A former cage fighter who is considered one of County Durham’s most wanted fugitives has been arrested in Eastern Europe, police confirmed today (Thursday August 17).

Following 18-months on the run, Darren Towler, formerly of Consett, was arrested near the Croatian and Serbian border, on Saturday, August 5.

Towler, whose last known address was Rutherford Street, in Newcastle, remains in custody awaiting extradition proceedings to have him returned to the UK.

Read more: Pictures of when Darren Towler was first arrested in Consett

The 42-year-old offender was said to have orchestrated a sophisticated drugs conspiracy which saw criminals smuggle millions of pounds worth of drugs into County Durham from Merseyside.

Read more: Darren Towler and Ricky Hemmings' drugs gang sentences reduced

An investigation by officers from Durham Constabulary’s Specialist Crime Operations Unit (SCOU) found the gang to be exchanging "industrial scale quantities" of drugs for hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Led by Towler, the conspiracy involved the use of burner and encrypted phones and frequent communications to transport cash and drugs across the country.

The Northern Echo: Darren Towler was sentenced to 24 years in his absence, last October

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

Following the extensive police investigation, 11 people appeared at Teesside Crown Court in October last year to be sentenced for their role in the conspiracy.

Towler was found guilty of conspiracy to supply cocaine and amphetamine but he did admit the same charge for cannabis.

He failed to appear at court but was jailed for 24 years in his absence.

Read more: North East gang shipped kilos of cocaine and amphetamine

Towler was still said to remain at large when, earlier this month, other members of the gang were involved in a proceeds of crime confiscation hearing at the court.

It was said, at that hearing, that Towler’s estimated benefit figure from his involvement in the conspiracy may have been as high as £700,000, but his counsel, Andrew Nixon, disputed the “methodology” of reaching that figure and said it may be challenged at a later hearing.

In the wake of Towler’s reported arrest, a Durham Police spokesman said today: “This arrest shows that there is no hiding place for anyone who is evading police.

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“Working with our colleagues at the National Crime Agency, Towler is now facing extradition back to the UK to serve his prison sentence.

“To anyone who is causing fear and harm in our community and thinks they can get away with it, we will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to find you.

“We will always catch up with you and bring you to justice.”