CASES involving drug addicts who fall into debt and are then coerced into dealing to work off their arrears have become a “daily diet” for courts, a judge said.

His Honour Nicholas Barker made the comment as he passed sentenced on yet another young man who found he had little option but to peddle illegal substances to pay off his own supplier.

Joshua Armstrong, now 27, was aged just 24 when he came to the attention of police on May 21, 2020, early in the first Covid lockdown.

“He was involved in a road traffic collision in Cumbria at a time when he was unfit to drive and uninsured,” prosecutor Michael Scholes told Carlisle Crown Court.

Armstrong failed a drug wipe test after the crash, at Broughton Moor, near Maryport, and in custody was found to have a personal use quantity of cannabis in his possession.

It was when his phone was seized and examined that police learned he had been dealing cocaine, ketamine and cannabis. “This was via various messages and Snapchat notifications on the phone,” said Mr Scholes.

Armstrong was released under investigation while police sought a full data download which showed messages relating to illegal supply during the course of just over a month, from April 16, 2020.

There were a total of 27 different customers and text chat relating to “beak” (cocaine), ket (ketamine) and restocking of supplies.

“The conclusion drawn from a police officer from the messaging was that he believed the user of the phone was involved in the regular supply of cocaine, ketamine and cannabis to multiple persons for financial gain,” said Mr Scholes.

When interviewed, Armstrong made no comment but last month he admitted offering to supply the class A and B drugs, and possessing cannabis.

Carlisle Crown Court also heard he had waited three years, four months to learn his fate following an initial arrest as criminal proceedings were not instigated until June, 2023.

Mr Scholes said this delay was due to an investigating officer’s illness and “other pressures of work”.

Armstrong’s barrister, Rachael Woods, said he had transformed his life in the intervening period. He had been clean of drugs for two years, was now married, had a child and the imminent offer of work.

At the time of his offending he had been in a “mission to self-destruct”, taking “large amounts of class A drugs” amid mental health problems arising from childhood trauma.

“It was a real wake-up call,” said Ms Woods of his apprehension by police, adding of the arrest: “In his own words he said to me this morning he would have (otherwise) ended up dead due to his reliance, use and abuse.”

But having taken huge strides to mend his ways, Armstrong had since demonstrated “real, genuine remorse, shame and disgust” at his criminal conduct.

Passing sentence, Judge Barker concluded there had been “wholly unsatisfactory delays” in the case — not of Armstrong’s doing — which had been “without satisfactory explanation”.

In view of those, and the positive turnaround in Armstrong’s life, the judge suspended a 24-month prison sentence for two years. Armstrong, of Cunliffe Road, Blackpool, must complete a rehabilitation requirement and 200 hours’ unpaid work.

Judge Barker said the defendant had been involved in a “dealing operation”. “That you were an addict yourself; that you were a person who had a debt; that you were a person who, through your own circumstances, began to commit offences, is not unusual or exceptional,” he observed. “It is the daily diet of these courts to hear.”