'Sunderland is a safer place': Detective who helped put Tony Trott and underworld accomplices behind bars for 68 years says success will have local and national impact

The streets of Sunderland are safer today, according to the detective whose team put a drug dealer and his underworld associates behind bars for almost 70 years.

Ringleader Tony Trott was handed a 26-year jail term for orchestrating a shooting on a Sunderland home, while self-style enforcer James Lee Ratcliff, who pulled the trigger, was given a 24-year stretch.

Another accomplice, Lee Barnett, who went with the pair to the attack on an address in Craigshaw Square, Hylton Castle, will serve 16 years behind bars, with footsoldier Philip Steabler, who helped dispose of a car they used, was given a 35-month term.

James Lee Ratcliff

James Lee Ratcliff

Related: 450 statements, 100 mobile phones, six bullets and two cars: How Sunderland detectives brought Tony Trott and criminal gang to justice


But their removal from the streets is not the end of the job for Northumbria Police, who say they will continue to crack down on the organised crime gangs which tap into the UK-wide network of criminals who use violence and coercion to make cash through illegal means.

Trott was responsible for the supply of cocaine in the city and beyond, and used his vehicle company, which also had a base in Dawlish in Devon, as part of his operation.

The company sourced a Peugeot and a Mitsubishi Pajero to use during the shooting, where six Browning bullets were fired through the living room window of the house in the early hours of September 12 2016.

Both vehicles were later set alight, with their discovery a key part of the inquiry.

Phil Steabler

Phil Steabler

Police say the attack – sparked by a burglary at a property in Hylton Road which had been used by Trott to store drugs – could have easily left them conducting a murder inquiry.

Three men were standing inside the house when the shots were fired, with Teesside Crown Court told by prosecutors it was "undoubtedly a taxing by one drugs gang on another" with the firearm assault "a retaliatory attack."

Today, the detective who led the case said it was one of the toughest he and his team have probed as they trawled through huge amounts of CCTV, mobile phone data and statements.

Detective Sergeant Angus Grassie said the inquiry, named Operation Burton, was "the most challenging, difficult and complex investigation" he has ever worked on in his 25 years with the force.

The burnt-out Mitsubishi Pajero taht was used in the shooting

The burnt-out Mitsubishi Pajero taht was used in the shooting

He said: "The kind of work that has gone into this, the pain we have gone through on this case, it has made Sunderland a safer place.

"The impact they have had on Sunderland, it has suffered and they are now no longer free to roam the streets.

"That’s all taken a great deal of hard work.

"We might consider Tony Trott to be a minor organised criminal, somebody who only affects crime in Sunderland, but he has had a national impact.

Shots were fired at a house in Craigshaw Square, Hylton Castle

Shots were fired at a house in Craigshaw Square, Hylton Castle

"Reducing his activity in the communities of Sunderland, as well as in Devon, will also have a significant impact, I have no doubt, over other organised crime.

"I think the sentences reflect the very serious nature of this incident and the judge took a very firm stance.

"I think it’s extremely important that the public recognise that this has been treated seriously by police, but also by the courts.

"This was an organised crime group, essentially engaged in the supply of cocaine in and around Sunderland, but also one which was prepared to use firearms to enforce that and extreme violence to uphold it.

"While I’m happy with these sentences, this is not the type of job where you jump with joy, it’s a job which has been extremely hard.

"Tony Trott will not see the outside of prison until 2034, Ratcliff the early 2030s.

Lee Barnett

Lee Barnett

"Their extended licences are due to the fact their sentences involve a gun and they are dangerous offenders.

"There are people in Sunderland we know are dealing in cocaine and this is absolutely something Northumbria Police is actively take them out, but we are never going to get rid of this completely.

"We are using our resources to investigate any incidents which involve drugs and serious violence and we want to reassure people in Sunderland that there are not many incidents like these, not just in Sunderland, but throughout Northumbria Police.

"The sentences we have seen show how significant a point that is."

During their court hearings, the jury were told Trott, Ratcliff, and Steabler were each involved in a conspiracy to supply cocaine in Sunderland, as well as Hartlepool.

On seven occasions in the same year as the shooting, police observed drugs and cash hand overs between the men and their contacts from elsewhere, including Merseyside and Yorkshire.

The largest cash seizure was more than £29,000, which was found in a car which stopped on the A19.

While the men start their jail terms, a hearing on a date to be fixed will determine if Trott, Ratcliff, and Steabler have any assets which can be seized as the proceeds of crime.

Tony Trott

Tony Trott