'I served in Afghanistan but when I came back to the UK I became gangland kidnapper'

A former soldier has lifted the lid on his battle after leaving the military – which saw him become a gangland kidnapper as he struggled with PTSD. Darren Wright now hopes to offer a beacon of help for others in a similar situation, saying prison saved his life. He was inspired to turn his life around after the death of a close friend from his army days.

Darren’s pal Sergeant Jamie Doyle had taken his own life within a year of leaving the army, after struggling to adapt when his 22 years of service was up. Darren had seen too many others finding the return into civilian life punishing – including himself, the Manchester Evening News reports. He, too, had left the army only to soon find himself suicidal and ‘lost’.

Darren was inspired to turn his life around after the death of pal Sgt Jamie Doyle

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“I was in a bad way.

I didn’t want to live. I just didn’t care about life,” he says. His own spiral downwards ended up in criminality – and he admits the only reason he is still alive today is because he was handed an 11-year prison sentence.

Now out and reformed after getting the help he needed, Darren is determined to provide a rescue path for those in a similar position to what he found himself in. He is highly motivated, confident, and straight talking – with all the life experience to keep others from making the same mistakes. Darren’s upbringing was tough.

He had left school with no qualifications, was a father by the time he was 17, and a dad of three at 19. The army was a way out and an opportunity and so, back in 1999 at the age of 23, Darren signed up.

'I served in Afghanistan but when I came back to the UK I became gangland kidnapper'Darren joined the army at 23, hoping for a better life for his children

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“I wanted to get a better life for myself and my kids,” he says of his decision. He was voted best recruit and served for five years with the Royal Artillery as a gunner and paratrooper.

He served in Afghanistan ‘when each day you didn’t know if you would step on IED’. Before being discharged, Darren spent a spell in a military hospital, where medics failed to diagnose that he was suffering from PTSD. Then, after he left the army, things began to spiral out of control for Darren.

“When I came out of the military my head was in bits. I was drinking, taking drugs. “When I joined, the army became my family.

When you leave you miss all that. I tried taking my own life and spent three months in a wheelchair. I threw myself in front of a car.

'I served in Afghanistan but when I came back to the UK I became gangland kidnapper'Darren Wright, serving in Afghanistan where he was gunner with the Royal Artillery regiment and a trained paratrooper

“I was in a bad way.

I didn’t want to live. I just didn’t care about life. “I would drink at night just to get through the night.

I was lost. I lost my relationship and became a distant father, from my kids.” Darren had even further to fall.

“I got sucked into criminality. I was debt collecting. It is a common thing – people think you are ‘Andy McNab’ – you have been in the military and can offer a professional service – you are a trained soldier, you have skills.

'I served in Afghanistan but when I came back to the UK I became gangland kidnapper'The lorry which carries the name of former soldier, Jamie Doyle

“I did that for two years.

Two years not being a parent, two years wanting to die.” It ended catastrophically. He was convicted of kidnapping and given an 18 year sentence – reduced to 11 years and three months after he pleaded guilty.

The kidnap gang he was part of got the wrong man when they tried to abduct a businessman from his home, in a GBP2.5m plot in 2006. A shopkeeper was taken at gunpoint from a house in Glasgow. But it was his son, then 25, who was the intended victim.

The younger man was shot at as he tried to rescue his dad. For three weeks the victim was kept hooded and handcuffed while held captive in Manchester and Heywood. The kidnappers were arrested when an undercover cop left a suitcase containing GBP400,000 by an emergency phone on the M6 near Charnock Richard.

Darren’s arrest was the start of his way back.

'I served in Afghanistan but when I came back to the UK I became gangland kidnapper'Alec McFadden, who is working alongside Darren

“I committed a crime and it was prison that saved my life,” he says now. “I would not be talking to you now if had not not got a custodial sentence. It was in prison that I got the help I needed, and the support.” When he emerged from prison in 2012, having been diagnosed and treated for PTSD, his head was clear.

Within a week he had a job as a truck driver – making use of the licence he obtained while in the army. “If I’d been diagnosed correctly upon leaving the army with suffering from PTSD and got the correct treatment, I wouldn’t have ended up in prison, my kids wouldn’t have grown up without a dad. Instead I was left to self medicate with alcohol and drugs,” he says.

“I regret the crime I committed, I regret the distress I caused to the victim’s family, but I wasn’t mentally right and going to prison saved my life,” Darren adds. “It is a shame that I had to commit a crime and get sent to prison to get correctly diagnosed from suffering from PTSD. “If only the MOD took better care of the individuals who fight for their country.” Now more resilient and determined to shed his criminal links, Darren survived another setback in 2014.

'I served in Afghanistan but when I came back to the UK I became gangland kidnapper'Darren has described how he turned his life around

He was recalled to prison for three months when a member of his family was shot in Manchester and he was deemed by police to be a threat to life.

He lost the job due to the recall but quickly found another. He has been in full time employment ever since and is now giving a lifeline to those at risk of ending up where he did. Darren set up Veterans Into Logistics, a Heywood-based company which trains ex-service men and women to drive trucks, after Jamie’s death.

“The reason I set up the company was because one of my friends took his own life in 2018. I walked away from the funeral thinking more needs to be done for veterans, who are coming out of service and can’t access employment and further training.” He hopes to plug a flaw in the system which means veterans who are not academically gifted miss out on training, despite building up thousands of pounds in credits during their service for post army retraining.

“You never see a homeless former officer on the streets. It is the kid from a council estate and a disadvantaged background who joined the army, did five years, served his country as a perfect foot soldier, and leaves with no support. “They are the ones that end up on the street, in prison, or take their own life.”

He hopes Veterans Into Logistics, which is working in conjunction with a national training company, will eventually extend its scope to young people. Darren aims to get those hoping to escape the tough estates through a boxing or football career will also get a truck driving licence to fall back on should their dreams not be fulfilled. Logistics and online delivery are booming.

Getting a truck driving licence is perfect for people who are not academic. In ten weeks we can train them to have a licence. “The authorities would rather a person do a course in ’employability’.

But if you have someone who has done a course in ’employability’ and someone who has licence to drive a truck who will get a job?” He added: “We are at humble beginnings. We have two vehicles but we have a lot of companies that are getting on board with us.

We have trained 20 people so far.” Alec McFadden is National Project Coordinator for the company. He was formerly boss of the Salford Unemployed Community Resource Centre, which helped thousands of poverty-stricken people.

He said: “I see this as a national organisation eventually. There are 100,000 vacancies for truck drivers in the country, and there are only 84,000 people in prison. “I’ve always tried to stop people from re-offending.

Darren’s company is creating a new life chance for people.” The company has had some Lottery funding, plus GBP30,000 from the Veterans Foundation, but will be lobbying hard to get support from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. One of the two trucks the firm has is named after Darren’s army pal Jamie.

“Jamie was a very good friend of mine and we served in the military together, we had memories that I will always cherish,” Darren says. “When I founded Veterans into Logistics and sought our first training vehicle it felt only right to pay tribute to him and his memory on our truck. “I would like to thank Jamie’s parents ,Jayne Allen & John Doyle, for giving me their blessing to do so.

“This truck and Jamie’s memory will lead the way in supporting ex-military personnel to begin new careers as LGV drivers and I wish he was here to see the positive impact that Veterans into Logistics will have on veterans and their lives.”