What was Operation Julie?
Operation Julie was a UK police investigation into the production of LSD by two drug rings during the mid-1970s. The operation, involving 11 police forces over a 2 ½-year period, resulted in the break-up of one of the largest LSD manufacturing operations in the world. It culminated in 1977 with enough LSD to make 6.5 million ‘tabs’ (with a street value of £6.5M) being seized, 120 people arrested in the UK and France and over £800,000 discovered in Swiss bank accounts.
In 1978, 15 defendants appeared at Bristol Crown Court. It took a month for the prosecution to deliver the incriminating evidence. Kemp pleaded guilty and received 13 years in jail, as did Todd. Fielding and Hughes were sentenced to 8 years. In total, the 15 defendants received a combined 120 years in jail.
As a result of the seizure it was estimated the price of LSD tabs rose from £1 to £5 each, and that Operation Julie had removed 90% of LSD from the British market. It is thought that LSD produced by the two labs had been exported to over 100 countries. In total, 1.1 million tabs and enough LSD crystal to make a further 6.5 million, were discovered and destroyed. The total street value of the LSD would have been £7.6 million. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Julie
Operation Julie has often been referred to as a police undercover operation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A lot of the investigation was good old fashioned routine detective work.
Again much of it involved surveillance of targets and suspects including methods that to this day I am forbidden to write about owing to the Official Secrets Act.
I am permitted to divulge that much of the surveillance work was carried out by members of the team tracking or tailing the suspects’ vehicles. And even posing as innocent holidaymakers and on one occasion as surveyors.
None of this is undercover work.
When you go undercover you assume a complete new identity. You mix with and hope to infiltrate the ‘bad guys’.
It is a stressful and demanding role.
There were only four true undercover officers who worked on Operation Julie.
One of them was me.
What follows is based on a true encounter: [Editor’s Note: this was a first draft for publication here. It has been revised and rewritten in the final form of the book.]
It was a warm and beautiful late autumn day but dusk was beginning to fall. It had been one of those Indian Summer days.
We had driven through the Mersey Tunnel in our Ford Transit van on our way to the hotel in Liverpool.
Inside I was happy to be back in Liverpool. It’s where I grew up and had many happy memories from younger days.
I was now a 29-year-old undercover detective.
I was living a double life with two names, and two passports. They were my real and my false documents. I only carried my fake papers for obvious reasons.
If anyone had access to a corrupt copper then any check would show I even had a fictitious criminal record!
In the van were my detective partner, Eric and another guy called Blue.
We had met Blue in Wales where we had been deployed undercover for some time.
Our brief was to collect intelligence on a drugs dealer who lived in the small village of Llandewi-Brefi. We had been in that area for months and befriended Blue.
Blue possessed no vehicle. That’s how we met him in the first place resulting in a drunken and stoned exercise in piano moving.
We had gained his confidence and he told us he needed to go to Liverpool to meet up with a friend of his. Both Blue and the friend were Canadians.
The story was that Bill, the friend, had been in the Isle of Man looking to buy a fast boat.
Naturally we were interested as fast boats were often used to pick up large packages of drugs that had been ditched in the sea by smugglers. Of course there may have been an alternative explanation that was far more innocent if not to say mundane.
I had taken over at the wheel before we got to the Birkenhead side of the Mersey Tunnel. The rationale being that I knew Liverpool like the proverbial back of my hand. We were heading for our hotel in Mount Pleasant. It was a stones throw from the famed Adelphi Hotel but much further down market.
I was driving the van along Lime Street when the police car appeared alongside and flagged me to pull over and stop.
I obeyed. We had no dope on board, or at least I knew I didn’t. I couldn’t speak for Eric or Blue.
But I had been drinking on the way up to Liverpool earlier that day. In fact it had been quite a session in a country pub somewhere in Shropshire.
The locals thought we were a rock band owing to our faded denims and long hair. We didn’t disappoint them telling the tale that we were London based session musicians. That’s what happens when you go undercover – you become very adept at lying!
The Liverpool police officer clearly didn’t like the look of us but after a cursory search of the van we carried on. However he first checked us out with what’s known as a CRO check.
CRO is the acronym for Criminal Records Office and was a national police database for all matters related to crime and criminals.
Our credentials stood up to the test as the officer would have been informed about out fake past criminal activity, however there was nothing on there to warrant him arresting any of us.
We spent a few hours in the hotel room. We all had separate rooms and I got a little rest before we all went out to meet Bill in the bar of our hotel.
It was now late at night. We were OK for a few drinks at our hotel as we were guests, so that permitted the barman to serve us until we had enough or he had gone home. Even then the night porter would have carried on serving us.
The room phone trilled out. “Hi Eric” I said.
“Where are you?’ Eric asked.
“Having a kip.”
“Okay but get your arse down here. Me and Blue are in the bar and Bill has called to say he’s arriving soon.”
Quickly showered, I headed down to the poky little bar area.
“Pint of Guinness for me.”
Blue went to the bar and ordered my pint. In fact he had bought most of the drinks on the way to Liverpool as his way of saying thanks for the ride.
We got settled in the corner of the bar. It was a dirty greasy table that had seen gallons of beer spills in its lifetime. The beer mats stuck to the veneered top.
I was facing the mirror behind the bar. Then I saw Bill in the mirror.
He was about 5’ 8” but powerfully built and about 170 pounds with no flab. I could see he was wearing a smart tweed jacket with no necktie.
Blue jumped up on Bill’s arrival. He introduced us to Bill.
“These are the two guys I was telling you about”
Bill sort of grunted.
We all carried on seated at the dirty table. Blue was doing most of the talking. I weighed Bill up taking a good look at his face and the eyes in particular.
Cold gray eyes a bit like a dead fish. There was no glint, no soul, no expression in them. Just dead. However occasionally Bill would turn his gaze on to either Eric or myself. The only word that can describe his stare was sinister.
I was thinking ‘this guy is a serious player’.
The chat, mainly by Blue, carried on for about an hour. During that time I learned that Bill, although a Canadian, spent most of his time in Miami, Florida.
Bill also confirmed that he had been searching for a fast motorboat and that search had taken him not only to the Isle of Man but also to Panama and the South of France.
I was drinking my beer throughout and also ‘drinking in’ Bill.
The jacket was tweed but the lightweight variety. It was a very expensive cut. His slacks were charcoal colored and also pricey. And his shoes were crafted from the finest leather probably in Milan.
Bill started to fiddle with his glass. His hand was used to repeatedly brush back his hair. He was shifting his weight from one buttock to the other, then back again. The gaze was a blank, distracted look. He had become restless.
Warning signals flashed through my brain. Why was he restless? Was it the presence of two strangers in Eric and me?
Suddenly he said, “Let’s get outta here!” It was more of a command than a request.
“OK” I said, “I know a club where we can get a late drink.”
At that Bill lightened up a little which made me think it was the surroundings that were bugging him and not the company.
It was now gone 11.30 at night. It was too late to wander into a pub unless you were in the know and could find a ‘lock-in’.
I had been away too long to have that intimate knowledge and besides I would not want to risk my cover in walking in to a boozer that I knew well. More to the point, where the clientele knew me (the real me) well.
So it had to be a club that legally stayed open until 2 in the morning. This was well before the liberalization of the licensing laws in Britain.
The only problem I foresaw was getting past security, as it was late and we weren’t members nor did a member accompany us.
In addition we had to factor in that Eric, Blue and me looked like members of a rock band. Some may have said that we looked like hippies with our long hair, beards and denims.
But there are always ‘ways and means’. I did the talking as I had the Scouse accent. The security gorillas were unimpressed until I glimpsed a fist reaching across towards the chief gorilla.
That fist belonged to Bill. It contained at least three £20 notes. Not one more word was uttered. In place of words there was a sweeping gesture by chief gorilla pointing towards the entrance. We were in!
Two things happened once we were inside that I would never forget.
I started dancing but I had kicked off my shoes and was on the wooden dance floor. I had always wanted to dance bare-footed and now I was granted my wish! It helped that I was now on my fifth vodka after two pints of Guinness earlier at the hotel bar.
I had no sooner got on the dance floor and started to sway solo to the rhythms that I was joined by a good looking vivacious young woman. She was a brunette, slim and wearing a pencil skirt that showed off her hips and legs.
She laughed a lot. I liked that. I liked her.
Her constant glances at my feet made me feel a little uncomfortable. I have the ugliest feet in the world – probably.
But she simply said, “I have always wanted to dance with a guy who kicks off his shoes and dances barefooted.” Yes – she really did say that!
I liked her even more!
We danced for a while and when the slow stuff came on we got cheek to cheek.
She smelled good too. I could feel her hips push into my groin and my ‘other brain’ reacted. I think she liked that.
I found out that she was a nurse at a local hospital and was clubbing with her friend, also a nurse, on their night off. She had all night free and threw in for good measure that she wasn’t in any rush in the morning either! I thought – you know what I was thinking!
We eventually made our way over to the table where Eric, Blue and Bill were sat drinking and talking. My new friend called out to her co-worker to join us. We now had a sixsome!
The girls went to the bathroom to powder their noses. We four guys started to chat amongst ourselves.
This is when the second unforgettable thing happened.
While I was away on the dance floor Eric, Blue and Bill had clearly gotten around to talking business. And by business, I mean drug smuggling.
I say clearly for no sooner had the girls left us then Eric said, “Ask him. I’m sure he will be OK with it.” He nodded towards me.
I’m thinking ‘what the fuck is he on about!’
Blue came in, “Bill wants to know if you two can organize bringing a few keys of snow into Europe from Miami’ [Note: keys means kilos and snow is a slang word for cocaine]
“Fuck me!” I thought but managed to keep a poker face.
The girls were away for about 30 minutes so this next conversation happened over 10 minutes more or less.
“Yeah. It can be done,” I said
“Obviously depends on a few things but yeah it’s a go’er”
Bill then very unexpectedly broke out from his taciturn shell. He started to drawl on about how he was ‘connected’ and talking to the top echelon of the Cartel. Of course he was referring to Colombian drug gangs who were possibly the most notorious and violent drug gangs in existence.
I started to feel a little nervous at this point. Even my earlier ‘lower regions excitement’ provoked by my newfound female companion was rapidly subsiding!
Suddenly Bill ceased talking.
A silence took over the whole table.
Not many people can deal with total silence that goes on for longer than a few seconds. It feels extremely uncomfortable.
All kinds of thoughts started to rush around in my head.
In the situation that Eric and me found ourselves in I was thinking: What if this? What if that?
No one can train about this or teach it. It’s not possible to go to undercover class to learn how to cope.
Calmness is inbuilt. You either have it or you don’t. It’s that simple.
Perhaps the silence lasted for about one minute. Or perhaps longer?
During the whole time Bill and I were staring at each other.
Not in any kind of confrontational way – just staring. Holding eye contact between the two of us.
His gray cold eyes gave nothing away. I was thinking he has the eyes of a killer. He could be a killer.
At that point his mouth moved again.
I heard, “Are you guys cops?”
The question rattled around inside my brain.
This is often asked when you go undercover.
The first time is the worst. Has my cover been blown? Am I a fucking useless undercover cop? Do I look, smell and talk like one?
You are being tested.
I reacted aggressively, “You fucking what? Yeah course I am and you’re the fucking Pope!”
That took me by surprise. I didn’t think humor was part of his repertoire.
Then the killer look returned.
“If you guys are then…”
Bill didn’t add any words. He fixed me in his gaze and shaping his hand like a pistol, he just touched the side of my forehead with his straightened fingers and made a noise.
The sound was like “phhhh … phhh” imitating the muffled sound of firing his imaginary silenced gun directly into my head. A ‘double-tap’ – the classic assassin’s modus operandi!
He was serious. I believe to this day he could be have been a killer.
By sheer serendipity, the girls then returned to our table before I could think of my reaction to his threat.
The conversation turned to the humdrum. I cannot recall what it was about.
We all had another couple of drinks each and the mood was convivial. The night was finished off by all six of us finding a restaurant that was still open and eating a meal. The mood remained cordial.
My newfound female companion returned to the hotel with me and stayed the whole night. We did not sleep until about 5.30 in the morning as we took plenty of time in getting to know each other really well! I mean really well!
I woke up about 10 am that day and found my bed empty. She had gone. To my relief, my wallet was there and was intact.
I showered and looked in the mirror as my back felt painful. She had left her mark – literally. I had scratches running down both sides of my back from my shoulders to my waist.
Two unforgettable things in one night!
Perhaps three? I recall I also danced barefooted!
Do you want to know what happened to Blue and Bill?
You will need to wait until my book is published in 2016. Don’t miss it! You can win a FREE signed copy of my book “Operation Julie: Inside and Undercover” by signing up for my weekly Newsletter. The winner will also receive an Amazon Gift Voucher for $50.
Postscript – this story was written by me with the memory of the late Dick Lee firmly in mind. He was a decent man.
May I remind you that this story is subject to copyright laws and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without my express permission.
©2015 – 2016 Stephen Bentley and Expat In Bacolod – All Rights Reserved
Edit: The final version of my book has come a long way since those early days. You may read the first three chapters of the published version by using the feature below.
I also must correct the statement that Dick Lee is dead. Like Mark Twain, the reports of his death were greatly exaggerated 🙂