6:00am Saturday 23rd August 2014
By Jessica Cree
A 'NOTORIOUS' drug dealer was living a luxury lifestyle while peddling thousands of pounds of cocaine and cannabis.
Businessman Darren Bowling was involved in a conspiracy to supply the drugs which spread across the North West and the entire country, police said.
Investigators said breaking up the gang represented a 'massive dint' in the importation and selling of class A and B drugs in East Lancashire.
Police said Bowling had been living in a luxury €1.5million villa in Malaga, complete with swimming pool and had properties in Bulgaria as well as a converted barn in East Lancashire.
The 48-year-old drove a Porsche Cayenne with a personal number plate 36 BOW and also had a brand new Volkswagen Golf.
He owned his own storage company in Hapton as well as a car sales business in Burnley and had a stake in a popular town centre bar.
But despite all of this, police said they had never seen him do a hard day’s work.
Officers said Bowling teamed up with Paul Bell, 49, from Cheadle, and alleged dealer Michael Donnelly, to set up an underground drugs business.
Donnelly has not been seen since he fled the United Kingdom to South Africa via Dubai in September last year.
Bowling, who admitted, conspiracy to supply class A and class B drugs and money laundering, was living the life of a millionaire while organising drug deals police said.
Speaking after the hearing Det Insp Martin Kane, who led the year-long serious and organised crime unit investigation, said: "In my experience of investigating organised crime, Darren Bowling was certainly one of those individuals that lived a fantastic luxury lifestyle from the proceeds of crime.
"From our investigation, we know that he owns property in Spain and Bulgaria and has a converted barn-style house in Barrowford. He owns the Castle Mill premises, Mojitos bar and the Castle Car Sales and he drove around in a Porshe.
"But we never saw him do a hard day's work, despite him owning all these things.
"There is no doubt Bowling has become a very wealthy man over the years from importing and supplying cocaine into the United Kingdom and Lancashire."
Dennis Bury, who co-owned Mojitos bar with Bowling, of Colne Road, Barrowford, said he bought his business partner’s share as soon as the allegations against him came to light.
He said: “Mojitos has nothing more to do with Bowling. That company ceased trading and Dennis Bury Ltd bought it.
“I wanted nothing to do with him and I had no idea what was going on.”
The police's Operation Victor investigation, which saw officers seize more than 2kgs of cocaine, 15kgs of amphetamine, cannabis and £200,000 in cash, came to a head in January.
They had been monitoring Bowling's activities, which included him frequently heading to his properties in Spain to arrange for cocaine to be imported to the UK.
He would then meet up and talk with his co-conspirators to organise deals.
Also involved in the conspiracy was Mark Waring, 39 of Peel Mount, Blackburn. He was described as a courier for Donnelly and pleaded guilty in December 2013 to possession with intent to supply 2kgs of cocaine and production of cannabis. He was sentenced to seven years imprisonment.
Shaun McDonald, 37, of Colshaw Road, Manchester, was a courier for Bell, who had only been out of prison for a short while after being sentenced to 20 years in 2003 for being part of a gang that imported drugs with a street value of £200million, when he got involved with the conspiracy.
McDonald admitted being in possession with intent to supply 15kgs of amphetamine and money laundering in October 2013 and was sentenced to three years four months behind bars.
Stephen Barton, 42, of Brandy House Brow, Blackburn, was a customer of Donnelly and was found guilty of conspiracy to supply class B drugs at Preston Crown Court. He was cleared of charges of possessing criminal property.
Barton stood trial alongside Melvin Harrison, 52, of Causey Foot, Nelson, who faced two charges of concealing criminal property. He was an employee of Bowling who had worked for the family company for 27 years.
The court heart how he admitted creating a hide from a cardboard box with a metal container inside for his boss at Castle Storage, Hapton but denied he knew or suspected the cash inside to be 'dirty' drugs money. He was found not guilty on both charges.
Det Insp Kane said: "This investigation is another example of Lancashire’s serious and organised crime unit's relentless effort to combat the supply of controlled drugs.
"Drugs like cocaine cause misery to communities. The amount of cocaine and the scale of the supply of it on the streets of Lancashire can never be underestimated.
"We are now continuing to investigate the properties and wealth Bowling has amassed over the years to support proceeds of crime proceedings later this year."
The gang will be sentenced on October 10.
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