Who really funds the trade in narcotic supply, and causes the violence required to keep it going.
I thought I was a man of the world when I joined the police. I was 31, served ten years in the army, a couple of years on the news desks and a few more in drama production all over the world. A few weeks into my first beat I realised most of my assumptions of police work were Hollywood. I had a better idea of the ground situation in the Balkans than I did my own city.
The yellow line is the boundary of City Road and Hoxton beat, Hackney, East London.
This was my first beat in 2002. To the south were celeb and banker heavy clubs, bohemians and bright young things flaunting their success in the drinking squares. The remnants of the Curtain Theatre where Shakespeare learnt his trade sits squarely in the middle. It was a veneer factory when I attended it after a burglary and got to stand on the last 3ft of original stage.
When I first walked it the Prime Minister’s home address was just off the top left corner of this map in Islington. The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony video was still popular and was filmed on Hoxton Street along the eastern boundary.
The Provost estate sits in the top right corner of the beat. I entered my first crack den there: Two toms (prostitutes), a street artist (beggar) and a small business owner (distribution of car tyres) all cooking up while a half mummified dog was still chained to the radiator in the back room. The floor had been used as a toilet and newspaper put down to cover the mess, a four inch duvet of human waste.
You could see the back yard of the Police Station from the window.
At the end of my first year I had to turn in a file on my beat - an intelligence and ground picture of: prom nom sightings (prominent nominals - the bigger players in crime); PYOs (persistent young offenders - much the same but under 18); gang nominals; street dealers; drug prices; robbery hotspots; burglary trends; vehicle crime methods; drug dens and stairwells. The names of homeless and street drinkers; bouncers; shop keepers; prostitutes the lot.
It was a record of what you had been up to and what you’d taken notice of.
One important aspect was to build a map of your ground: active crack houses / drug dens were a big part of this picture, my bosses loved closing them down and getting pictures in the papers. Wherever they sprung up anti-social behaviour, criminal damage, robbery, theft from vehicles, snatches and begging would spread out like ink blots on a map.
So drugs are bad - whole estates reduced to stinking derelicts as the locust-zombies meander your patch devouring goodwill and community relations. So we closed them down on a regular basis. We’d push them onto the next beat and three months later they got pushed back to us and you started collecting the evidence again.
The most common venues for drugs dens were the homes of vulnerable adults. Long ago it was decided that people with severe learning disabilities or chronic mental health issues would get more from life if they got their care in the community. The officials running this policy swiftly became inundated and the locusts descended in lieu.
Nice little cash cows are folk on disability benefit. You can trash their house and the council will get them a new one. You can get a free car lease and insurance thru motability finance if you just claim to be the carer of the vulnerable disabled person you’re using as a cash cow and shell company for the low-level fraud you fund your habit with.
In my annual report I had found evidence of maybe thirty drug addled locusts in four squats. I may have missed some but they are not covert. Let’s say those addicts are using twice a day (the upper scale of use) thats 30 x ￡40 a day = ￡1,200 a day - ￡438,000 a year to be made supplying crack and heroin to the locusts in this small square of London.
The yellow stars are where we would find the street dealers. The orange stars are where we found our drugs dens, stairwell shooting galleries and open air venues for the summer months. The lime stars are where our homeless alcoholics spent the day begging, drinking or shouting at street furniture.
So the dealers were clearing around ￡438,000 a year. An NYPD study I have faith in looked at the economics of the sale of drugs in their city: They had the suppliers taking 70% of the return (￡306,600), distributors (Tier 1 gang nominals) taking 70% of what's left (￡91,980). The Top Boys (Tier 2) on the corners got the rest of the money to run their crews. (￡39,420)
You got to get word out you're selling, but not so far that Police hear. You gotta show you’re the one to do business with - lest you get attacked by another crew. So another 70% goes on marketing, hospitality, silence money and payroll.
Top Boys do the graft, it’s their area to control and sustain. Estates provide the warehousing, shop frontage and security, overheads like knifes, packaging and shop floor space are fairly cheap and plentiful, guns and silence aren’t. Everyone got families and folk to keep happy, less they snitch on you. Yet only a fraction of your silence budget goes out in cash, most is acquired though fear and intimidation. Do as you're told or you get perforated.
Your armed lieutenants will be on a retainer else they get ambition, but your runners and couriers will be on commission and most will be working for protection, from you and the competitors you generate.
So kids get chased off their playgrounds, curtain twitching neighbours get their windows put in, homeless alcoholics are beaten and a teenager stabbed every so often to curb ‘disrespect’. They’re sink estates, we turn up, report it and no one speaks. Because no one really cares what happens on them.
The locust zombies soak up police work, providing enough stats to keep the coppers from looking much further. Their effect on the neighbourhood can be increased with a cheap supply or decreased with a call to police. Very useful and expendable thermostat in your estate management.
But still for turning an estate into your petty fiefdom, selling to just the addicts you have a net annual profit of ￡11,826.
Unemployed seventeen year old Top Boys can’t put their funds in a bank, that raises questions and leaves evidence. Can’t keep it in cash, they’ll get turned over by rivals.
So you stream it, another word for launder. Buy and sell big ticket items, invest in local cash business and get a slice of the results. Think of it as a stock option portfolio if they survive their apprenticeship.
The purchasing power can often halve again through this process. Not a lot of people sell big ticket items in cash anymore so Top Boys find themselves buying from those who know where their money comes from. Cars, rims, club entry, drinks, jewellery all come at double price. You buy it, run around in it and sell again next week, you keep the change which is now legit(ish). The value of your work now a miserly ￡5,913 p.a.
And when we catch you, and we do quite often, we seize your money under the proceeds of crime act. But you still have to pay for your silence, your lieutenants and suppliers. You can find yourself in big debt, big time.
I once took ￡5,000 off an eleven year old courier at the top of Hoxton Street. My Sgt warned me all I had done was put the shop floor into debt. Perfectly good arrest but be prepared - best result was the Top Boy legged it, or doubled up next week with aggressive marketing - by which I mean chase another crew off their turf or better still rob another crew.
Most likely he would send lieutenants and wannabes out to snatch some mobile phones at knifepoint and raise my robbery stats. Less useful outcomes were to pimp out an underaged regular truant (boy or girl) to a passing business bloke or a stabfest among peers on collection day.
So all that effort, risk and graft for ￡113.71 a week. Unemployment benefit back then was ￡60.19 a week. Which they were probably claiming as well.
And yet he’s wearing ￡550 trainers, a girlfriend wearing three times that, spends a couple of grand a night in the clubs and has a two year old VW Golf with spinning rims. Gets everything replaced within the month.
One night shift I was buying a snack from a 24hr convenience store, a fifty year old partner in the enterprise behind the till, a thirty year old employee outside among the fresh veg on display, another hanging around the drinks fridge and a twenty year old in the back drifting between the stock room and the cereal. All smiles and nods of the head.
‘Wow I had no idea the 3am Tuesday economy for fresh tomatoes and artichoke could support the wages of four grown men?’ I wondered to myself.
‘It can’t’ I realised half way down the road with some sugar in me.
‘So what the hell is?’
If I walked from the knick to the end of Hoxton Street along the main roads I would pass four such shops in a leisurely 15 minutes. Competition in the late night cucumber and washing powder markets was high.
Every fourth or fifth 24/7 would be a Western Union outlet. You could pick up and send money anywhere in world while simultaneously buying your canned goods or flight tickets for your holidays. They used to have a nice little sideline in blue plastic transportation barrels. You could fill them with clothes and presents for family back home and they get collected by the same vans that delivered the next night’s kiwi fruit and lemons from Spain. Apparently it was a very cheap way to send stuff abroad.
We found a blue barrel all alone once, quite by accident, addressed to Lagos. We had to check inside to see if the owner had left contact details, make sure nothing had been stolen, 20 stolen mobile phones, hidden inside second hand clothes bought from the local charity stores. Sometimes they masked them from X-Ray with broken kitchen appliances, sometime they didn’t bother, easier to write it off, the addresses were always bogus.
Across from my beat and there were five more 24/7s before you got to the canal, which is when the restaurants that were always open and never full and the endless chicken and kebab shops began to stretch all the way up the A10 to Stoke Newington three miles up town.
These stars marked in red are the major clubs, the blue stars are venues where temporary licence events were held on a semi-regular basis.
Clubs are obviously full of drugs, the temporary licence venues were wholesale markets for drugs and streaming. They usually sprung up when a surplus needed shifting, funds were needed quick or a bad batch needed thinning out. When you tried to follow the money - it all ended up in cash, if you found someone holding the licence they were patsies paying off a debt with silence or vulnerable through influence, language and education.
If you discovered drugs being sold at their event - well maybe they’d get a fine, maybe they wouldn't be allowed to run a temporary licence for a while.
The red star directly above the blue star in the bottom right is where many years later on CID I responded to the rapper Professor Green when he had his throat ripped open by an angry glass.
Thursday to Sunday night, peaking Friday and Saturday it wouldn't be uncommon to find 10,000 people milling around that area between 19:00 and 03:00. In and out of the pubs and clubs, standing in queues for venues that boast the draw of celebrity sightings, while bouncers decide who was good enough to come in and join them.
Oh, and they were all in and out the 24/7s for hydration and munchies, before heading to the chicken shops for dinner, or breakfast depending on how you view nocturnal sports.
If only a fifth of them bought one gram of cocaine, or two tabs of ecstasy, thats: 2,000 people spending ￡30 a night for four nights, or ￡60,000 a weekend. ￡3,120,000 a year. I’m purposely taking the lower figures, it was easily treble.
So the drugs industry made their coin at the weekend among the queues. We were talking big money now, something worth protecting with some ultra violence.
I developed a plan. We used the council CCTV to playback the previous half hour at x 20 speed. Cars became streaks of light, the punters in the queues shuffled towards the doors and the dealers in the queues - the dealers stayed still - and stood out like street furniture.
I watched one set up and start selling, ran down to the club and twenty minutes later I hauled him out of the queue. A bit of stop and search Sec.23 and I find 50odd tablets and ￡1,400 in twenties. Cuffs. He was a graduate student doing a masters in Pharmacology and selling fake ecstasy. Makes for a good story, but I've told it before:
What was the most badass "I rest my case" moment you've ever witnessed in court?
I took a young guy to court for bashing up females outside a nightclub with a large piece of scaffold pipe. He was an Algerian national who had just begun a long degree course in London. He was rich and his father had paid for as many years of university as necessary to keep him away from national s…
Next night the sped up footage shows one chap in an orbit that takes him in and out of the queue and round the back of the building three or four times. We grab him and he's got a money belt full of Ketamine and a sock full of ￡20’s. He tried to run and I ripped the knee of my trousers bringing him down the rascal.
We get to search his flat share, not too far away in a rapidly gentrified area. Flatmates all young professionals with degrees and opinions on why we should ignore a ‘bit of K - it’s not like it’s bad’. Another half kilogram was found in a lovely hand carved ethnic display box on his mantlepiece.
He was a freelancer in media/marketing. Times were lean and he had taken on a bit of event promotion. Handing out samples to encourage others into a temporary licence venue.
We went back into the queues all weekend and got eleven arrests in two nights. One might be described as criminal class, the others all had jobs, education and the right attitude to the emotive issues of the day. Estate rats look out of place in swish clubs, you need a trojan.
The top boys were watching us from their corners. There is no way those stabbists were allowing these guys to work the queues without their permission. Which meant money flowing back to the gangs. If you followed the queue dealers and gang couriers long enough they always seemed to frequent - the same all night shops and chicken joints.
The red circles are (to the best of my memory) where we had stabbings during my year on the beat in Hoxton. At least the ones I responded to. The black circles are where we had shootings. One shooting, one stabbing ended up dead, one stabbing ended up blind.
Predominantly these were the younger elements of the dealer gangs getting hit. They were mainly people who lost something valuable, sold their own off the back, got ripped off in a deal or were getting too mouthy. Quite often it was a promotion ladder exercise based on winner takes all. Two shootings were Tier 1 gang nominals from out of area settling debts, saving face or giving a proactive board meeting pep talk to their shop floor.
Years later we got a call that a well-known member of a popular girl band had been stabbed in one of our temporary venues, so we piled in there, turned on the lights and once we had satisfied ourselves it was LoB (load of bollocks) we turned over some of the event promoters, found some drugs and the party thinned out.
I later learned from some loose tongues the call had been made by a rival promoter looking to increase his market share. There is just no honour in events management these days.
In and out of the all-night stores this little parade of humanity went, suppliers, dealers, clubbers and of course the ordinary civilians about their artichoke and chicory needs.
The next year I went onto response team and started attending the houses of the local gentry. I would often see lovely little hand carved ethnic boxes on mantelpieces and I always wanted to look inside them. Unfortunately when you've been called to settle a neighbour dispute you can’t search houses. Eyes only.
They would be complaining of burglary, bullying of their kids, minor domestics, stolen mobile phones, criminal damage, nasty looking people outdoors near their kids, dog crap on the street “aren't you going to get rid of it?”
Sometimes they put their joints out before we got there and sprayed air freshener. Sometimes - especially the semi-retired - didn’t even bother to do that. It helped us really, a street notice warning for cannabis possession for personal use counted as an all important stat for the end of the month, and didn’t take up too much time. Supervisors love cannabis for personal use in the over 17s.
One night we spotted an ageing transit van dragging it’s rear axle down the road. After a short foot chase produced two well-known opportunistic thieves (they had more years in jail between them than I had breathing) we discovered where they found the two ton of authentic, antique London yellow clay brick (￡40 a brick) they had thrown in the back of their van.
They came from the driveway of a house under gentrification around the corner. A middle aged IT CEO answers the door in linen shirt, drawstring trousers, barefoot. You know the sort, thoughtful and kind with a well stocked mind and burgeoning house equity value - buys free-trade coffee, responsibly sourced sandals and a three grand bike so he didn’t put money in the hands of oil cartels.
“Good morning sir, sorry to bother you at 3o’clock but I believe we’ve recovered some property stolen from you! Are you having a party?”
“You can’t come in here without a warrant!”
Ok this went complianty in a hurry. The conversation went along the lines of ‘can you look at this giant pile of incredibly expensive brick you’ve left outside your house and tell me if any of it is missing’. His end of the conversation went: No, No, where? I don't live here all the time, no the brick isn't new, it’s been specially reclaimed from genuine east end buildings, no no no, yes, you can’t come in without a warrant!
I wanted to put the baddies in the cells and at this rate I had nothing.
“I tell you what sir, shall I come back in the morning to take a statement? When your eyeballs are back inside your skull and you can talk in complete sentences?” “If I may I would like to come inside and see the extension you’re building, just to check they haven’t damaged it? or I could wait until my colleague has got a warrant!”
Flush go the toilets. “Yes they are brick! My brick, yes mine!”
Good Morning sir!
The only thing I hate more than scraping stabbed kids off their corners, trying to advise thirteen year old pimped out toms he doesn’t love you, and digging out locusts from their fecal mausoleums is the hypocrisy of the respectable middle classes who sustain the industry that keeps those children and vulnerable adults in hock to psychopaths.
I volunteered to cover the Lovebox festival in Victoria Park for a bit of overtime. It’s a happy family event for white middle classes to listen to authentic ghetto music, drink wine and get their children's face painted. I was stood at the entrance just before opening and watched a tide of ￡300 sunglasses and ￡1,200 baby strollers assemble with their offspring.
I told my skipper I didn’t like the middle classes. I felt they got away with too much of the shite we had to shovel round here. We hatched an idea, he called for a sniffer dog van. One was often skulking around the Shoreditch clubs in the early hours of a Saturday and over he popped for a quick spot of exercise.
The first five people through the gates all got arrested for drug possession. A 13 year old thoroughly depressed grey skinned kid with ￡150 and a big bag of weed on him. A pair of yummy mummies pushing two kids, dragging two more with six tabs of E inside a lipstick tube and two more ingested. A couple of parents on day release and a minor celeb.
When the crowd subsided we found bags and bags of cocaine, E and ketamine among the abandoned organic trail mix squashed into the soil where the queue had stood.
I really wished I had got the mummies - they went way screaming as their children were taken into police custody and the social called. I got the ghostly sad sack.
He was a lovely kid, very sad, very lonely and completely and utterly grassed up his mother for supplying him with the weed. It came from her exquisite hand carved ethnic wooden box on her mantlepiece.
Mum was a bit cross when she arrived to take him home. Apparently I was a great number of bad things. My job was to find “real” drug dealers and the scumbags who vandalised her car not chase stupid tiny amounts of cannabis at festivals. The nature of my birth and my educational qualifications to stand in judgement on how she raised her child - whose father was a lawyer - were called into question.
“There is absolutely no harm in a bit of weed!” She exclaimed so loudly the Custody Sergeant gave me the ‘get this over with now!’ face.
“He hasn't got the size for it! madam, and neither do you!”
I don't remember exactly what I said next but it was good. I asked where she bought the drugs, over the counter from the 24/7 shop that also fences your stolen phones, or direct from a 12 year old courier who your personal habits have pushed out of school and into the firing line of stabbists?
Two nights ago, three streets from where you live, a 14 year old girl was violently sexually assaulted by members of the same gang that control drug supply in your postcode. It was most likely an initiation of a lieutenant, who was counting your money the next day.
If you think your socio-economic status insulates your conscience from the horror your harmless hobby puts poorer families through when you fund the gangs who run their estates, I’m hear to tell you, I’ve been granted a Section 18 search of your home address as you are under arrest on suspicion of possession with intent to supply a minor with a controlled substance.
The custody sergeant had a gaoler waiting.
Felt so much better, and my skipper gave me a thumbs up. We had adana kofte with chilli sauce from Dirty’s on the way back.
Honest to god, when it clicks and goes well it’s the best job in the world.
This used to be called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, I have long been a member, and think it states my position on the drugs war well enough.
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Police, undercover operatives, intelligence service, military and a range of figures from the criminal justice system are joining together with communities to bring about drug law reform Our members are available for speaking engagements, media, and events – contact us for more information. Meet Our Team LEAP UK Members Ian Andrew – Strathclyde Police, completed service as Inspector, specialising …