A WEST Cumbria-born former professional footballer has been prosecuted for driving with cocaine in his system – three days after he took the drug.

A lawyer representing former Whitehaven man Marc Cleeland, 46, said he originally denied any wrongdoing because he was in denial about how long cocaine had stayed in his system after he took it.

At Carlisle’s Rickergate court, the defendant pleaded guilty to driving while over the limit for a cocaine breakdown product. 

Prosecutor George Shelley said the offence came to light on August 1 last year after police received reports from concerned motorists about the way an Audi A6 was being driven on the A595 near Carlisle.

It was 7.05pm and witnesses reported seeing the car colliding with the grass verge and almost crashing into oncoming cars.

Police caught up with the Audi near the Asda supermarket at Kingstown, north of Carlisle, and officers administered a roadside drug swipe. It produced a positive result for cocaine.

“The defendant was taken to Carlisle’s police station and a blood sample was given,” said Mr Shelley. “It was returned with a result of 238mcg of benzoylecgonine [a cocaine breakdown product] per litre of blood. The legal limit is 50mcg.”

The defendant had one relevant previous conviction – for drink driving in 2004, for which he received a one-year ban.

Andrew Gurney, defending, told magistrates: “Mr Cleeland was in denial about how long cocaine would stay in his system, having taken 1g of cocaine three days before driving.

“He is a man with lots of personal difficulties.

“He’s 46-years-old and a retired professional footballer, who since his retirement ten years ago has been working as an insurance salesman, with a degree of success.”

The prosecution meant he was currently out of work. He faced problems not so much with drugs but with alcohol, said Mr Gurney. Cleeland’s alcohol consumption escalated significantly since an acrimonious break-up with his long-term partner.

The lawyer said: "This has been a salutary lesson for him and he is truly remorseful. He is due to be checked into a treatment centre managed by a charity called Sporting Chance, which was started by the former footballer Tony Adams."

Cleeland, of Kirkpatrick Court, Dumfries, was due to spend 30 days at the centre, which would not be a soft option, said Mr Gurney.

Magistrates noted the unacceptable standard of driving involved in the offence and said that they felt they needed a background report on Cleeland. They set his sentencing date for June 9. All drug driving offences attract a minimum one-year sentence. 

Cleeland, who was born in Whitehaven, formerly played for Gretna FC and Queen of the South FC.