A former cage fighter who is back behind bars after 18 months on the run once told the Northern Echo he was ‘going straight’.

Mixed martial artist Darren Towler vowed to regain his world title and give money from his fights to charity when he spoke to the paper in 2015.

He had recently been released on licence after serving 15 months of a three years and three-month sentence at Durham Prison after he was found with cocaine, £2,300 cash and 2,000 ecstasy tablets stashed in his car.

Towler, then 35, who lived at Leadgate, said he was ‘determined to put his criminal past behind him’.

Read more: County Durham gang led by cage fighter Darren Towler flooded area with cocaine and amphetamine

The Northern Echo: Darren Towler vowed to turn his life around Darren Towler vowed to turn his life around (Image: Northern Echo)

Speaking at the former YMCA building in Consett, Towler said: “It was a bad time in my life. I got involved in some things I should not have got involved in and it came to a head when I got a custodial sentence.

“When I was in there I realised I had let a lot of people down, friends, supporters and family.

“It was harder mentally than anything else. It was a shock and it was an eye opener.

“You get involved in things and do not realise the consequences until you have to do them.”

Towler, who lifted a Ultimate Challenge Mixed Martial Arts title in 2011, last fought against Tony Mustard, from Sunderland, in December 2017 beating him with a total knockout in 56 seconds.

That same year Towler, now 42, was also orchestrating a sophisticated drugs conspiracy which saw criminals smuggle millions of pounds worth of drugs into County Durham from Merseyside.

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

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

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

He was caught on Saturday, August 5 near the Croatian and Serbian border.

Despite his criminal activity it is understood Towler was good to his word of supporting the Lee Robson Patient Care Grants, which is part of the leukaemia charity Bright Red, and donated around £1,000 of the money raised from the fight admissions.

Lee Robson, who worked at Consett YMCA, was a patron for the Bright Red charity and he set up the scheme before his death from leukaemia in summer 2013.

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Speaking back in 2015, following his release from prison, Towler said: “It is a very worthwhile cause. Cancer is close to everyone’s heart and it is a local charity.

“My main aim when I got out was to turn everything around and do a lot more for charity so I am putting that in motion to show people you can go away and come out changed.

“You do not have to be tarred with that brush constantly.”