Drug dealer unmasked as ex-footballer who ran operation while managing club

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John Lawless, 39, was a promising midfielder who played for Welsh club The New Saints FC before becoming a manager in the lower leagues – he was jailed for seven years at Hull Crown Court

Former footballer and County Lines drug dealer John Lawless jailed for seven years at Hull Crown Court
Former footballer and County Lines drug dealer John Lawless jailed for seven years at Hull Crown Court

A prolific drug dealer has been unmasked as a former footballer who ran heroin and crack cocaine operation while trying also working as a league manager.

John Lawless, 39, was a promising midfielder who played in the UEFA Champions League football for Welsh club The New Saints FC before becoming a manager in the lower leagues.

Lawless had a double life in Hull as one of the city’s most prolific drug dealers, a County Lines import from Liverpool who flooded the city centre with heroin and crack cocaine, HullLive reports.

Lawless, who was jailed for seven years, was part of the “Scouse J” gang who became Humberside Police’s top target.

Lawless ran his operation from the historic former offices of one of the city’s prestigious legal firms.

Lawless played for TNS as a midfielder
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Image:

Action Images)

The dad-of-six was a promising footballer and was managing football team Prestatyn Town in North Wales when he was arrested for County Lines dealing in Hull.

The Liverpool FC fan bragged he had grown up against former Manchester United player Wayne Rooney.

Lawless played for lower league clubs including Marine FC in Crosby near Liverpool, The New Saints FC, known as TNS, Burscough and Vauxhall Motors.

Lawless, 39 was jailed for seven years at Hull Crown Court
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Image:

Humberside Police)

In 2005, he played for Welsh champions TNS against Liverpool in the first round of the Champions League.

He came on as a sub in front of 45,000 fans at Anfield where his team lost 3-0.

He played until October 2020 when he was appointed manager of Welsh club Prestatyn Town, then JD Cymru North champions.

Lawless was sacked just days after his arrest in January.


Lawless is a massive Liverpool FC fan
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Image:

Daily Post / Reach Plc)

Humberside Police and Merseyside Police collaborated to catch Lawless through an undercover operation.

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

Lawless distributed heroin and crack to his network of dealers.

Condiff made and received an average of 320 calls and messages on his “burner” phone a day, and there were 650 messages sent to Lawless about moving drugs from Liverpool to Hull.

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Humberside Police said the exchanges valued the drugs at £1 million.

The pair were arrested in joint raids on January 4.

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 Condliff 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.”

Condiff and Lawless both admitted to the possession and intent of supplying heroin and crack cocaine, and being concerned in the supply of heroin and crack cocaine at Hull Crown Court.

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 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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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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