Ex-footballer Ronnie Wallwork found 'breaking up stolen cars'
A former Manchester United player's career descended into breaking up stolen car parts at a scrap yard, a court has heard.
Police stumbled upon Ronnie Wallwork, 34, while investigating unconnected armed robberies across Lancashire.
He was working at a site which was under surveillance by police in relation to other suspected criminals.
The details emerged as Wallwork's friend was cleared in connection with the matter.
Wallwork, from Failsworth, pleaded guilty to three counts of receiving stolen goods earlier this year.
Wallwork, a defender, represented England at under-20 level and joined Manchester United as a trainee in 1993. He was loaned to a number of clubs before he joined West Bromwich Albion in 2002.
He was later on loan at Bradford City, Barnsley and Huddersfield Town before moving to Sheffield Wednesday in 2008.
The main targets of the North West Regional Crime Squad were Craig Bulger and Mark Cain - who shot a security guard several times at a Preston supermarket.
Bulger, 51, was tracked to a scrap yard in Manchester. It was here that Wallwork came to the attention of the authorities in 2010 as the site became the focus of heavy surveillance.
Wallwork's friend Siobhan Johnstone, 34, of Newton Heath in Manchester, had sold a stolen Volkswagen Touran engine and car parts from a stolen BMW 318i on Ebay on behalf of Wallwork - described in court as her "lifelong friend".
She had also allowed a stolen Mazda Furano, with no rear registration plate, to be parked on her driveway at the ex-footballer's request.
When arrested, she told detectives she had no knowledge of where the Mazda or the car parts had come from.
The court heard the VW Touran had been stolen from an address in Worsley, the BMW from Wigan and the Mazda from Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
The red Mazda found its way to 10 Arches scrap yard where Wallwork was based the following day, the court heard.
Another man later drove the Mazda to Johnstone's home while she was on holiday with Wallwork in Murcia, Spain.
Ms Johnstone said she had regularly helped Wallwork over the years and had sold other items on his behalf on eBay including some of his West Brom playing kit.
Mark Rhind, defending Johnstone, said: "The two main targets were Mark Cain and Craig Bulger, both with long criminal histories, both with previous convictions for robberies and both actively involved in 2010 in committing and surveying armed robberies. In one of those in Preston a security guard was shot.
"Both of these men received indeterminate sentences."
Mr Rhind added: "Mr Wallwork was involved in breaking stolen cars up and no doubt selling them on.
"He was a man who had some means but was now caught up in financial difficulties at the time of this investigation."
Wallwork is on bail and is due to be sentenced next month.