A FLINTSHIRE man who handled thousands of pounds worth of drugs because he ‘enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle’ has avoided jail.

Ben Austin, 36, of Ffordd Brannan in Alltami appeared before Mold Crown Court on October 13 for 16 counts of possessing a controlled Class C drug with intent, possession of a Class B drug with intent and two counts of possessing criminal property.

Judge Recorder Duncan Bould said Austin pleaded guilty to all 19 counts at a plea and trial prep back in August, but the offences were across a period of five months from 2019 to 2020.

The court heard how Austin used sedatives, pain relief and steroids himself for around a decade but in November 2019, when he was first arrested, he was running a body building gym in Mold.

Recorder Bould said: “You saw an opportunity to make extra money by selling illegal drugs that you had been using for years, to people attending your gym.

“Your customers were friends of yours who came the gym. You persuaded yourself what you were doing was harmless, but there was no virtue in the criminality whatsoever.

“You didn’t know what was going into the drugs you were selling. You may have trusted your own supplier but no-one knew the origin.

“As is well known, some of these drugs can be in certain circumstances, highly dangerous.”

The court heard how Austin’s selling was for his own ‘financial gain’ to satisfy his own liking for expensive items and an ‘expensive lifestyle’, which the judge described as aggravating features.

However, Judge Recorder Bould said he was ‘impressed’ at Austin’s frankness as others try to ‘hide under other excuses’.

The court was told that Austin had ‘bought in bulk’ many thousands of tablets, worth thousands of pounds.

On November 8, 2019, Austin’s gym was raided and over £3,000 worth of drugs were recovered.

He was later arrested on November 13 at his home address where more drugs were found and £850 in cash, which was believed to be the proceeds of selling.

On November 22 the 36-year-old was interviewed and released under investigation.

However, the court was told that on April 2, 2020, he was stopped in a car where ‘even more’ drugs and money were found.

Judge Recorder Bould said Austin had a ‘leading role’ in the buying and selling of drugs for commercial gain and used a legitimate business as cover.

For the count relating to the possession of Class B drugs, Austin was given a 12-month custodial sentence, reduced from 16 for his guilty plea.

For the other offences, he was given a reduced sentence of six months which were to run concurrently with each other, but consecutively with the 12-months.

This means Austin will serve a total of 18-months in custody.

However, taking into account his ‘strong work ethic’ and his responsibility for three young children, as well as his lack of offending since, the judge said he would suspend the sentence for two years.

He added: “Be under no illusion this is your last chance, there will be no more.”

Austin must also complete a 20-day rehabilitation requirement as well as 200-hours of unpaid work.