County Durham cage fighter still on the run as final member of drugs ring is sentenced

A former champion cage fighter is on the run after being convicted of smuggling millions of pounds worth of drugs.

Darren Towler, from Consett in County Durham, was sentenced in October for his role in the drugs gang.

A warrant is out for the arrest of the former MMA champion, who was sentenced to 24 years in prison, after he failed to attend the court hearing.

Durham Police said Towler orchestrated the "sophisticated conspiracy", which saw the gang exchanging "industrial scale" quantities of drugs.

The last of the drugs ring, Steven Ruddick, was sentenced on Tuesday 15 November for his role in the gang.

On 21 November, Teesside Crown Court was told that the 38-year-old, of Pasture Row, Eldon, played a lesser role in the conspiracy further down the supply chain, and he was given a suspended two-year sentence.

As of present, nine of the gang are serving jail terms totalling more than 75 years, including Towler's sister Anita Taylor; his former girlfriend, Jodie Smith from Consett; and his half brother Jonathan Kitson from Great Lumley.

The police investigation found the gang had been exchanging "industrial scale quantities" of drugs for hundreds of thousands of pounds, smuggling cocaine, amphetamine, and cannabis into County Durham from Merseyside.

A covert 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.

Officers identified more than ten trips between the North East and North West over a five-month period in 2017.

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