A notorious drug lord has been given an extra six month in prison after he was arrested in Eastern Europe after 18-months on the run.

Former cage fighter Darren Towler was one of the region’s most wanted men after he failed to turn up for drug trafficking trial.

Towler spent ten-weeks inside an ‘inhumane’ Croatian prison before he was extradited to the UK after he was captured near the Croatian and Serbian border, on Saturday, August 5.

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.

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He was jailed for 24 years last year in his absence after he refused to attend Teesside Crown Court for his trial before fleeing the country.

Towler, formerly of County Durham, pleaded guilty to failing to surrender to custody from March 23, last year.

Kristian Cavanagh, mitigating, said his client’s absence had not delayed the trial as he was found guilty from evidence provided by Durham Constabulary.

He added: “He spent ten-weeks in a Croatian jail where the conditions were described as inhumane.”

Judge Jonathan Carroll, who presided over the trial, said: “You absented yourself from the trial, you were giving instructions to your counsel shortly before your trial.

“You were fully aware of it, knew the dates and were fully aware that you were having to attend.

“It could not be a more deliberate attempt to evade justice.”

The Northern Echo: Darren TowlerDarren Towler (Image: Durham Constabulary)

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

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.

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

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 will face a proceed of crime act hearing in December after it was revealed that he had benefited by up to £700,000 through his role in the conspiracy.