A teenage drug dealer has been handed a ‘second chance’ after he avoided being sent to prison.

Thomas Linford, 18, pleaded guilty to possessing cannabis with intent to supply in Accrington.

He had been using an iPhone to make drug deals and was selling cannabis to pay off his £700 drug debt and maintain his habit, Preston Crown Court heard.

Prosecutor Mercedeh Jabbari told the court that Linford, of Sandy Lane, Accrington, was a passenger in a car with two other males outside the Britannia pub last November when they were spotted by police officers who became suspicious of the car’s open window.

They approached in a marked police vehicle and saw a bag being thrown out of the car into a field nearby. The bag, which belonged to the driver, was discovered to contain crack cocaine.

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Ms Jabbari said: “Found on this defendant was £85 in cash, there was a mobile phone seized from him at the time but also at his home address officers found a quantity of unused snap sealed bags.”

The other passenger was also found to possess 14.4 grams of cannabis and all three were smoking cannabis, the court heard.

Officers who searched Linford’s home also found cannabis weighing scales and messages on the iPhone showed him to be concerned in the supply of drugs. Ms Jabbari told the court that the Crown’s stance was that Linford is a ‘street dealer’ motivated by a ‘financial’ or similar advantage.

She added that Linford had committed the offences while subject to a referral order from the youth court in April 2016 for an earlier drug-dealing offence.

Defending, Richard Dawson told the court that the defendant had been ‘naive, immature and frankly stupid’, but that he was now actively working to change his lifestyle and was travelling from Accrington to Altrincham daily for work.

He said: “Whilst he was dealing he was dealing to subsidise his own misuse but he was also dealing to try and repay his debt and keep the dealers from his door.

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“He has desisted in his cannabis use and he has found work. There are green shoots of hope, he is moving on in a positive fashion and repaying his debt to society.”

Linford wept in the dock as Recorder Mukhtar Hussain QC told him he would not be sending him into custody, but handed him a sentence of 15 months in a young offenders’ institute, suspended for 18 months.

Recorder Mukhtar Hussain QC told Thomas Linford he was giving him ‘a chance’ by not jailing him.

He said: “The consequences on those that become addicted to drugs can be devastating. You yourself know that, because you have got involved and built up a debt in relation to drugs and threats were made - yet you carried on.

“The most obvious sentence would be to send you into custody immediately. The public interest clearly requires you to go to prison but that has to be balanced against your circumstances, that means your early guilty plea, your relative youth.

“The reason I am going to change and give you a chance is because of the references I have read, what is set out in the pre-sentence report. I am also impressed that you have the family support and that you have gone into employment.

“There will be no further chances. Those two convictions remain on your record. The court will know you have got two offences relating to drug dealing.”

Linford must pay a statutory surcharge of £140, and forfeiture and destruction orders were placed on the scales, snap bags and his personal phone.