From drug dealer to spiritual healer: Lancashire career criminal faces childhood trauma to become pastor

Mick Fleming’s epic, harrowing, and pain-ridden life story may run a wide spectrum spanning some 56 years, but it has truly been defined by just four days.
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Two came back-to-back in the late ‘70s and tell a tale of unimaginable trauma, nudging a young boy into a decades-long existence of crime and white-knuckled fury. The third came in 2009, tinged with redemption, existentialism, and a divine intervention which transformed a drug-dealing loan shark into a community pastor. The fourth started outside a McDonald’s.

Bright beginnings turned sour

Mick was born in the January before England’s 1966 World Cup triumph, growing up in a working-class family in Burnley, East Lancashire. He was quiet and conscientious at school and close with his elder sister Ann, who bought him clothes and sneaked him pocket money. Then, at the age of just 11, two horrific things happened to him.

Pastor Mick FlemingPastor Mick Fleming
Pastor Mick Fleming
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Walking to school one morning, he was attacked and raped by a stranger in a local park. Stupefied and confused, he knew he had to tell his parents, mustering the courage to speak to them the following day after fighting back a wall of tears and emotion. Seeking out his mother, he only had time to lock eyes with her before his dad told him his sister had died of a heart attack at 20.

Life utterly altered and the caterwauling of his howling mother still ringing in his ears, Mick lost himself. He started taking painkillers from the bathroom cabinet and grew aggressive at school. He sought out more hardcore drugs and became known to police. By his 20s, he was enmeshed in violent criminal circles across Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow.

‘I’ve spent 80% of my life not being happy’

“Substances were an escape for me: I was protecting myself from the feelings of real life, which were too painful, so I’d either get angry or take drugs,” explains Mick, now 56. “I was avoiding the truth, but you always come down and think ‘oh no, it’s real’. You can’t escape, but you still try.

Pastor Mick Fleming gets a selfie with a guest at the opening of Church on the Street, Burnley.Pastor Mick Fleming gets a selfie with a guest at the opening of Church on the Street, Burnley.
Pastor Mick Fleming gets a selfie with a guest at the opening of Church on the Street, Burnley.

“It was a natural progression to get deeper into crime because I wanted to be bad and I’d get a buzz off people not knowing what I was doing,” he adds. “Having a world which belonged to me was like taking a drug but it became dangerous. My heart got cold. I remember watching The Godfather as a kid and thinking ‘I could hurt people like that no problem.’

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“I lost my humanity and created a different me: a version of myself which was scary and dangerous and did those things in The Godfather,” continues Mick. “Everybody wants to be a gangster until it comes to doing gangster stuff, if you know what I mean. But I had a coldness in me which came from trying to escape pain.”

Were you ever happy? “No,” Mick replies immediately. “Prior to the last four or five years when I’ve found true inner peace, the last time I was happy was when I was a little boy before the trauma. I’ve spent probably 80% of my life not being happy and not knowing who I was.”

That morning at the gym

Lord Shuttleworth with Pastor Mick Fleming at the official opening of the Church on the Street in Burnley.Lord Shuttleworth with Pastor Mick Fleming at the official opening of the Church on the Street in Burnley.
Lord Shuttleworth with Pastor Mick Fleming at the official opening of the Church on the Street in Burnley.

In the ‘90s, Mick’s rap-sheet bloomed, detailing harrowing events such as two counts of murder, three of armed robbery, and countless firearms offences. There were two serious attempts on his life and he saw friends murdered. Death was his life. But it was a double life: at home, he had an increasingly-estranged wife and two kids. But his work took a toll.

Mick’s mother eventually had to step in as the carer for his two children to prevent social services from getting involved, which only spurred him on in his maniacal pursuit of the end of the black hole that is substance-abuse. Now working as a debt collector, he revelled in the aggressive and confrontational nature of the work. Which all leads to that day in 2009.

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A 41-year-old Mick is outside a local gym, waiting for a fellow drug-dealer who owes money to some dangerous people. Beside him in the stolen Vauxhall Cavalier is a handgun wrapped in a plastic bag. The sky is overcast, swollen with grey. He sees the man, who has his two young daughters with him. Mick doesn’t care and gets out the vehicle.

It’s then that Mick claims a blinding light sprung forth, practically knocking him back. For 20 seconds, he’s stunner, falling dazed back into his car where he proceeds to throw up, streaks of blood clear in his vomit. He convulses so violently that he suffers a hernia whilst Johnny Cash’s Man in Black plays as if underwater on the radio.

Prince William and Kate Middleton speak with Anthony Horrocks and Pastor Mick Fleming at Church on the Street.Prince William and Kate Middleton speak with Anthony Horrocks and Pastor Mick Fleming at Church on the Street.
Prince William and Kate Middleton speak with Anthony Horrocks and Pastor Mick Fleming at Church on the Street.

Divine intervention

After retreating to a nearby industrial estate, he wants to make the pain go away. Aiming the gun under his own chin, he pulls the trigger, eyes squeezed closed like balled fists. The gun jammed. Within 24 hours, he had been sectioned under The Mental Health Act and was at a psychiatric unit at Burnley Hospital.

“There’s a good chance I was in a drug-induced psychosis, but something changed,” says Mick. “I tried to take my own life because I’d had enough, but the outcome was the beginning of faith. I’d become self-centred, selfish, and rotten to the core, so it was impossible that there was something bigger than me before, but once I felt it, the healing started.

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“I didn’t become religious, which I know sounds daft because I’ve got a dog-collar on, but it led me to the teachings of Jesus, which are all about love and tolerance,” adds Mick, who is now Pastor Mick. “Sharing them gives me a sense of fulfilment which is unlike anything else.”

Whilst at the psychiatric hospital, Mick was overwhelmed by the kindness of his fellow patients and, after 30 years of hate, he felt emotions other than anger. Crying for the first time since the death of his sister in the ‘70s, he found solace in prayer, eventually going on to get sober and study theology at Nazarene Theological College. He wanted to help.

The man outside McDonald’s

Mick FlemingMick Fleming
Mick Fleming

Whilst helping local homeless people, Mick encountered a man outside his local McDonald’s in the mid-2010s. Firmly caught in the grips of alcoholism and estranged from his family, the man was lost and desolate. And Mick recognised him immediately: this was the man who had raped him all those years ago. A flicker of instinct flared: kill him.

But Mick stayed his fist, opening his hand instead and helping the man reform himself and find acceptance once more with his family. Still riddled with the poison of alcohol, the man nevertheless died two years after Mick found him, but he died a sober man in the arms of his loved ones. Mick never told anyone who he was or what he had done.

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“I wanted to kill him,” says Mick. “But that moment showed me what forgiveness was. I didn’t put my arm around him and say ‘it’s alright what you did to me’, but I instead chose not to live in his sin and to do nothing. I’d never known that you could choose to do nothing in life, but I knew this was between him and God. It was none of my business.

“I’d spent 30 years letting his sin destroy me whilst also destroying everyone who came near me and losing my family, which is insane,” adds Mick. “Suddenly, the resentment and anger inside was gone. I was at peace and didn’t have to hold on to what he did, which was the springboard to encourage me to help other people. I faced the pain instead of swerving it.”

Church on the Street

Mick now runs the charity Church on the Street, a unique organisation which puts support at the centre of its mission statement. Running a food bank, a drop-in shower and clothes-washing service, and medical services as well as support groups centred around mental health, accommodation, benefits, and volunteering, it truly changes lives.

After a BBC news report on his efforts to help local isolated and vulnerable people during the pandemic was watched by 50 million people across the world, Mick was catapulted into a global spotlight. He has since penned an autobiography titled Blown Away: From Drug Dealer To Life Bringer and is set to be the subject of a new TV series called The Pastor.

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But, for Mick, his remit remains unchanged. “My job is helping as many people as I can and guiding them through pain whilst also trying to change the structures of society through our church,” he says. “We’re creating a new model to help people and truly give a voice to the poor.”