MMA champion who fled drug trial given eye-watering jail sentence in his absence

A former MMA world champion has been sentenced to 24 years in prison for controlling a multi-million-pound cocaine ring – but wasn't at his most recent hearing to learn his fate after fleeing before the trial.

That's because Darren 'Powerhouse' Towler, 41, skipped bail and has been on the run since March after his drug operation was brought down by police.

The ex-mixed martial arts champ had led the cocaine gang, which flooded England's northeast with millions of pounds of cocaine, alongside his then-girlfriend Jodie Smith, 42, his sister Anita Towler, 43, and his half-brother Jonathan Kitson, 28, among other accomplices.

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Towler and his partner-in-crime, drugs boss Ricky Hemmings, also oversaw the supply of amphetamine and cannabis in the Pennines region, TeessideLive reports.

The group found themselves on thin ice when police put them under surveillance in 2017, following 10 of their journeys within the space of five months.

Detectives discovered the group's exchanges involved multiple kilos of various drugs, amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Police then intercepted a car in Barnard Castle and found two shoe boxes containing £100,000 and disguised to look like children's presents.

Prosecuting, Emma Dowling said Towler "had all the trappings of a drug dealer" when police investigated him, claiming he was driving a luxury car and wearing a designer watch but couldn't explain how he paid for them.

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Towler, from Newcastle, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cannabis but denied the other charges.

However this month a jury found him guilty of conspiracy to supply cocaine and amphetamine and the former sportsman was slapped with a 24-year jail term.

Ms Dowling said Towler had recruited his drug ring contacts while in prison serving an earlier sentence for the supply of drugs.

He communicated with Hemmings via encrypted phones and even conducted an operation that saw £1m sent to Merseyside in payment for the drugs.

On Monday (October 31) the sentencing of Anita Towler and another accomplice, Steven Ruddick, 38, was adjourned until next month.

Anita Towler is reportedly "in conflict" with her drug kingpin brother, the court heard.

Meanwhile, Ruddick's barrister and the prosecution have not yet agreed on the extent of his role in the drug ring.

The pair will both be sentenced on November 21.

Meanwhile Towler's former partner, Smith, has been jailed for six years and six months for conspiracy to supply class A drugs.

Kitson, Towler's half-brother, faces nine years and eleven months behind bars.

Hemmings, 40, was given a sentence of 12 years and six months while another member of their entourage, John Campbell, was jailed for six years and eight months.

Other members of the gang who were jailed are Aaron Merritt, 29, who was given a sentence of two years and five months; Craig Field, 40, who was jailed for five years and seven months; John Huscroft, 45, who received a suspended 22-month sentence; and Daniel Mappin, 29, who was jailed for two years and nine months.

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