An upcoming footballer who stole £30,000 worth of chewing gum to settle a drug debt has been spared jail.
Ellis Benecke, aged 20, travelled with two accomplices from Yorkshire, UK to the M5 services near Gloucester on May 4.
While the driver slept in their cab, the gang cut open the lorry’s side, removing 7 of 19 chewing gum pallets inside and loading them into their own car.
But they were spotted by another driver who alerted police according to the Sun UK.
They then reportedly fled to Cheltenham, where they left the motorway and drove the wrong way before abandoning their lorry and fleeing on foot.
Benecke, his accomplice, Keon Sanderson, 18, were arrested days later.
At the first court hearing, Benecke pleaded guilty to theft and possession of cannabis.
Matthew Harbinson, the defending lawyer, said Benecke had been a promising footballer as a teenager, but his career was wrecked after he started using cannabis and developed debts due to drug use.
He said Benecke left school with no qualifications during the pandemic and believed he suffers from an undiagnosed learning disability.
Harbinson said: ‘It is inconceivable, in my submission, that my client has the ability to plan, orchestrate or play any significant role in an enterprise of that nature.
‘The level of sophistication and the level of planning is far beyond my client’s capabilities. These two defendants do have the unenviable role of taking the fall for something that is way over their heads.’
The case was adjourned until Thursday, July 21.
Court recorder Richard Mawhinney imposed an eight-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months, and ordered him to undertake 18 months’ supervision and 140 hours of unpaid work.
Benecke, who is jobless, was also told to complete a six-month drug rehabilitation requirement and pay £200 prosecution costs.
‘I accept you had a lesser role in the whole enterprise,’the judge said.
‘I take into account you have a supportive family who found this to be a complete shock and in due course paid off the debt you said you incurred.
‘You incurred a drug debt and if you incur a debt through illegal activity, drug dealers are nasty people and that’s what they are going to do.
‘You need to get off drugs; they are no good for anyone – you might have had a football career.’