A cocaine addict who got dragged into the drugs trade in order to pay off debts has avoided jail.

Joshua James Burtonwood was initially pulled over by police on suspicion of drink driving, as he headed from Wigan to Leigh on April 4, 2018.

When officers searched the white Mercedes-Benz C-Class that the then-23-year-old had been driving, they found snap bags of cocaine, a large amount of cash in the glove box, and a blue wash bag containing steroids and other body building products.

After Burtonwood was arrested, police then searched his bedroom at his home in Queensway, Leigh and found a large box of cash, snap bags containing cocaine and other 'cutting agents', empty plastic bags, spoons, pieces of card, and digital scales.

Officers also found a debtors list, also known as a 'tick list', underneath Burtonwood's bed

Between the car and the house, prosecution barrister Craig MacGregor told Bolton Crown Court that £3,560 worth of drugs were seized, along with £8,475 in cash.

Mr MacGregor also told the court that Burtonwood's car was 'burnt out', following his arrest.

Burtonwood, now 26, has no previous convictions and was described as a "man of good character" by defence barrister Robert Smith.

"The defendant's vulnerability was exploited," Mr Smith said.

"This defendant has had clear psychiatric issues and his mental health has been in a perilous state."

Police searched Burtonwood's home in Queensway, Leigh, following his arrest
Police searched Burtonwood's home in Queensway, Leigh, following his arrest

Burtonwood has previously pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine, with intent to supply.

Following a trial of issue hearing, Judge Graeme Smith ruled that Burtonwood was not involved in "street dealing", as had been asserted originally by Mr MacGregror, but had still been heavily involved in other drug activity.

Judge Smith said: "Anyone who is in any doubt to the appalling effect of drugs on society need only spend this morning in this court to see it.

"It has had an appalling effect on your mental health and a harsh effect on your family who felt very threatened as a result of what you got yourself into and no doubt by the burning of the car that followed your arrest.

"You follow a typical pattern; you take drugs yourself, you get to the stage where you can't pay for them, you accrue a debt, you are put under pressure to do something to repay the debt and as a result you get deeper into the drugs trade.

"You were heavily involved because you were passing packages backwards and forwards, you were dealing with debtors lists and various equipment found at your address means that you were involved in bagging up drugs.

"You have no previous convictions and had clear psychiatric issues that led to you getting into trouble and made you more vulnerable.

"For a time you were enjoying the lifestyle. You were buying, albeit counterfeit, luxury goods, you were driving a nice car, you were going out socialising and trying to fit in.

"You were leading a double life; on one hand you were giving every impression of having made it, while meanwhile facing threats, pressure and extreme psychiatric stress because of the position you found yourself in.

Judge Smith admitted that the case was in a 'grey area' between different sentencing guidelines and said that Burtonwood was on a 'knife edge' between going to custody or having his sentence suspended.

He said: "An offence this type almost always leads to immediate custody due to the effect of drugs on the community.

"I have to look at other factors, you are classed as low risk, probation believe that you are a person for who rehabilitation would work and you have strong personal mitigation. I balance up all those factors and you are literally on the knife edge of custody."

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Judge Smith sentenced Burtonwood to two years imprisonment, suspended for two years.

Burtonwood, who had spent most of the hearing with his head in his hands, cried and looked visibly relieved when Judge Smith passed sentence.

Judge Smith, who believed that sending Burtonwood to custody could sent him 'back down the wrong path', added: "There's a real possibility that if you don't go to custody, this is the last time we will see you before this court and you will be able to continue to turn your life around, therefore I do suspend the sentence."

Burtonwood will also have to complete 240 hours of unpaid work and attend 20 rehabilitation activity requirement days.