A HOOLIGAN gang of Sunderland AFC supporters has been jailed, after being found guilty of taking part in a pitched battle against rivals from Newcastle United.

A jury at Teesside Crown Court heard how about 30 members of the notorious Seaburn Casuals used clubs, sticks and other weapons in a pre-arranged fight against a similar number from the self-styled Gremlins gang, who follow Newcastle United.

Casuals ringleader Jason Jameson was locked up for four years, as was Graham Russell, who led the Newcastle fans. Other sentences handed down by trial judge Esmund Faulks ranged from four months to 18 months.

The case may not be over yet for those given lighter sentences - the Crown has referred the case to the Attorney General, which could lead to longer prison terms for some of those convicted.

Witnesses told the court how the scene of the fight, near the ferry landing at North Shields, was like something from the film Braveheart.

Despite the ferocity of the battle, few of those fighting suffered serious injuries, although one man suffered a fractured skull and the court heard he was unlikely ever to fully recover. No charges had been brought against him.

Prosecutor Chris Knox said the fight took place in North Shields, near the ferry landing, at about 10.15pm on the evening of March 18, 2000.

"Earlier that day, Sunderland had played Middlesbrough," he said. "Newcastle had played away at Everton, although neither of those games has anything to do with this course of events.

"A group of men from the north side of the Tyne fought with a group from the south.

"The south side were Sunderland AFC supporters and some of them were Seaburn Casuals. The north side were Newcastle United supporters and some were members of, or associated with, the hooligan gang known as Gremlins."

"The group who came from the south gathered in pubs in Sunderland, including the Blue Bell in Fulwell, before making their way to the Alum House at South Shields. The group from the north gathered at the Woolsington pub."

The court was told how the Sunderland fans took the 9.45pm ferry to North Shields and went in to the Chainlocker pub and then across a square to the Porthole pub. It was outside the two pubs that the fight took place.

"The group from the south went back on the ferry, discarding weapons into the river as they went," said Mr Knox. "They were arrested as the ferry landed in South Shields.

"Only five from the north were arrested, that is purely because, geographically, they had a better chance of escape.

"When interviewed, the defendants either claimed they had not been present, or they had become innocently caught up in a fight which had broken out around them."

Mr Knox added that the prosecution was only seeking to prove that the men conspired together to carry out a violent disorder.

Because there was no dispute that a fight had taken place, the details of the fight itself were largely irrelevant to the prosecution's case.

It would rely on mobile phone records, which showed calls between members of the opposing groups to set up the battle.

It was also unlikely, said Mr Knox, that so many men would travel all the way from Sunderland to North Shields at 10pm just for a drink, when they knew the last ferry left North Shields at 10.30pm.

Evidence was put before the jury that many of the defendants knew each other because they had previously been seen together at football matches around the country.

Witnesses on the ferry and in the pubs in North Shields told the court how they overheard the Sunderland group talking about their plans to fight the Newcastle fans.

"It is quite clear these men met in North Shields for one reason and one reason only," said Mr Knox, "and that reason was to fight with each other."

THE following were dealt with during a five-week trial which began at Teesside Crown Court on September 3, 2001. They were sentenced on November 30.

Found guilty by the jury of conspiracy to commit violent disorder (sentences in brackets) were:

Jason Jameson, 32, of Whickham Street, Roker, Sunderland. (Four years).

Mark Wilson, 29, of Windermere Road. Seaham. (Four months).

Darren Leng, 32, of Grosvenor Gardens, Manchester. (Six months).

Christopher Tapken, 25, of Park Crescent East, North Shields. (Four months).

John Sharp, 39, of Elwin Close, Seaton Sluice. (18 months).

Christopher Batty, 30, of Finsbury Street, Southwick, Sunderland. (Five months).

Steven Jary, 25, of Seafield Terrace, South Shields. (Four months).

Paul Clements, 24, of Blaydon Avenue, South Shields. (Five months).

Christopher Miller, 28, of Ashbrooke Terrace, East Boldon. (Four months).

Graham Russell, 33, of Eleanor Street, North Shields. (Four years).

James Burwood, 24, of Trevor Terrace, North Shields, pleaded guilty to violent disorder before the start of the Teesside trial. (12 months).

*There was a temporary ban imposed by the judge on media reporting of the Teesside trial. This means that many of those found guilty will now have served their sentences and been released from prison under the normal rules of remission.

Found NOT guilty by the jury of conspiracy to commit violent disorder were:

Robert Reed, 21, of Fountains Crescent, Hebburn.

Stephen Bamborough, 33, of Cranberry Road, Hylton Castle, Sunderland.

No evidence was offered against Keith Russell, 33, of Kenton Road, North Shields, after legal submissions made on his behalf. Not-guilty verdict at the directions of the judge.

Charges to lie on the file against Paul Bine, 38, of Minton Lane, North Shields, after a jury at Teesside was unable to reach a verdict.

THE following admitted violent disorder before their trial was due to start at Newcastle Crown Court on January 7. Sentences in brackets.

David Breeds, 31, of Devonshire Street, Monkwearmouth, Sunderland. (Six months).

Mark Higgins, 30, of Wear Street, South Hylton, Sunderland. (100-hour community punishment order (CPO]).

Sean Rogers, 31, of General Graham Street, Sunderland. (Four months).

Stephen McGeorge, 33, of Follingsby, Washington. (100-hr CPO).

Stephen Goodfellow, 32, of Rotherfield Road, Red House, Sunderland. (Four months).

Nicholas Atkinson, 25, of Lynden Drive, East Boldon. (Fined 1,000).

Mark Smith, 35, of Boswell Court, South Shields. (100-hr CPO).

Ian Rainbow, 29, King George's Road, South Shields. (100-hr CPO).

Malcolm Clare, 41, of Seton Avenue, South Shields (Four months).

Robert Stephenson, 35, of Vernon Close, South Shields. (100-hr CPO).

Douglas Donkin, 37, of Vine Street, South Shields. (100-hr CPO).

Steven Thirlwell, 28, of Newbury Street, Fulwell, Sunderland. (100-hr CPO).

Kevin Weir, 24, of Melrose Crescent, Seaham. (100-hr CPO).

Kenneth Chapel, 23, of Torver Crescent, Fulwell, Sunderland. (100-hr CPO).

THE following admitted affray:

Christopher Mullins, 27, of Greenside Lane, Droylsden, Manchester. (50-hr CPO).

Andrew Robson, 31, of Sunderland Road, East Boldon. (100-hr CPO).

James Owens, 27, of Riverdale, Castletown, Sunderland pleaded guilty to affray. Sentence was adjourned for reports.

Anthony Coghlan, 27, of Stainton Grove, Fulwell, Sunderland, pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit violent disorder and the charge against him is to lie on file at the direction of the judge.

David Brooke, 29, of Laws Street, Fulwell, Sunderland, pleaded guiilty to affray today. Sentence was adjourned for reports.