted to speed off and when the van became lodged, Carlson and Fleming were chased on foot and caught, with Appleby arrested later.

The gang has now been sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court:

Appleby, formerly of Deepdale Crescent, Cowgate, admitted conspiracy to produce cannabis and was jailed for two more years. Hepple, 26, of Bamburgh Drive, Wallsend, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce cannabis and was jailed for 40 months. Fleming, 29, of Edgefield Avenue, Fawdon, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce cannabis and cannabis shatter and was jailed for 46 months. Gemma Hopkirk, 41, of Warkworth Crescent, Newburn, admitted perverting the course of justice and was given nine months suspended for two years and 100 hours of unpaid work.

Ross Carlson, top left, John Hawthorn, top right, Gemma Hopkirk, bottom left and bottom left, Richard Mole.

Ross Carlson, 22, of Chirton Lane, North Shields, Richard Mole, 28, of Westbury Avenue, Walker, and John Hawthorn of Queen Street, Ashington, all admitted encouraging or assisting the commission of the cannabis conspiracy. Mole was sentenced to nine months, suspended for two years with 200 hours unpaid work, while Hawthorn got 12 months suspended for two years with 200 hours unpaid work and Carlson – already serving a sentence for violent disorder – was sentenced to nine months.

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Northumbria Police released this image of cannabis bagged up and found inside a van during its inquiry.
A photo released by Northumbria Police of Dylan Hepple inside a cannabis farm, uncovered during its probe into the gang.
Dylan Hepple, posed with a piece of cannabis shatter, a potent form of the drug, issued by Northumbria Police in the wake of the court hearing for him and his fellow gang members.