Two thugs have been convicted of shooting a gun through the window of a white van driver in a shocking case of “mistaken identity”.
Mark Exley, 44, and Christopher Jones, 34, are facing lengthy prison sentences after being convicted in relation to the shooting in Kingston Park in February.
A court heard how the victim, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was waiting in his van at traffic lights on Windsor Way.
But he was left stunned when a masked man appeared at his passenger window, brandished a firearm and pulled the trigger.
The shot shattered the glass but miraculously missed the driver who was able to slam his foot on the accelerator and escape the scene.
The gunman then got back into a blue Rover, driven by an accomplice, and fled the area before the vehicle was burnt out near to a primary school in Benwell.
An investigation was launched and officers scoured hundreds of hours of CCTV which ultimately led to the identification of two prime suspects.
They found CCTV showing the two men leaving the burnt out car and walking down a nearby alley.
Those men were identified as Exley, who lived nearby, and Jones. CCTV also captured Jones leaving the area in a branded van he had parked in the same alley.
Both men were arrested, along with 10 others who were suspected of being involved in the offence. Exley and Jones were later charged with attempted murder and possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life.
They denied the charges and the case went to trial at Newcastle Crown Court but today (Wednesday) the pair dramatically entered guilty pleas midway through proceedings.
Despite their admissions, the pair now face lengthy prison sentences after pleading guilty to possession of a firearm to endanger life. The attempted murder charge was dropped.
Following the case, Northumbria Police’s senior investigating officer, Detective Chief Inspector Dave Cole, said the convictions were another result of the work being done as part of Operation Sentinel.
He said: “We take an extremely firm stance on organised crime and these two men have admitted using that weapon believing the occupant of the van to be a rival criminal.
“What they didn’t know was that the person sitting behind the wheel was an innocent member of the public.
“He is incredibly lucky not to have been hit by the bullet and we could have easily been talking about a murder investigation and conviction.
“The victim has been incredibly brave throughout these proceedings and I know what happened to him has had a big impact on his life.
“I want to make it absolutely clear that the illegal possession and use of firearms will not be tolerated in the Northumbria Police area.”
Northumbria Police’s Assistant Chief Constable, David Felton, said: “I want to praise the team of detectives who brought this case to court and secured convictions that will see these men jailed for a significant period of time.
“Through the work of Operation Sentinel we are committed to tackling organised crime and we will take robust actions on the rare occasions that incidents like this take place.
“Earlier this year, a group of men were sent to prison for a total of 100 years for firearms offences investigated as part of Operation Sentinel and these two men face a similar fate.
“That should send a strong message to anyone involved in organised crime. You may think you can get away with it but you will not and will find yourself behind bars for a very long time.”
Exley, of Benwell Grange, Newcastle, and Jones, of Whitbeck Road, Slatyford, will now be sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court on September 30.
Ashley Rice, 30, of Benwell Grange, Newcastle, was also charged with perverting the course of justice after providing a false alibi for the men.
She initially pleaded not guilty but today also changed her plea and will be sentenced at Newcastle crown Court tomorrow (Thursday).