A judge has shown mercy on a courier who was caught on a drugs run to North Devon after hearing how he was bullied into taking part by a London gang.

Thomas Hogan owed the county lines gang just £20 for a cannabis debt, but they increased the debt tenfold each week when he could not pay and they ended up demanding £2,000.

They refused to let him pay off the money over time and threatened to shoot him or his family unless he agreed to make the drugs run to Devon.

He was caught with £1,900 worth of cocaine and heroin hidden inside his body when police intercepted a black Mercedes on the North Devon Link Road and found him in the passenger seat.

Officers stopped the car because they discovered it was making regular trips from London to Barnstaple every three or four days and believed it was being used to 're-load' a county lines gang operating in North Devon.

Painter and decorator Hogan, aged 24, from Harrow, West London, admitted two counts of possession with intent to supply, personal possession of cannabis, and jumping bail.

He was jailed for 18 months, suspended for two years and ordered to pay £670 costs by Judge Peter Johnson at Exeter Crown Court.

He told him: "Your basis of plea, which perhaps fortunately has been accepted by the prosecution, says you were facing threats of dire violence, forcing you to carry drugs to Devon.

"You partner is expecting your first child in February, you have stable accommodation and employment, and these are solid foundations to rebuild your life.

"You have spent two weeks in prison. You have heard the clang of the cell door and know exactly what prison is like. If you are subject to threats in the future, you will have the stark choice between going to the police or going to prison."

Paul Grumbar, prosecuting, said Hogan was the front seat passenger in a Mercedes which was stopped near South Molton in an intelligence led operation in June 2018.

There were two pots of Vaseline in the car and Hogan was found to be carrying £1,900 worth of heroin and cocaine, of which 90 wraps of crack cocaine and 29 of heroin were ready for street sale.

Kevin Hopper, defending, said Hogan had run up a small debt for cannabis which was inflated to £2,000 in the space of two weeks. He was then forced to act as courier and told he or his family would be shot if he refused.

He said Hogan is about to become a father for the first time, is working as a painter and decorator, and is truly remorseful for what he has done.