Former Consett cage fighter jailed after drugs gang flooded North East with drugs
A former cage fighter who was part of a gang smuggling millions of pounds worth of drugs has been jailed.
Darren Towler, from Consett, in County Durham, orchestrated the "sophisticated conspiracy", a spokesperson for Durham Police said.
A covert investigation into the operation led to officers seizing more than £100,000 in cash hidden in shoe boxes disguised as birthday presents.
They were discovered in the boot of a vehicle which had been intercepted in Barnard Castle.
Durham Police said the gang had been exchanging "industrial scale quantities" of drugs for hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The gang smuggled cocaine, amphetamine, and cannabis into County Durham from Merseyside and distributed it across the region, a spokesperson added.
Officers identified more than ten trips between the North East and North West over a five-month period in 2017.
Last week, 11 people appeared at Teesside Crown Court to be sentenced for their role in the conspiracy.
Towler, of Rutherford Street, Newcastle, was found guilty of conspiracy to supply cocaine and amphetamine but admitted the same charge for cannabis. The 41-year-old failed to appear at court, but was sentenced to 24 years in his absence.
His half-brother, Jonathan Kitson, of Riding Hill, Great Lumley, pleaded guilty during his trial to charges of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and a separate charge involving cannabis. The 28-year-old was jailed for nine years and 11 months.
Jodie Smith, of Main Street, Consett - the former partner of Towler - pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. The 42-year-old was jailed for six years and six months.
Towler's sister, Anita Towler, 43, of Second Street, Consett, pleaded guilty to the same charge, as did 38-year-old Steven Ruddick, of Pasture Row, near Bishop Auckland. The pair will be sentenced next month.
Other members of the conspiracy included Craig Field, 40, of Lincoln Place, Consett, who was jailed for five years and seven months after admitting supplying cocaine; Daniel Mappin, 29, of Front Street, Tudhoe, who was jailed for five years and four months for being concerned in the supply of cocaine and heroin; and Aaron Merritt, 29, of Hallgarth, Consett, who was jailed for 29 months.
John Huscroft, of Thornhill Gardens, Burnopfield, pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine with intent to supply. The 45-year-old was handed a 22-month prison sentence, suspended for two months.
Two of the Merseyside contingency were also handed lengthy jail sentences. They are 40-year-old Ricky Hemmings and 48-year-old John Campbell, both from Kirkby, in Merseyside. The pair admitted conspiracy charged and Hemmings was jailed for 12 years and six months while Campbell received a six year and eight-month jail sentence.
Detective Superintendent Nicola Lawrence, who led the investigation, said: “This was an incredibly complex and challenging investigation, and it is thanks to the hard work and dedication and professionalism of our investigators that we have achieved this outcome at court.
“I hope this result sends out a clear message that we will not tolerate criminality of this nature in our force area, and we will take action to dismantle, disrupt, and destroy these criminal networks.”
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know...