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Investigators find sub-machine guns probing escalation of Traveller feud

A small handgun was also found in the searches, police said
A small handgun was also found in the searches, police said

Police involved in a major operation to tackle an ongoing feud which saw two teenagers' skulls being stolen from a grave have found two sub-machine guns and ammunition.

Up to 150 officers from five forces across Northern England were involved in the raids at travellers' sites.

Durham Police, leading the investigation, said two sub-machine guns (pictured below) and ammunition were recovered in South Yorkshire. A small hand gun was also found at a site.

The macabre theft from Metal Bridge Cemetery, County Durham, over the weekend was the latest in a series of shocking incidents from two factions of the travelling community, police said.

The swoops on travellers' sites and homes in Doncaster, York, Middlesbrough, West Rainton near Durham, and Gateshead were aimed at getting more information about the feud.

Led by Durham Police, the operation led to a number of arrests, firearms being seized and vehicles towed away.

Specialist cadaver dogs, trained to find dead bodies, were used at sites to try to locate the stolen skulls. They belonged to brothers Levi George and Gareth Price, who both died aged 16, in 2001 and 2005 respectively.

It was deliberately done to antagonise a rival faction, police believe, and has sickened the vast majority of travellers.

At the site in West Rainton, police search specialists were scouring the area around the neat bungalows for evidence. And at Gateshead, close to the International Stadium, around 30 officers were carrying out searches.

A silver Ford saloon was taken away on a police recovery vehicle.

Police sniffer dogs wagged their tails as they were sent into outbuildings. A young girl riding her bike watched on as the searches took place. There was no sign of trouble at either site.

Detective Superintendent Adrian Green, leading the inquiry, urged whoever still had the skulls to give themselves up.

"Your community is appalled at what you have done," he said.

He thanked travellers for coming forward with information since Monday, when news of the horrifying graveyard attack broke.

"It shows that the desecration of the grave and the theft of the skulls will not be tolerated by anybody."

He added: "We said it had gone too far. Police are taking positive action for which I hope the community are appreciative and feel reassured."

Chief Inspector Caroline Dawson works in Darlington where in recent weeks a home has been petrol-bombed and two others have been badly damaged by being rammed by lorries.

She said: "We must remember that these people who are involved in this crime are a small faction of the travelling community."

She said the majority "want to live a peaceful life".

Gareth Price was found hanging at Lancaster Farms Young Offenders Institution in 2005, the day before he was due to be sentenced for rape.

An inquest found he had been let down by a series of people in authority.

Levi Price was found hanging in a shed in 2001. The coroner found he could not be sure the teenager intended to kill himself.

Police said on Wednesday that four people have been charged with conspiracy to commit GBH.

Read: Teenagers' skulls stolen from grave as Traveller feud escalates.