A DRUG gang leader on the run from a Darwen bail hostel with his girlfriend has been jailed for 22 years in his absence.

John Barber, 35, was convicted during a trial at Liverpool Crown Court.

His "trusted lieutenants" Alan Bentley and Lee Bonney, both aged 34, were jailed for 17 years and 14 years respectively for conspiring to supply heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine between August 1998 and November 17 1999.

The trial at Liverpool heard the "directors" Barber, of Twisee Road, Bonney, of Nantwich Walk, and Bentley, of Dunoon Drive, all Bolton, would meet regularly at their headquarters, Debbie's Diner, to discuss the purchase, distribution and supply of Class A drugs.

Gang member Billy Webb, who ran the drugs operation jointly with Barber, was shot twice in the chest last May before he was able to stand trial.

The scale of the operation was demonstrated by the fact more than £1m worth of drugs were seized.

During sentencing yesterday, Judge David Swift said: "It is clear this organised criminal conspiracy supplied by far the majority of Class A drugs to Bolton.

"This organised conspiracy attempted to create a local monopoly controlled by intimidation and violence, imposing a gang-land culture, engaging in every aspect of the supply, from obtaining large quantities of Class A drugs to bringing them into the area, through to cutting, packaging the drugs and distributing them to wholesalers and through them to lower level dealers who then sold individual packages to users on the streets."

An international manhunt has been launched after Barber failed to return after the Christmas break. He is believed to be in the company of his pregnant 22-year-old girlfriend Victoria Dudson who used to work as a legal executive at the firm which prepared his defence case.

In sentencing Barber, who along with Bentley had previous drug convictions, Judge Swift said: "He was the principal conspirator and was at the top of the pyramid, dealing in drugs on a large scale, supplying a whole town and enforcing compliance."

Brian Roper, 25, from Thornbank South, Deane and Martin Wright, 38, from Redstock Close, Westhoughton, will be sentenced on Friday and were remanded in custody.

Another conspirator Carl Entwistle, 21, from Cromford Close, Bolton, will be sentenced on February 22 after reports have been carried out.

Det Insp Gerry Donnellan from Greater Manchester Drugs Unit said: "These sentences should act as a deterrent of anyone contemplating undertaking this life style.

"For in excess of a year, they generated enormous profits from their illegal trade. All that remains is for Barber to be found."

Anyone with information about his whereabouts is urged to call 0161 872 5050.