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Teen who wasted football career stole £30,000 of chewing gum to pay drug debt

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Ellis Benecke, 19, stole A LOT of chewing gum (Picture: GNS)

A once promising footballer who stole £30,000 of Wrigley’s chewing gum to settle a drug debt has avoided jail.

Ellis Benecke, 20, travelled with two accomplices from Yorkshire to the M5 services near Gloucester in the early hours of May 4.

As the driver slept in their cab, the gang cut open the lorry’s side, removing seven of 19 pallets inside and loading them into their own HGV.

But they were spotted by another driver who alerted police.

They then fled along the M5 to Cheltenham, where they left the motorway and drove the wrong way down the A40 before abandoning their lorry and fleeing on foot.

Benecke and his accomplice, Keon Sanderson, 18, were arrested soon after.

At an earlier hearing, Benecke, of Aysgarth Road, Leeds, pleaded guilty to theft and possession of cannabis.

Matthew Harbinson, defending, said Benecke had been a promising footballer as a teenager, but a potential career was wrecked after he started using cannabis and developed drug debts.

Keon Sanderson, 18, was arrested along with Benecke (Picture: GNS)

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He said Benecke left school with no qualifications during the pandemic and believed he suffers from an undiagnosed learning disability.

‘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,’ he said.

‘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 against Sanderson, from Batley, West Yorkshire, was adjourned until Thursday as his counsel was taking part in nationwide industrial action.

Recorder Richard Mawhinney imposed an eight-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months, ordered him to undertake 18 months’ supervision and 140 hours of unpaid work.

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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.’

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