A former professional footballer, who at one time played at Manchester United, has been jailed for his part in a major amphetamine and cannabis operation, which last year saw 17 people banged up for more than 50 years.

Mark Redshaw, 39, who was a youth player at the Red Devils and also played for Wrexham and Manchester City as a junior, went on the run after the Darwen based drug gang was busted by police in 2021, but he was finally apprehended last year.

The group, which was headed by Sam Stone and Zac Deaffern, was responsible for the importation of millions of pounds of drugs from mainland Europe, which were then cut and sold-on from their Hollins Grove Mill headquarters.

The operation was taken down after police cracked their mobile phones and uncovered CCTV, which showed gang members putting on forensic suits to weigh out and cut more than 200kg of amphetamine with mixing agents, to be sold all over the North and South of England.

The cameras also captured huge quantities of cannabis in black bin liners being dropped off at the unit, to be packaged and sold on via a network of the gang’s street dealers.

Lancashire Telegraph: Mark Redshaw - photo taken from a police appeal in 2021Mark Redshaw - photo taken from a police appeal in 2021 (Image: Lancs Police)

Preston Crown Court heard how Redshaw, who played non-League football with Radcliffe Borough, Rossendale United, and Curzon Ashton, became involved with the amphetamine operation in February 2021, when he was caught on CCTV entering and leaving the unit in Darwen.

He was also seen on CCTV footage from within the warehouse alongside Stone, Deaffern and Ashley Morris, who he had recruited on behalf of Deaffern.

READ MORE: Darwen drugs gang leaders sentenced to more than 20 years

Prosecuting, William Beardmore told the court on that one day in February, Redshaw had been captured on CCTV inside the unit wearing a white forensic suit and making his way towards an office at the back of the warehouse where he remained with others, for around three hours.

Mr Beardmore said: “CCTV did not capture all of the actions but it’s the Crown’s submission that over three hours the people present were producing a substantial amount of amphetamine.”

Throughout March 2021, messages were then sent between Redshaw and Deaffern relating to the supply of cannabis, with the court hearing Redshaw was caught alongside others on CCTV from the same Darwen unit, handling eight bags full of the class B drug.

When other members of the gang were arrested later that month, Redshaw went on the run.

He was finally arrested in March last year and a property connected to him in Eccles, Salford, searched, with £9,380 in cash recovered.

READ MORE: Final defendants in Darwen drugs gang jailed for more than 15 years

Mitigating for Redshaw, Andrew Alty told the court his client had only been involved in each conspiracy for a few days.

He also had provided a number of glowing character references, including one from former professional footballer, Chris Eagles, who played for Manchester United, Burnley FC, Accrington Stanley, Bolton Wanderers, Bury FC and Oldham Athletic, and one from former Oldham Athletic player, Jack Byrne.

Lancashire Telegraph: Members of the Darwen drugs gangMembers of the Darwen drugs gang (Image: Lancs Police)

Sentencing Redshaw, Judge Guy Mathieson said: “This is the final sentence hearing in respect of a large drugs operation for which I have already sentenced a number of offenders.

“This was an organised, professionally run, criminal activity set up as a business operation to ensure that huge quantities of cannabis that were being imported could be facilitated for onward supply, and huge quantities of amphetamine could be cut and produced also for onward supply, to maximise revenue for crime.

“You, Mark Redshaw, and others, used encrypted devices which shows sophistication.

“Everyone involved entered this conspiracy knowing the likely rewards and associated risks, and all chose freely and willingly to prioritise the first and ignore the rest.

“By becoming involved in crime, you went in with your eyes fully open and you risked everything for short term gain.

“In your particular case, you are 39 and have no previous convictions.

“On one occasion you agreed to help Sam Stone and others with amphetamine. You did that purely for money; to you this was easy money for minimal risk.

“But that was not enough for you. Seeing how easy it was to make money by drug dealing, you went back for more, acting as a broker in a cannabis deal.

“When your house was raided, in excess of £9,000 was seized, which you admitted was linked to criminal activity.

READ MORE: Darwen gang imported millions of pounds of drugs from Europe

“The references supplied speak very highly of you as a person of integrity and a model for young people.

“All that is laughable when at the drop of a hat you are willing to be involved in drug dealing on a large scale.

“You were prepared to compromise your moral values for financial gain showing that you were a willing and able drug dealer.

“You played a trusted role in this conspiracy, you helped supply the drugs, you brought another in to help, and you introduced a customer, all done with the expectation of significant financial gain.”

Redshaw, who is currently on remand at HMP Preston, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply and produce amphetamine, conspiracy to supply cannabis and money laundering.

He was jailed for three years.

No Proceeds of Crime Act hearing was set for Redshaw, but forfeiture and destruction of any money or criminal property in his possession was ordered by Judge Mathieson.