Acid Outlaws: LSD, Counter-Culture and Counter-RevolutionAcid Outlaws: LSD, Counter-Culture and Counter-Revolution by David Black
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three stars on Goodreads means I liked it. Full review to follow.

First, the bouquets. David Black has done a fine job in putting together a comprehensive history of LSD. I cannot think of a single thing he missed. For anyone interested in the history of this psychedelic drug and the ‘players’ involved, I highly recommend it as a ‘must-read.’ It ranges from Sandoz in the beginning to the recent manifestation of Silicon Valley micro-dosing with a slight diversion involving jazz.

His research is a wonder to behold. The book is well annotated with attributions sprinkled throughout. None of this takes away any reading pleasure. It’s really quite an easy read, and interesting. At this juncture, I throw in one brickbat (more to follow): the publisher needs to give the whole book a thorough edit. There are missing words and even a whole paragraph is repeated. I did try to warn the author of this in a private way, but I received no response.

David shares with me a fascination about Ronald Stark – the mystery man. There was new (to me) material in here about Stark. If someone wrote a book purely about this character, it would have to be classified as fiction because I suspect no one person knows the truth about this man. For example, did he or did he not work for the CIA?

Of course, I had a vested interest in reading David’s book. In a rather circuitous fashion, he gave me a heads-up it had been published. My interest? He devotes a few chapters to Operation Julie, a unique UK police investigation that smashed not one but two LSD manufacturing and distribution networks in the 1970s. He uses a few quotes from my book, Undercover: Operation Julie – The Inside Story

I was one of four undercover detectives on Operation Julie. You may think it natural that I took an interest in what he wrote about me and the pioneering police operation. This is the point where I introduce the main brickbats because I feel the time is right to speak up about a historical revisionism that is being conducted in certain quarters concerning this phenomenally successful police operation. I hasten to add that in the main, my criticisms are not aimed at David personally but rather the methods he uses to write about Operation Julie and my role. I stress the methods are ethical but result in a false impression. Having said that, he does opine about policing aspects 0f Operation Julie and I feel I must respond.

My main criticisms are reserved for his use of material from two other books. One written by Leaf Fielding, the other by Andy Roberts. Fielding was one of the defendants in the Julie case – a top-level distributor. Roberts is a self-appointed ‘chief historian’ of all things LSD in Britain. My main complaint is David uses an anecdote told by Roberts about what Smiles told him. Yes, you read that right – secondhand hearsay.

Smiles was the man I, together with my undercover partner, were briefed to get ‘close to.’ We did. We infiltrated a small rural Welsh community where he lived. We spent a lot of time in his company for the best part of a whole year. He was also a top-level dealer in the distribution network.

Allegedly, Smiles told Roberts that he always knew Eric and I were undercover cops. Perhaps he did say that to Roberts. But it’s not true and that’s why it irks me to see this story of Smiles repeated in books concerning Operation Julie.

Please allow me to show you why Smiles’ story is a face-saving fabrication and one that I feel compelled to discredit. (You need to read all my book to put all this into context).

• Why would Smiles have asked Jackson (my cover name) to supply serious quantities of cocaine after learning what had happened in Liverpool with the Canadian gangster?
• Why didn’t Smiles warn anyone in the drug distribution network? Clearly, he didn’t as the telephone intercepts would surely have disclosed the warning.
• Why didn’t that intercept record any suspicions he harboured about Eric (my undercover partner) and me?
• The LSD manufacturing run at Seymour Road continued as normal as did the activities of all the drug dealers involved in supplying about 90 per cent of the world’s LSD at that time.
• Why did he leave Eric alone babysitting in his home on the night of the cocaine-fuelled night out with Jackson and others in Lampeter?
• Why did he supply Jackson with cannabis and cocaine? Why give Jackson a Christmas gift of cannabis?
• Why were Jackson and Walker (Eric’s undercover name) frequent welcome and invited guests in his home?
• Why did Smiles choose to be a regular heavy-session drinking buddy of Jackson?
• Why was Smiles content to leave a drunken Doug with only Jackson and Walker for company after a drinking session in Tregaron? After all, Doug was one of Smiles’ London dealers.
• Why did he often talk about drug dealing with Jackson?
• Why has he made claims that he was told of Jackson’s identity and yet did nothing about it?

The above bullet points are taken from my book. I have since thought of two more that undermine Smiles’ fairy story:

• After the busts, I ‘confronted’ Smiles in a police cell. His only words were “No hard feelings. It’s all part of the game.” He did not say anything like “I always knew you were undercover cops.”
• Prior to publication of the first edition of my book, Smiles contacted me through my Facebook page and queried the date of publication. A civilized “conversation” took place. Again, there was no claim he always knew who we (Eric and I) were.

Material from Fielding’s book used by David in this book is also suspect. For example, David repeats Fielding’s claim that he warned of the dangers of the LSD-impregnated carpet at the Seymour Road, London LSD lab. (Two SOCO officers accidentally ingested some LSD spilt on to this carpet). He couldn’t have done. Fielding was arrested the day after the occupants of the Seymour Road lab. The search had already taken place by that time. In any event, Fielding had no access to Seymour Road and probably didn’t know the lab’s location owing to the cell-like structure in place designed to separate people involved in the manufacture and distribution. It was like the kind of structure used by terrorists.

David also seems to bolster Fielding’s inane point about the Julie squad permitting them all to continue distributing LSD until the busts in March 1978 after we had tracked Kemp to the Welsh lab in May 1976. That was the brief: to take out the manufacturing AND distribution networks. The latter took time and the gathering of a mountain of evidence through surveillance.

Finally, though I could say a lot more, David is wrong to give a blanket assertion that my activities when undercover were “questionable and probably illegal.” Questionable by who? Illegal – mostly not. The telephone intercept on Smiles’ phone was legal at that time. Yes, I smoked a lot of hash with Smiles and did some cocaine. Technically, that was illegal. Tell me what I was supposed to do given I was undercover. I wasn’t Steve Bentley. I was Steve Jackson – wild, carefree, giving all the impression I was a dealer.

I’m now 72 years’ old. I don’t care for the historical revisionism applied to Operation Julie recently. It was a highly successful and unique police investigation carried out professionally under difficult circumstances.

By the way, David, I also don’t care much for the ‘ham acting’ label – your words not anyone else’s. Maybe you should try living a lie for the best part of a year; doing things alien to you; becoming a different person. Those who know will scoff at the thought of it being an act. It’s not. You become someone else – believe me.

Three stars means I liked it (on the whole).

View all my reviews


There are now new paperback editions of my book Undercover: Operation Julie – The Inside Story available on Amazon.

The regular paper back can be found here.

The large print edition here.

Both will be available through all bricks and mortar bookstores later in 2019, as will be a hardback edition for the first time. Look out for the announcements.

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