A promising young footballer became a drugs mule for a gang after running up a cannabis debt.

Akyo Sharp-Bird, who played for Chelsea in a youth football community initiative, was found in a flat in Swansea by police with almost 250 wraps of heroin and crack cocaine hidden inside his body.

The 20-year-old had been sent to the city by a London gang he owed money to.

Credit: Media Wales

Swansea Crown Court heard the defendant began using drugs after one of his friends was murdered in a gangland killing in London.

Sharp-Bird first came to the attention of police in Wales when intelligence reports led to an Audi Q7 being stopped on the M4 in August last year.

Ian Ibrahim, prosecuting, said there were three men in the top-of-the-range vehicle, one of whom was Sharp-Bird.

The trio and the vehicle were searched but only a small amount of cannabis was found which the defendant said it was his. He was given a caution for possession and the Audi was allowed on its way.

The prosecutor said intelligence suggested the Audi continued on to Swansea then returned to London the same day.

Sharp-Bird came to police attention again four days later when police visited a flat in Griffith John Street in the Brynmelyn area of Swansea looking for a local man.

The court heard officers found Russell and the young Londoner as well as "drugs paraphernalia" including weighing scales, four mobile phones, and more than £800 in cash.

Mr Ibrahim said the men were arrested and Sharp-Bird was taken to Morriston Hospital . Over the course over the next few days, he passed a number of packages which contained a total of 249 wraps of heroin and crack cocaine. The court heard the purity of the drugs was higher than that normally seen in Swansea.

Sharp-Bird, of Woking Close, Putney, London, admitted possession of heroin and crack cocaine with intent to supply. The court heard he has no previous convictions with the only matter on his record being the caution he was given in August.

Andrew Evans, for Sharp-Bird, said the defendant had become involved in the enterprise after accruing a £700 debt to his cannabis suppliers in London. He was told the debt could be halved if he delivered a consignment of drugs to Swansea.

The advocate said in 2014 Sharp-Bird had been involved in community football initiative run by Chelsea Foundation and had been something of a role model for its work.

However following the gang-related murder of a friend in the Wandsworth area of London in 2016 he had begun "self-medicating for his grief" with cannabis.

He said: "A tragic event led to consequences – to a man of previous good character being found in a Swansea flat with a significant quantity of drugs and a man well-known to the criminal justice system. He was, to a degree, being used.

"Having been held up as an example in 2014 it is extremely sad that he finds himself in this situation."

Judge Paul Thomas QC said it was clear the defendant had been part of a wider operation.

You don't need me to tell you, you were involved with a county lines operation – people like you coming from big cities like London and causing a real scourge in smaller cities like ours.

Judge Paul Thomas QC

Giving the defendant a one-third discount for his guilty pleas, the judge sentenced him to 26 months in a young offenders' institution.

The court heard 37-year-old Russell, of Griffith John Street, Brynmelyn, Swansea, was sentenced in November last year to a total of 57 months for drug supply offences.