No jail for lodger forced into dealing drugs

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A DRUG dealer caught with a stash of hundreds of ecstasy tablets has narrowly escaped prison in a “truly exceptional” case.

Andrew Bell, 22, was arrested last September after a police raid at the Jennyfield home where he was lodging.

Officers uncovered a secret drugs stash worth more than £10,000, with a quantity of cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine, skunk and more.

But, with the help of an “extraordinary” – and lengthy – dossier of character references, he has escaped a custodial sentence.

The Recorder of York, Judge Stephen Ashurst, said: “You’ve come as close as anyone will ever come to an immediate sentence. I think you know that.

“These are truly exceptional circumstances.”

The court heard how Bell, having fallen out with his mother, had been lodging with a friend called Phillip McMillan at an address in Oakdale Avenue.

His barrister, Kirstie Watson, said he had inherited a drugs debt from another friend who fled town and been forced to take on the £2,500 loan.

To pay back the money, she said, he was forced with “threats of violence” to sell the drugs on.

When police raided the three-bed terraced house he shared with McMillan and his mother, they found a “substantial” amount of drugs.

This included 130g of cocaine, worth £5,200, 127.9g of Naphyrone, worth £1,200, 233 ecstasy tablets, worth £457, and 50.9g of powder, worth £763.

Further bags containing 27.5g of ketamine worth £405, 35g of skunk worth £260 and 8.7g of herbal cannabis worth £11 were also found.

Upstairs, in his friend’s bedroom, a further eight cannabis plants, valued at £1,760, were found by police.

Phillip McMillan, 28, of Oakdale Avenue, admitted to police that he had been involved in the cultivation of cannabis.

He was given a 12-month community order and told he must complete 80 hours of unpaid work.

Miss Watson, representing Bell, pleaded with the judge to consider his previous good character and his guilty plea.

“I ask you to take into consideration the pressure and the coercion this young man was under,” she said. “He didn’t do it under his own volition.”

Since his arrest he had left the area, she said, becoming involved with the church and local mother and toddler groups.

“This is a young man who has everything going for him,” she added.

“He is just the type of person on whom Your Honour could take a chance.”

Judge Ashurst, sentencing Bell to a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years, said this was a “truly exceptional case”.

“I’ve read a most unusual collection of testimonies,” he said.

“This 57 page dossier is from a whole range of people, all motivated to help you.

“You were put under significant pressure to help out a drug dealer,” he added. “You were paying off someone else’s debt.

“The problem with people like you being prepared to help out, often in a moment of weakness, is that is acts as a shield for those who don’t care about others, who exploit other people and who are indifferent to their suffering.”

He also ordered that Bell must complete 300 hours of unpaid work.

“Could we turn the clocks back two years, you would be held up as an example,” he said. “But here you are, having admitted serious involvement.

“A huge number of people have invested in you. You have an obligation now not to let them down.”