Undercover, page 1
About the Book
About the Author
About the Book
Joe spent over twenty years working in the murky world of a British undercover officer. He travelled the globe on different passports. He fraternised with thieves, international drugs and arms dealers. He worked alongside the most dangerous criminals. Always fearing that this life would come crashing down around him at any moment.
He had done his apprenticeship the hard way, forcing his way into the controlled specialist squads as a young detective.
He thought he was smart and street wise and he knew he could talk. He could charm the birds out of the trees. He would always use his tongue as his weapon, never his fists or the threat of violence, just chat, and it seemed to work.
Because to catch a criminal, you have to live like one.
About the Author
Joe Carter is a pseudonym of the UK’s longest-serving undercover police officer. This is his first book.
To the most caring, loving and brilliant mum. Thank you for single-handedly raising the most beautiful and talented children. They make me proud every day and I love them so very much. I am sorry that I let you all down.
Thank you to:
Stephen Ainscough for starting me on the journey.
To Paul, Claire, Tom and Mary and the gang at Newman Street.
Sharmaine Lovegrove for connecting me to the right people and enthusing soooo much about my writing.
And a huge thank you to Ajda Vucicevic at Random House for your constant support, guidance and reassurance.
And of course to Boo.
I recall like it was yesterday – the first words that Joseph Dominick Pistone delivered to the hushed auditorium at the FBI Academy in Quantico. I was sat in the stalls exchanging niceties with the men either side of me, part of a select class of undercover officers. I felt honoured and privileged to have been invited on their esteemed undercover course and, as we awaited the talk, a general sense of excitement settled over us. The most famous undercover officer in the world – the first person to infiltrate the Mafia in New York – was about to deliver a lecture.
Donnie Brasco, as was his alias, had been part of one of the most complex and intricate operations of his generation. It had lasted six years and had almost cost him everything. The entire audience was in awe of the man and his remarkable achievements as a UC. He had the class in the palm of his hand, without uttering a single word.
When he finally spoke, his words were slow and considered: ‘Anyone in this room who is becoming an undercover officer to get away from their boss, or is running away from a nagging wife or screaming kids … Anyone who is here to hide from any problems they have in their own lives … Then I tell you one thing – you are in the wrong place, you are on the wrong course, and there is the door.’ He paused whilst people took in the gravity of his words.
The words he spoke, I have come to realise, were true; they were spoken from the heart. He knew all this because he had been there. And before too long, I would learn – the hard way – just how true they were.
It was thirty years, three months and eight days since I had stood with over 200 new recruits, been sworn in to serve my queen and country, and promised to protect the people of London.
I was now sat in a comfy chair at the Hilton hotel surrounded by business men and women conducting meetings and interviews, sipping green teas and cappuccinos, with their Apple MacBooks laid out on the tables in front of them. None of them knew who I was, or why I was there, clutching a crisp white envelope that contained my warrant card.
I was going to hand it in and walk away from a job that I had devoted the best part of my life to. I had never imagined that it would end in this way, with such despair, such unhappiness, and with so much anger and heartache.
There was only one reason I was there: my ex-detective inspector, the only person that I still trusted, had asked to meet me on 21 December. He knew that this was my last day – this was to be the end of my thirty-year police career. I had spent the past twenty years working undercover; I had received over thirty-five Chief Constable’s and Judge’s Commendations for bravery and dedication to my work. I was overwhelmed by sadness and a sense of futility. I thought of trust and support and camaraderie, all the things that I could no longer look to my colleagues for.
It had been a week since I had been told by a twenty-something-year-old kid from HR that I wasn’t entitled to an exit interview with the chief constable as I didn’t fit the criteria. I looked at him, dressed in his Hollister jumper, Primark skinny jeans and cheap shoes. I thought to myself that he had no idea who I was or what I had done. I wanted to sit him, his supervisor and the other ‘luvvies’ from HR down, and tell them my story. Explain to them what I had done in my service, the people I had hurt, the number of times I’d risked my life to put baddies behind bars. That I thrived on danger – the more dangerous the situation or nastier the person, the more I would want to do the job. I wanted to tell them my story.
I looked him up and down, took a deep breath and said, ‘Do you know what? You’re right, I’m sure the Chief has much better things to do.’
In any other walk of life or career, I was certain that I would have been sat down and somebody would have picked my brains, unloaded all the contacts I had accrued over two decades. They would have listened, and documented the knowledge and experience I had of sensitive operations and undercover techniques. Made notes of the tactics I had used that had been successful, and those I implemented that had failed. My head was full of twenty years of detailed information that I had collected working undercover throughout the world. But not a single person spoke to me: no exit interview, no debrief from the unit head, no one from my department even said goodbye.
Of course, I was sure they were all glad to see the back of me. Although we’d had a huge amount of success in the undercover unit, and had never before put so many top-echelon criminals ‘away’ for serious offences, I knew that certain senior officers wanted me off the premises. I brought success, but at a risk to them and their spotless CVs. They
I knew that I wouldn’t get any big send-off, that there would be no collection amongst my peers to buy me a retirement present. I’d witnessed colleagues in the past, who had done little to nothing in a thirty-year career, receiving Mont Blanc pens or nasty cut-glass decanters. There wouldn’t even be a card for me, adorned with handwritten comments from people I barely knew and certainly didn’t care for. No drunken slaps on the back or speeches from insignificant and boring senior officers chronicling my career over thirty years that they had no personal knowledge of. But most of all, there was one thing that really got to me, the thing that hurt the most and would stay with me forever. There was not one single person to say: ‘Joe, thank you.’ I realise, now, that’s all I wanted: someone – anyone – just to say something, to give me a little sign that what I had done mattered. That I hadn’t wasted my life.
I had sacrificed a marriage and hurt so many people on the way. I wanted to be told it wasn’t all for nothing. I just wanted someone to say thank you.
It was 1984, and the early months at Chiswick Police Station were not filling me with joy. I seemed to go from day to day, shift to shift, without feeling I had any direction to my life. Shifts became all too familiar. We would all parade into the briefing room before a shift. We would be asked to produce our appointments. We would all then hold out our wooden, leather-strapped truncheon, our silver whistle on a chain and our up-to-date, ruled-off pocketbook. At this stage, the sergeant would read us our postings and what time our ‘refs’ (refreshment meal breaks) would be taken.
I would invariably be posted to the furthest beat from the station. I would walk there aimlessly, not really knowing what I should actually be doing to fill my eight hours, and then wander the streets in a daydream for most of the shift. I was only ever awoken from this when the radio would shout my number to take a call. This used to startle me, and almost amounted to an inconvenience. I was aware that all the decent calls – the meaty ones, the ones with any action – were always taken by the cars. The walkers were left with rubbish. The old lady who wanted to report her cat missing. The family who were being kept up all night by their neighbours blasting Bob Marley until the wee small hours.
When I walked into these houses, flats or bedsits, I knew everyone was thinking that they had sent the work experience boy to deal with their problem. I was nineteen, I had only been in the police for three months, and it was clear to see that I was in the wrong job. I was always polite; I had been brought up to treat people with respect. I had no prejudices and believed in the moral values of right and wrong. I always managed to deal with each situation professionally. I would normally get a cup of tea and slice of homemade Victoria sponge from the dear old ladies. They were grateful for a natter and I always left with ‘such a lovely young man’ ringing in my ears.
My police career was going nowhere. I was coming up for my three-month probation report. I thought I’d had a right score, as the station’s football manager was my reporting sergeant. That meant he was responsible for signing off my probation reports. Without being big-headed, I was a half-decent footballer. I was fit and played to an alright standard.
The rivalry and competition between police stations in the 1980s and 90s was huge. On a Thursday at any of the police sports clubs in London, the pitches would be full of rival teams, playing competitive football and taking it very seriously. The bar afterwards was a place for banter, and rubbing the noses of a rival nick in the sand if they had been on the receiving end of a Chiswick and Brentford defeat.
This is where my naivety showed. I knew my three-monthly report was imminent, and the skipper had said we would have a chat. I just didn’t expect it after five pints of light and bitter in the bar.
My sergeant was a smart-looking man. He was about thirty-eight years old, with a short mop of jet-black hair and a matching, thin moustache. He was slim and wore police-issue spectacles, which he let fall to the end of his nose. He loved a drink and was a sucker for Fuller’s ESB. It was our local brewery in Chiswick, and as he used to say, ‘It would be rude not to.’ He put his arm around me, like an uncle would at Christmas after one too many glasses of port. He said, ‘I’ve checked your work return for the last three months and noticed that you’ve only reported six people for traffic offences. Why is that?’
Quick as a flash I countered him: ‘Traffic really isn’t my thing and I like to use my discretion. I tend to give verbal warnings to those that have committed minor infringements.’ There was a verbal-warning book held in the police station that catalogued the names and details of the offences for which members of the public had received a warning. My skipper patted me on the back and said, ‘You were our best player today, son. Well done. We’ll go through your report tomorrow.’ I thought no more of it, finished my pint and revelled in the celebrations of another victory for the nick.
When I think back, playing for the nick was the only part of the job I actually enjoyed. I lived for Thursdays – we were allowed off early ahead of time to play, and came into late shift after the match had finished, and if lucky we were let home early from night duty to sleep.
The next shift at the nick I was called into the sergeant’s office. He told me to sit down and was not his normal self. He passed my three-monthly probation report across the table. He told me to read it. I opened it and read what he had typed. It was not pleasant reading. He said that I was not progressing as he had expected. He said if I continued the way I was going he would not recommend that I got through my probation. My arrest figures were poor and my traffic offences were disgraceful. Even worse, he commented that I had told him that I preferred to issue verbal warnings rather than report people for traffic violations. However, having checked the verbal-warning register, he saw that I had not made a single entry. The last line of the report read: I recommend this officer is placed on monthly reports and is spoken to by the chief superintendent.
He looked at me and said, ‘Is there anything in there that isn’t true?’ I paused and stuttered before I feebly said, ‘But I thought you were my mate?’ It sounded pathetic and naive and childish. He said that the Chief would be seeing me tomorrow, and to make sure I had some reasons for my poor performance so far. I learnt a big lesson that day, a lesson that would stand me in good stead throughout my thirty-year police career: Never, ever trust any of your colleagues.
I wasn’t sure what I should do next. Maybe call it a day; I wasn’t enjoying being a policeman and I had never wanted to be one in the first place. This was down to my mother. I could kill her … why had she insisted that I filled in the forms to join the Met? I can hear her even now, saying: ‘If you don’t, I can only see you being locked up by them.’
I needed to think over my options, and there was only an hour left of my shift. As I contemplated going back out to walk down those last sixty minutes, I bumped into Eammon, who had just come in from the back yard. Eammon was a lovely, gentle man; he was softly spoken, and everything he did was done in a calm way. He was the first Eammon I had ever met – not a common name, but one you associate with a librarian or maybe a farmer. However, Eammon was a detective and an experienced one, though I only knew this because he played for the football team. I had not had any professional dealings with him. In fact, I had never set foot inside the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) office. I knew it was at the end of the corridor on the first floor. The door was always closed, and the detectives that worked there were not the approachable type.
Eammon asked what was up. I explained that Skip had put me on monthly reports and it was very unlikely that I would pass my probation. And to top that, the chief superintendent wanted to see
Eammon looked at me and said, ‘Don’t worry about that. Meet me in The Barley Mow at two thirty and I’ll help you out.’ Then he skipped up the stairs and disappeared out of sight.
I was a bit taken aback by Eammon. I didn’t really know him; we had exchanged a few pleasantries whilst getting changed for football, but no more than that. But I knew I fancied a pint, and I was intrigued to find out what Eammon might say.
When the shift finished, as ever the entire relief went for a drink in the pub next door. I made my excuses, turned left out of the nick and walked along the alleyway behind the High Road towards the quaint Barley Mow pub. I had only been in there once before, and as I walked in this time I saw Tommy Cooper – a tower of a man – having a drink with his wife. He looked at me, and he had a twinkle in his eye. He was holding court, and on any other day I would’ve loved to listen to his tales.
I walked past him and his entourage and saw Eammon nursing a pint, sat on his own at a table. I asked him what he wanted, but he said he was fine and that the rest of the CID office would be joining him in a while.
I ordered my pint and sat down. He looked at me and said, ‘You don’t want to be a policeman, do you? You’re thinking of throwing the towel in.’
I stared at him as I took the first gulp of my lager top. It felt like I was talking to an older stepbrother. ‘That’s exactly right, Eammon. I don’t think this is the job for me.’
‘You don’t have to walk the streets and be told when to eat and when you can use the Gents. There is another job in the police – the brains behind everything that happens.’
‘What job is that, Eammon?’ I asked. ‘And what makes you think I can do it?’
He told me the CID were a family, and they stuck together. They solved all the crimes and put right the ‘fuck-ups’ that the ‘helmets’ made. ‘We think differently, we act differently and we speak to people differently. It’s not an “us and them” mentality with the public. We need them on our side if we’re going to get results. I know it sounds like I’m slagging uniform off, but what I’m trying to say to you is the CID is a totally different job. If you want I’ll help you as much as I can to join us. What do you think?’