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A top criminal lawyer’s guide to cocaine

Drug-taking is less glamorous when you know how the trade really works

21 May 2016

9:00 AM

21 May 2016

9:00 AM

As a defence silk, I come across some surprisingly intelligent drug dealers. Many of them are highly entrepreneurial and driven, and I’m often left wondering what they might have achieved if only they’d chosen a different career.

Sharp operators are drawn to the narcotics trade because vast profits can be made in very little time. But then the consequences of failure, especially at the heavyweight end of the market, are rather worse than a tumbling share price. And we all make mistakes. I was recently involved in a case where a criminal mastermind had been jailed for 15 years for heroin importation, but had kept on running his empire from behind bars using a prison phone. Such conversations are routinely recorded, so he devised a code to avoid any fresh unpleasantness with the law.

One day, he was talking to a new courier, giving him instructions. ‘Go to Heathrow and meet Imran off the plane,’ he said. ‘Pick up a car from him and deliver it to Saghir.’

‘But Saghir just bought a new car,’ said the courier, who — for reasons which will become apparent — came to be known as ‘the Little Idiot’. ‘It’s a bloody great Mercedes. Why does he need another one?’

‘Look,’ the mastermind repeated, in a steely voice. ‘Just meet Imran at Heathrow, pick up the car, and deliver it to Saghir.’

‘How do I get to Heathrow?’ said the Little Idiot.

‘Drive!’ said the mastermind.


‘But if I drive to Heathrow in my car to pick up a car for Saghir, then I’ll have two cars. How am I meant to get them both back?’

‘Listen, you little idiot,’ said the mastermind, his patience at its end. ‘These phone calls are recorded, so we speak in code. A “car” is the code word for a fucking kilo of heroin. Didn’t anybody tell you that?’

‘Ah, yes,’ said the Little Idiot. ‘I remember now. Sorry.’

The Little Idiot was arrested the following day on the M1 with a kilo of heroin in his boot, and 23 people went to prison.

I also represented a man who was using his business premises as the base for a huge cocaine-dealing operation. A minion would bring parcels of coke of 80 per cent purity to his garage. The dealer and his associates would then add various other substances until they had cut its purity to about 4 per cent. A team of couriers would collect it and transport it to market, and the overlord would sit back and count his substantial -profits.

The police eventually raided the premises, but all they found were scales containing small traces of cocaine, and bags of the adulterants used to bulk out the drugs. Suspicious, but not enough. The officers were leaving, crestfallen, when one spotted a CCTV camera on a wall. ‘Does that thing work?’ he said. The look on the overlord’s face told its own story. The gang members are serving an average of 14 years, doubtless wondering what possessed them to record themselves receiving, adulterating, weighing, packing and shipping many kilos of cocaine.

For some inexplicable reason, cocaine still has a glamorous reputation. These days, coke is everywhere, the chosen ‘livener’ of both the establishment and the anti-establishment. But I wonder if so many people would take the stuff if they knew a little more about how it reaches their nostrils. Many coke dealers are a good deal less sophisticated than the gang described above, and there is a fair chance that, in order to fool sniffer dogs, the gram you’re snorting off the top of the -porcelain lavatory cistern at the Old Red Lion spent part of the recent past stuffed up a dealer’s backside inside the plastic capsule from a Kinder Egg.

I’m sure your dealer is scrupulously hygienic, and will have washed his hands thoroughly after retrieving the egg — but I’m equally sure that the grubby glamour of the whole business will have been tarnished just a little by this knowledge. And are you even getting what you’re paying for? As per the above, the little ‘wrap’ of white powder that you buy on the street often contains little cocaine. The best you can hope for — if that’s the right word — is 10 per cent pure, but it can be as low as 3 per cent.

I once heard a learned drug-taker opine that you can tell it was ‘good stuff’ if it made your gums go numb. I was sorry to burst his bubble: all that means is that it’s been adulterated with dentists’ benzocaine. Still, that’s better than levamisole, a drug used for treating cattle with parasitic worms; or phenacetin, a painkiller banned as carcinogenic. Stick to a decent Côte-Rôtie — that’s my advice.

Gary Bell’s memoir Animal QC is out now in paperback.


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