Pubdate: Sun, 28 Aug 2016
Source: Mail on Sunday, The (UK)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Neil Woods, Drugs Campaigner and Former Detective


THE narcotics trade provides the financial basis for almost every 
other form of organised criminality in this country and abroad. The 
scale is staggering: the global drugs market is worth UKP375 billion 
every year, and an estimated UKP7 billion a year in Britain alone. 
Britain spends a further UKP7 billion policing the drugs problem - 
and that's without the associated costs of imprisonment and public 
health and everything else.

It might not seem visible to the majority of ordinary, law abiding 
citizens, yet drugs and the gangsters who deal in them blight our 
towns and cities and dominate our criminal system. More than half the 
inmates in British prisons are there for drug-related offences.

I have done more than most to send the gang members to prison. After 
joining the Derbyshire Constabulary aged 19 in 1989 I helped pioneer 
undercover detective work in the field. For more than a decade, my 
chosen method was to befriend the hopeless addicts at the bottom of 
the chain, often posing as a dealer, before steadily gaining access 
to those who control the trade.

I bought drugs and pretended to deal them. I've seen the brutality of 
the gangs up close, including face-to-face meetings with psychopathic 
criminals, and I despise them.

Over 14 years on the front line, I have come to know the trade inside 
out, and at great cost. There have been attempts on my life. Until we 
face the truth about the drugs trade, the violence it exploits and 
the misery it creates, then there can be no answer. THE intelligence 
was impressive. The photos and files painted a picture of just about 
every species of criminal: dealers, pimps, thieves and thugs. And the 
link was The Lord Stanley, an old-fashioned pub halfway between 
Leicester and Derby. Just about every regular there was connected to 
the underworld.

I was in my mid-20s, just three years into my career working 
undercover. Running the place was 'Alan', a notorious gangster 
involved in drug dealing and extortion. I can't use his real name, 
for reasons that will become clear later.

WITH my partner Phil, a fellow detective, I walked into the pub and I 
spotted one of Alan's lieutenants at the pool table. After half an 
hour, I made my approach, pretending to look for ecstasy - '500 pills 
to shift to some students'.

The henchman, known as 'Deano', broke into a sly grin and 
disappeared, returning with a bag of pills. I took ten from him as a 
tester - as is customary with any new source - slid him UKP30, and 
left. From then on we became regulars, buying hundreds of pills at a 
time, claiming we were moving them on in Derby.

Alan would hold court in a corner of the pub and our opportunity to 
approach him came when Deano complained about being owed money by 
someone who stole cash from phone boxes - a dead business once people 
started using mobiles.

'Pay and display parking machines is where it's at these days,' I 
said. 'You can make a few hundred quid off each one.'

This came straight out of the Derbyshire CID case files. Three days 
later Deano waved me over to Alan's table and told me to tell him 
about it. I described it again.

Alan stared at me though his thick glasses, completely unreadable. He 
let the silence sit for significantly longer than was comfortable. 
Then he quietly asked: 'Who did you say you were again?'

Then the questions started. Who was I selling to? In which prisons 
had I done time? What other scams was I involved in?

Throughout the interrogation, Alan would frequently disappear to his 
'office', returning a minute later, rubbing his nose and getting a 
little more excited each time. He was obviously very into cocaine.

We passed the test. Two hours later Alan had not only tried to 
recruit us to run pay-and-display scams, he'd also offered to sell us 
stolen antiques, wide-screen TVs, a Mac-10 pistol and whatever drugs 
we wanted. We were in. OVER a couple of months, we bought pills, 
cocaine and heroin from Alan. He was charismatic, intelligent - and 
vicious. I was sitting in the Stanley when he burst in, obviously 
high. 'I've got something for you, mate,' he said. 'Have a look at this...'

Another figure cut in. 'Alan, mate, I've got the cash.' It was a 
smalltime villain named Will Skipton, who owed Alan money. 'See, it's 
all here - just a tenner short. I'll get that tomorrow, promise!'

Alan smiled. 'Mate, don't worry, tomorrow is absolutely fine.' 
Visibly relieved, Skipton sat down. Alan nodded to Dom, another of 
his lieutenants.

Dom's first blow caught Skipton on the side of the face, the crunch 
echoing around the pub. Dom drove his fist again and again into 
Skipton's bloodied face before dragging him out of the door.

Alan turned back to me, all smiles as if nothing had happened. 'You 
were saying you like decent speed [amphetamine]... well I guarantee 
you've never had anything like this before.'

He threw a bag of toxic-looking pink sludge on the table. The gooey 
consistency mean that it was close to pure.

'Go on, do a bit,' Alan laughed. 'I got it just for you.' What was I 
meant to do? Amphetamines were essential to my cover story. I was 
supposed to be an expert. I took a bit of the pink goo on my finger 
and knocked it back with a slug of beer. 'No no no  take a f proper 
hit. It's on me.'

Alan was enjoying this. There was no option. I took a massive lump 
and slammed it down. An awful chemical heat rose from my kidneys, 
followed by an unbearable dryness of the eyeballs. My heart started 
to pound like a pneumatic drill. Phil got me out of there as fast he 
could without looking suspicious. I didn't sleep for three days.

Thankfully, Alan never put me in that position again.

The 'bust' was about to go down and Alan was the primary target. Phil 
and I sat at our usual table and watched Alan as he walked in. The 
door flew open and 30 hard-as-nails cops in full body armour burst 
in. It was pandemonium.

The main drug stash in the back room was thrown open, and many 
arrests made. But there was no Alan, who slipped right out the back.

After months of dangerous work, I was fuming. How could this happen? 
I asked my boss. 'Either he's got someone in this department - in 
which case you'd have been dead months ago,' he said. 'Or he's 
working for another agency. Could be Regional Crime Squad, could be 
National, could be MI5. We'll never know...' NOT being able to talk 
to anyone about what I did was difficult, and as time went by I paid 
the price. The mental cracks were starting to appear. I'd walk to the 
front door of the home I shared with my wife Sam and our two children 
and have to pretend I had just had a completely normal day at work.

Sam and I had started to argue a lot, and when we were fighting I 
would suddenly remember a violent incident with a gangster or a 
villain threatening me. I struggled to sleep and started drinking 
more than I should. Many of the gangs I faced committed horrific 
crimes and I take pride in having held them to account. My drugs 
investigations put people in prison for a total of well over 1,000 years.

For me, however, every single one is a year of wasted human 
potential. I haven't gone soft, but after 14 years undercover, living 
with dealers, addicts and gangsters, I know their motivations. The 
vast majority of people in the drugs trade are not - as many police 
officers believe  inherently 'bad'. Most believe their best option in 
life is to sell crack and heroin to a captive market.

Some were capable of sickening violence, but they became that way 
through exposure to the drugs trade. I realised I wasn't part of a 
'war' on drugs but of an arms race.

We used undercover tactics to send a whole generation of criminals to 
prison, which for them is a graduate school where they trade 
knowledge, streetcraft and intelligence. They figured out our tactics 
and responded by becoming more brutal.

IT'S not just theory - I've watched with my own eyes the process by 
which the teenagers were transformed from schoolkids into hardened gangsters.

The drugs war corrupts everything it touches. Addicts are 
criminalised and forced to become hostages to their dealers, 
gangsters are forced into depths of brutality they wouldn't otherwise 
stoop to. Most painful to me, it corrupts the police.

Since leaving the force in 2011, I've joined an organisation called 
LEAP - Law Enforcement Against Prohibition - which was founded in the 
USA in 2002.

This is not a naive utopian movement. We're a bunch of cops and, when 
we say the war on drugs must end, it is based on experience and on 
deep, hard-headed analysis. We've lived this and we've studied it. We 
know our business.

One of the phrases I often hear is that the war on drugs should end 
because it is unwinnable.

I disagree. The war on drugs is eminently winnable. All we have to do 
is consider the possibility of not confronting the issue of drugs as 
a war and instead choose a course that will spare future generations 
the awful harm that prohibition does.

Believe me this is not a conclusion I have come to lightly and I know 
that it will seem controversial, particularly to the parents of young children.

But this is from the heart: control and regulate the supply of 
narcotics and you deprive the vicious gangsters of the money that 
enables all their operations.

At a stroke you allow some of the most vulnerable people in society 
to seek help for their addiction.

And you allow the police to get back to doing the vitally important 
work they are actually trained for.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom