A man who once played in the Champions League became a prolific drug dealer who flooded a city with heroin and crack cocaine.

John Lawless had a promising lower-league career as a midfielder who played UEFA Champions League football against Liverpool before going on to manage. He played and managed in Wales.

But it has been revealed that Lawless, 39, was leading a double life as a prolific drug dealer, Hull Live reports.

He ran a county lines gang from Liverpool, from where he flooded the Yorkshire city with heroin and crack cocaine as part of the so-called Liverpool ‘Scouse J’ gang who were one of Humberside Police’s top targets to combat drugs in Hull.

Lawless was the point man for the Liverpool gang with a string of street dealers scattered around the city centre. He ran his operation from the historic former offices of one of the city’s prestigious legal firms. The dad of six was managing Prestatyn Town when he was arrested for county lines dealing in Hull. He has now begun a seven-year jail sentence.

The lifelong Liverpool FC fan boasted that he grew up alongside Everton and Manchester United player Wayne Rooney. But his footballing career never took off to the same extent and he instead played for a number of lower league clubs, including Welsh champions TNS, with whom he faced Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League. During the game, he came on as a sub in front of 45,000 fans at Anfield. TNS lost 3-0 that night and 6-0 on aggregate.

After this, he would go on to play another six seasons in the lower leagues before being appointed manager of Prestatyn Town in October 2020 during lockdown.

But, unbeknownst to his bosses and the team, Lawless was already involved in drug dealing. County lines involves gangs which export hard drugs from large English cities into smaller towns and cities around Britain. Days after his arrest in January, Lawless was sacked by Prestatyn without ever getting a chance to lead the club in a competitive game.

His arrest was part of a major undercover operation by Humberside Police in partnership with Merseyside Police against the ‘Scouse J’ gang which was suspected of being behind a heavy flow of heroin and crack cocaine.

Ringleader Daniel Condliff, 26, sourced and supplied the drugs from Liverpool while his lieutenant, Lawless, acted as an ‘area manager’ with 11 drug dealers working under him in Hull.

At a court appearance in Hull last month, it was revealed that Condliff made and received an average of almost 320 calls and messages a day on his ‘burner’ over a 60-week period from March 2020 to January 2021. Another 650 messages were sent to Lawless regarding the movement of “stock” from Liverpool to Hull and onto the streets. Humberside Police said the exchanges valued the drugs imported into Hull by Condliff, and distributed by Lawless, at £1 million. The pair were arrested in joint raids on January 4.

Drugs, burner phones, a weapon and cash seized by Humberside Police in a County Lines raid which saw arrest of dealer John Lawless

Condliff, a father of two, was seen throwing packages out of his window into a next-door garden, the parcels were later discovered to be 56 wraps of heroin. Police also discovered a machete knife, an electronic cash counting machine and a cutting agent in his house. During the dual raids, police also found bundles of cash, wraps of heroin and cocaine and a Japanese style fighting knife.

DS Matthew Grantham, who led the Humberside Police investigation, said: “We believe that by stopping this gang’s activities we have prevented significant amounts of heroin and crack cocaine from being sold on the streets of Hull and the associated crime and anti-social behaviour that goes with this kind of offending.

“We know the impact this has on our communities and that’s why we will do everything we can to find those who are responsible and bring them to justice. Hopefully the sentences handed down to these two men, and those working beneath them, will serve as a warning to others looking to come to our towns and cities to deal drugs that they’re not welcome here and we won’t tolerate it.

“I would like to thank our colleagues in Merseyside for their support, as well as the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre, which provided a massive support throughout the investigation.

“I would also like to thank all the people who contact us with information about drug dealing and drug-related crime in their areas.

“It’s thanks to you that we can put together successful operations like this one and make it clear that if you’re looking to sell drugs, Humberside is not an easy target.”

Inspector Gary Stratton from Merseyside Police’s Project Medusa team said: “County Lines drug dealing not only blights the lives of the drug users, the communities in which they deal in but also the lives of the young and vulnerable people used to store and sell the drugs.

“The sentence Condliffe has received reflects the severity of his crimes and re-enforces our collective commitment to take county lines offenders off our streets and bring them to justice.

“As we have done in this case, we will continue to work with police forces and authorities across the country to make sure there is no safe place for such criminals to hide.”

At Hull Crown Court on November 8, Condliff, of Auburn Road, Liverpool, and Lawless, of Exchange Court, admitted to the possession and intent of supplying heroin and crack cocaine, and being concerned in the supply of heroin and crack cocaine.

Richard Thompson, mitigating for Lawless, said he was working as a painter and a decorated before the pandemic but turned to offending.

He said: “He is in a long-term relationship with his partner and has six children ranging from six to 18. He has accepted he is going to miss a significant number of years of his children’s lives, and regrets it. He hopes to continue maintaining contact with them until he is released. This is likely to have a significant impact on his behaviour.”

Defence barrister Charlotte Noddings for Condliff, who received 10 years in jail, said her client had “potential to show a great change of character.”

She said: “He is determined to come out of prison a different person. Despite being young, he has two young children himself. He knows he is facing serious years ahead of him.

“When he is released, his children will be of schooling age, they are the biggest reason he wants to rehabilitate his life.”

Judge John Thackray QC said to Condliffe and Lawless: “You both profess to be family men, concerned about your partners and children and while that might be right, you certainly have no regard for the families of other people affect by drug dealing.

“Drug dealing ruins lives and destroys communities. Every day these courts see the misery caused by drug dealing and you were both playing significant roles.”

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