This review is the unedited original review I submitted to Amazon UK. Three edits later, the “review police” at Amazon UK approved a version they deemed suitable. Next thing is Amazon will try to control our thoughts!

If you would like to see the edited version click here.


Drug Wars: The terrifying inside story of Britain’s drug tradeDrug Wars: The terrifying inside story of Britain’s drug trade by Neil Woods
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before I start my review, here is a disclosure: I was given a free hardback copy of this book by the authors and publisher, Ebury Press, in a gesture of gratitude for me agreeing to be interviewed by the authors regarding ‘Operation Julie.’ They had read my memoirUndercover: Operation Julie – The Inside Story’ However, the following review is an honest, freely given opinion.
Overall, ‘Drug Wars’ is a good well-written book full of cogent arguments why the ‘war on drugs’ has failed in the UK. I’m in the same camp. There is a drastic need for Parliament to fully debate the status quo. As the authors say, “there must be a better way.” I said the same thing in my memoir, adding that the so called ‘war’ had failed.
This book starts off with a hook: “An observation van is running surveillance on a high-level Bradford gangster. Suddenly the van is surrounded by men in balaclavas and tied shut. Out comes the can of petrol. It is set alight and the two cops inside barely escape with their lives. This incident is never reported. The gangsters clearly have informants inside the police and alerting the public would undermine the force. Everyone shrugs it off – with so much money in the drugs game, corruption is part and parcel of the whole deal.”
That is the same hook used in the book description. It’s dramatic and intended to be so, but it’s misleading. It’s misleading because the author Neil Woods knows as well as I do that incident may have happened because the “obs van” was rumbled. It may have had nothing to do with police corruption whatsoever. “High-level gangsters or drug dealers are not stupid. They can smell out such vehicles and often do. It’s a method used in the book on a few occasions and it wasn’t necessary.
It wasn’t necessary because Woods himself experienced gross police corruption and details it in the book. That’s the way it should be done not by innuendo or by way of rumour. Yes, the book does that too: “it was reported that a D.C. “was riding around in a seventy-thousand-pound BMW.” Reported by whom? Where? When? Please show your source, Messrs. Woods and Rafaeli.
I’m not an apologist for Police corruption and I have never denied it exists. It has existed in small pockets for many years. The chapter dealing with ‘Frank Matthews’ illustrates where most police corruption is located, and it has always been the case ever since I was a detective (from 1968 to 1980) – the Metropolitan Police. Yes, there have been instances of police corruption in the provinces, but they are the exception to the rule. I have spoken with ‘Frank Matthews’ and I believe he would agree with me on that point.
One of the reasons I highlight this corruption point is comments made by an earlier reviewer of this book who wrote, “Indeed, the details are so shocking that it’s difficult to believe, for if they are even half true, UK policing is rotten to the core.” He was referring to the ‘Frank Mathews’ disclosures. That reviewer is expressing an intelligent thought but there are others with a biased agenda who will use such revelations to tarnish the reputation of every single serving police officer in the UK. That isn’t right and that is why I urge both Woods and Rafaeli to be more exact in their use of corruption allegations. They don’t need to “over egg” the pudding. It’s a technique I learned in my barrister days that followed my detective days – you have made the point, now move on to the next before you annoy the witness (and the judge and jury).
Having spoken to both authors at length as a source of material for the chapter about Operation Julie, I feel confident they will take on board those points.
Before I move on to the Operation Julie chapter (I do know something about that topic), let me say how much I enjoyed reading this book. Enjoyable but at the same time depressing. The heroin problem we were warned about in 1978 happened. And some! The chapters dealing with heroin were sad, and enlightening. The Widnes “experiment” versus Bootle is writing at its best and I applaud the authors for this valuable contribution to the debate. On another personal note, I found it interesting to read about the “crack explosion that never happened.” At that time, I had a busy practice as defence counsel with many of my clients Brixton residents. Many were crack addicts and I thought that was normal all over the country. The authors corrected my thinking on that point.
The book deals with the drug issues by decade. Often the drug scene was tied into music. The result is that the book, in addition to the drug issues, reads like a social/cultural history of Britain over several decades. It makes for interesting reading.
The authors righty point out and criticize the media in the way it has peddled fake drug-related stories over the years. If there is to be a change in attitudes to the failed ‘war on drugs’ policies and legislation, this is as good as any place to start. The media must be way more accurate in its reporting on drug matters. Only then will the “man on the Clapham omnibus” begin to see the cogency of the arguments for scrapping the present system in favour of a return to the “British System.”
I was disappointed to note there was no analysis of the Portuguese decriminalization system. I posited in my own book when writing about the ‘war on drugs’ that maybe the UK should think of adopting the Portuguese system. A system whereby the user is not criminalized but dealt with through the healthcare system. I did wonder in my book what effect that had on trafficking in that country. I wondered because I could find no research on that point. I was hoping Messrs. Woods and Rafaeli would fill in that gap.
Finally, Operation Julie. Overall, I found that chapter was well-covered and fairly represented my interview with the authors of this book. They mention the operation has been possibly over-hyped. I don’t think so, but I am biased. It was unique in that it was a de facto national drug squad comprising of 25 detectives drawn from 11 police forces over England and Wales. It lasted about 2 years. It involved many, many hours of covert surveillance both static and moving (foot and vehicles), it successfully uncovered two (not one) LSD laboratories supplying most of the world’s LSD, there were undercovers in Wales and Wiltshire, there were 800 police officers involved in the busts all over the UK and France. There was no police corruption.
I agree it was not the ‘war on drugs.’ It was the BBC that said that not me. It was not a war of any kind. I disagree that all of those convicted were idealistic hippies. That is untrue. Kemp and Bott had Swiss bank accounts as did Henry Todd. Kemp and Solomon threatened to kill the original informant, Gerry Thomas, so giving the lie to the oft-repeated “they were all pacifists.” Kemp argued about money with Ronald Stark in Paris. Solomon and Stark were shady, sinister men with connections to even shadier people in the US Brotherhood of Eternal Love. The British LSD distribution network utilized drop boxes, secret codes and money couriers. This was no “airy-fairy” hippie outfit. They were sophisticated drug dealers.
The book fairly represented my interactions with Smiles. That relationship is the key to my memoir. However, I do wish the authors of this book had not repeated what Smiles told them about Princess Margaret and Roddy Llewellyn. I did my best to dispel that rumour in my own book. It simply is not true. More to the point, Smiles says it was Doug Flanagan who told him, and Flanagan told the police to reduce his sentence during the Operation Julie sentencing exercise. All that is nonsense. I interviewed Flanagan. He never mentioned either of those two people to me or any other police officer. Flanagan received 2 years’ imprisonment as opposed to Smiles’ 8 years because as the judge rightly said, “he (Flanagan) was at the lowest rung of the huge distribution network.”
“Never ruin a good story with the facts.” – Unknown
As for the reviewer who dismisses Operation Julie with “… Operation Julie – a comical exercise in persecuting harmless hippies, which would be funny if it hadn’t ruined lives…”
Many of the users may have been harmless hippies. No one was persecuted. The manufacturers and distributors were properly prosecuted and convicted after a brilliantly conceived and executed police operation lasting nearly two years. Those convicted respected the detectives involved for their dedication and professionalism, as did many of the detectives respect them as individuals. Ruined lives? No one forced a brilliant chemist, Richard Kemp, to produce what was probably the world’s finest acid.
The point is there should never have been an Operation Julie, never have been a “war on drugs.” Fine detectives such as those involved in Operation Julie would have been far better deployed fighting “real crime” with victims.
Please remember when reading this book, the authors are not experts. However, the book is an essential, and cogent argument against the UK’s failed ‘war on drugs,’ the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and a return to the ‘British System.’

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