A FORMER football hooligan-turned café cook from Northwich who became a drug runner for a ‘county lines’ gang has been jailed for more than three years.

Terence Sweeney, 54, who runs Mo's Place café in Leftwich with his family, was found with more than 50g of cocaine after being stopped by police in North Yorkshire.

York Crown Court heard that Sweeney – a former Everton football hooligan who was jailed in 2006 following violent clashes with Manchester United fans – had been used as hired muscle by drug overlords in the north west.

The heavily-built Everton fan was driving a Vauxhall Vivaro van which was pulled over by police in Thirsk, said prosecutor John Batchelor.

As well as a single bag containing 54g of cocaine, officers found cannabis and a wooden cosh inside the vehicle. There was also £1,000 inside Sweeney’s wallet.

Mr Batchelor said the cash was the proceeds from Sweeney’s role as a 'drug courier, trusted to drive Class A drugs across county lines'.

Sweeney, of Cockington Close, initially pleaded his innocence but ultimately admitted possessing cocaine with intent to supply on the basis that he was just a courier. He also pleaded guilty to possessing cannabis and Class C tablets, as well as an offensive weapon.

He appeared for sentence on Friday knowing that a jail sentence was a certainty.

Mr Batchelor said that during the police search on January 26, 2018, officers also found 'significant (drug-mixing) paraphernalia' inside Sweeney’s van. This included weighing scales, a 'mixing agent' and a ‘tick list’ with the names and numbers of drug customers.

Sweeney declined to answer police questions after being hauled into custody and refused to hand over the pin code for the mobile phone he was carrying.

The court heard that Sweeney’s previous convictions were 'all football-related hooliganism and offensive weapons'.

Defence barrister Desmond Lennon said Sweeney was 'under direction' from drug suppliers higher up the chain, although he had benefited financially.

He claimed it was a 'one-off incident' and that Sweeney was in a 'bad way' at the time due to his drug use.

“He was asked to provide a favour for a third party,” said Mr Lennon.

“He was offered a modest wage (to be a drug courier) and agreed to do so. It’s a decision he unequivocally regrets.”

He said Sweeney was a married family man who ran the Mo's Place community café at a property leased from Cheshire West and Chester Council.

“Prior to the pandemic, it provided home-cooked meals and local councillors host drop-in events there frequently,” added Mr Lennon.

Northwich Guardian:

Mo's Place in Leftwich, which Sweeney runs with his family and where he works as a cook

“Vulnerable members of the community use the café. It is a valuable resource for the community in the part of Northwich where he lives.”

He said Sweeney was also a fundraiser for the Bradley Lowery Foundation, a children’s cancer charity set up following the death of a young football supporter.

However, judge Sean Morris told Sweeney that despite his community work in Northwich, 'you were happy to deliver Class A drugs to our community'.

He said that due to Sweeney’s physical stature, his drug bosses had 'chosen well' in selecting him as hired muscle to courier the drugs across county lines.

“You are a big man (and) you are not a stranger to violence,” added Mr Morris.

“You know how to use your fists, no doubt, and you had a weapon (in the van). You had a thousand pounds, driving miles and miles to deliver misery to the streets (to) stupid young people to snort up their nose or pump into their veins.

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“It brings crime and misery and death, and couriers are crucial for peddling that misery, because without people like you, being prepared to travel miles and miles for pay, it wouldn’t happen.”

Jailing Sweeney for three-and-a-half years, Mr Morris told him: “This kind of dealing just wrecks lives.”

In May 2006, Sweeney and two other Everton supporters were jailed for 27 months each and given the maximum 10-year football banning order at Liverpool Crown Court after being convicted of violent disorder.

The “very ugly incident” occurred during heightened tensions between Everton and Manchester United fans when Wayne Rooney made his first appearance for the Manchester team after his transfer from the Merseyside club.

Police officers described the violence as the worst they had encountered in years of service.