I'll start this tale by pointing out that major drug busts are rarely the result of diligent police surveillance and sophisticated undercover operations. More often than not they are the result of incompetence, stupidity or pure, old fashioned bad luck. As with most rules there are exceptions and this is one.
THE EXCEPTION THAT PROVES THE RULE
Mick Reily was having things a bit hard but he had come across what appeared to be an exceptionally good bit of transport. Things are a lot different today where customs have all kinds of fancy equipment to scan and x-ray vehicles. I’ve even heard of a gadget that sucks air from a container and can detect drugs, explosives and even carbon-dioxide from people smuggling, but back then customs relied very heavily on profiling to decide which wagons to inspect. The three most important criteria were; origin of the load, value of the load and length of time the company had been operating.
To take the two extremes. Suppose there’s a wagon load of watches coming from Switzerland being carried by a company that’s been in business since they used horses and carts. Then there’s another wagon carrying a load of oranges from Valencia being carried by a company set up a week last Friday. I know which one I’d want to search if I was a customs man and I know which one I’d like to have my bit of puff on.
Transport rarely gets as good as the Swiss watches but unfortunately often gets as bad as the Valencian oranges. I once read somewhere that one particular year there was more gear captured in Valencian oranges that every other cargo put together. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
Mick’s transport leaned more towards the watches. The story went that it was computer equipment carried by a company that had been running for donkey’s years. It left from Zaragoza which, though still Spain, was inland Spain which is lower profile than coastal Spain. You don’t get much more inland than Zaragoza.
Mick’s problem was that the transport people were insisting on a minimum of three hundred key and he had no money. This sort of minimum requirement wasn’t unusual and, at two hundred quid a key the transport people knew they were on at least sixty grand. On this occasion the true motivation was a little more sinister.
The charge for importing less than three hundred key is ‘importation’, the charge for importing more is ‘mass importation’ and the penalties go up significantly. Since everyone involved on the transport side were undercover customs they wanted to make sure of thoroughly nailing everyone’s hat on. The cunning bastards.
Good as the transport sounded, a bit over two hundred grand was still a massive investment on an untried run. A syndicate was needed. I was approached partly to see if I wanted a share and partly because I had the facility to get the gear to Zaragoza. All in a day’s work, I joined in. Even so, we fell a bit short of the three hundred and in the end only about two sixty went. Probably the only lucky thing that happened in the whole scam.
A pal of mine, Gerry, and I got the parcel up the road and Mick was waiting to hand it over. This must be the point where Gerry and I got our get out of jail free cards.
Since the intention was to follow the gear home and nick everyone involved they couldn’t nick us because it would mark Mick’s card that there was scull-duggery afoot. Equally, they couldn’t get the Spanish old bill to nick us since their Spanish counterparts had never been put in the picture that there was an operation going on. Smacks a bit of rule-bending but who am I to criticize.
Mick flew home to pass the gear from the transport to the buyers, who were very professional people and were equipped with scanners to listen in to the police and customs. No sooner had Mick left than a message was broadcast.
“The targets are splitting up, follow the white vehicle.”
Since they were in a white van evasion tactics were called for.
A few quick lefts and right and into a lock-up where the doors were slammed down. Out the back window and down the pub to await developments.
First suspicions fell on Mick but a few phone calls established his bona fides. That night a little firm went in and moved the parcel to a second lock-up without anything untoward occurring. Of course no-one knew that a tracking device had been put in the gear and the customs could follow it at their leisure.
It was beginning to be assumed that there been a bit of over-reaction. After all, there are a million white vehicles in London. The following day the buyers were driving to the second lock-up and when they turned onto the street they heard their own car registration being read out over the scanner. All thoughts of over-reaction went out of the window. They drove straight past the slaughter, abandoned the car and six hours later were sitting on the beach in Marbella.
Mick was less fortunate. Not knowing of the latest developments, he went down the pub.
“What a fucking day I’ve had!” He said to his pal Neil. “One minute it’s home, the next it isn’t, the next it is. Thought it was on me for a while, but everything seems okay now.”
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the doors flew open and in stormed a combined force of customs and armed old bill. Everyone in the pub was nicked – it was that sort of a pub – but the only one charged was Mick.
At his trial Mick used the did-he-fall-or-was-he-pushed defence. If Mick asked the transport man to bring the gear home he was guilty but if the transport man asked Mick to put some gear on his wagon, then it was entrapment and Mick was not guilty. The jury were having none of it and found him guilty. He got ten years but of course he appealed, primarily against sentence, which was a bit on the strong side, but also, as a sort of make weight, against conviction.
The appeal court took the opposite view to the jury and said at the very least the undercover man should have been required to give evidence.
“In the event that I ordered a retrial,” asked the judge “would the customs be prepared to produce the undercover man?”
“We’d be opposed in principle,” said the prosecution “but in any case he is unavailable as he is on another operation.” No doubt luring some other unfortunates into the net.
The judge said “That being the case, I have no alternative but to dismiss the charges.”
A few minutes later a very bemused Mick, whose most optimistic expectation was getting the ten cut to a seven, was standing on the Strand scratching his head.
Sadly, the saga doesn’t end there. Mick’s financial position was, if anything even worse than before it all began. He needed to get a bit of work done and got active with some people grafting from The West Indies.
They had a crooked baggage-handler at Heathrow. Now I’ve no doubt there are crooked baggage handlers but I’ve never heard a success story with one. How much clout can a baggage-handler have anyway? Surely they can’t walk about, willy-nilly, with woolwiches full of gear? If someone told me they had the head of security crooked I might be a bit more interested.
Anyway, this next bit of work came a tumble and Mick got another ten. This time he was unable to wriggle out of it.
Incidentally, Mick’s case set a precedent and is quoted in Archibald’s Book of Law. Under English law entrapment isn’t a defence, it’s only mitigation. A defendant has to plead guilty, saying “Yes, I did the crime but those unscrupulous bastards lured me into it.”
In Mick’s case the argument was whether the undercover man should appear to testify and he wouldn’t or couldn’t so the charges were dropped.
This is an excerpt from Maurice's book, The Dealer, click here to buy a copy