A “CHRISTIAN soldier” was pressured into dealing drugs for a gang of Liverpudlian loan sharks after borrowing £1,000 from them.

Connor Reader, 27, from Newport fell under the influence of criminals after losing his job as a charity worker, the city’s crown court heard.

After taking out the loan, he was “pressured and coerced” into delivering and then dealing heroin and crack cocaine for them.

The learner driver was in a Vauxhall Insignia when he was stopped by police on Taliesin Drive in the Rogerstone area of Newport on November 28 last year.

The officers had just spotted him selling heroin to a woman.

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Reader was arrested and detectives found he had drug related messages on a burner phone, prosecutor Hannah Friedman said.

The defendant, of Lea Close, Bettws, Newport pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of heroin and being concerned in the supply of crack cocaine.

He also admitted possession of cannabis, driving without insurance and driving without a licence.

Reader had no relevant previous convictions.

David Leathley, representing the defendant, described his client as a “Christian soldier” and a “doting father”.

His barrister referred to a reference written for Reader by Reverend Aaron Short describing him as a “knight in shining armour” who had helped him.

Mr Leathley said: “The defendant lost his job and he found himself in the wilderness.

“He found it difficult to make ends meet and borrowed £1,000 from Liverpudlian loan sharks.

“The defendant was told to do menial tasks or else.

“He was soon handed a burner phone and was delivering drugs for them.

“The defendant doesn’t want to pull the wool over the eyes of the court – he knew what these people are all about – but there was a degree of coercion.”

His lawyer added: “He is very sorry and has suffered nearly three months being incarcerated and separated from the people he so dearly loves, his family.

“The references describe him as affable, good-natured and humanitarian.”

The judge, Recorder David Elias KC, told Reader: “You pleaded guilty on the basis that you had taken out a loan with people you regretted taking out that loan with.

“They treated you incredibly badly and you were in their debt.

“You felt you had no chance but to do their bidding.”

Recorder Elias said there was the prospect of rehabilitation for the defendant and so jailed him for 20 months but suspended the sentence for 18 months.

Reader will have to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work and complete a 30-day rehabilitation activity requirement.

He defendant must also pay a £187 victim surcharge.