'Fast and Furious' gang sentenced over illegal drag race
Four men involved in a "Fast and Furious" illegal racing event which was organised on Facebook have been told the gathering was "inherently unsafe".
Dozens of people had lined the streets to watch drag races on a makeshift "track" at an industrial estate - which was described in court as like a low-grade reconstruction of a scene from the Hollywood blockbuster movie series.
Dash cam video footage, seized from one of the drivers, revealed the song Sound of Da Police playing in his vehicle during the short-course competition at Cramlington, Northumberland, in October last year.
After a trial at Newcastle Crown Court last month, organiser Damien Rodgers, 39, of Coach Road Estate, Washington, was convicted of aiding and abetting careless driving.
He has been fined Â£600 and disqualified from driving for 12 months.
David Burdis, 28, of Jervis Street, Hebburn, was convicted of dangerous driving and pleaded guilty to having no insurance or driving licence.
He also admitted driving while disqualified after he was spotted behind the wheel earlier this month, while awaiting sentence for the road race.
He has been jailed for eight months with a 16-month driving ban.
Robert Graham, 36, of Wordsworth Avenue West, Houghton-le-Spring, and Garry Kelly, 24, of West Terrace, Choppington, Northumberland, were both convicted of careless driving.
They have both been fined Â£300 and banned from driving for six months.
The road bans for Rodgers, Graham and Kelly have all been suspended, pending appeal.
Judge Sarah Mallett told the men: "This was organised racing.
"I don't accept this was safe racing, it couldn't possibly have been so."
Judge Mallett added: "The course was on both sides of the narrow road, blocking a whole carriageway, including one of the cars being on the wrong side of the road.
"The drivers were racing with the intention of beating each other, accelerating to the full extent of their car's limited capacity.
"The cars were proximate to each other and there was a large number of pedestrians, without any barriers to protect them."
Judge Mallett said the event was "inherently unsafe" and added: "This was, in my view, a deliberate and organised plan to flout the law against racing."
Alec Burns, defending Rodgers, who works as an HGV driver, said: "There was no traffic at all and pedestrians were out of the way."
Robin Turton, defending Burdis, said: "He has been very stupid."
Mr Turton said Burdis is a "changed man" after having time to reflect on the consequences of his behaviour and the effect of his absence on his family while remanded in custody.
Mr Turton said Burdis had said, in his own words, "I would like to apologise for being an idiot. I wasn't using my brain."
Graeme Cook, defending Graham, who is a self-employed shopfitter and formerly of Falmouth Road, Ford Estate, Sunderland, said: "This is a strange case.
"No-one came anywhere near to being injured. It was a short race around an unused business park."
Richard Bloomfield, defending petrol station worker Kelly, said the event had been publicised on Facebook and appeared lawful.
He added: "As far as he could see it was properly organised, there seemed to be marshals , there was a starting area and areas cordoned off.
"He thought it was an appropriate place to race."
The court heard the three men who kept their freedom face losing their livelihoods if the appeal against the driving bans fails.