Undercover, page 25
Don and I had a bit of fun with Peter, the UC who was going to buy the nine ounces. Peter was working with Don at the time, and I asked him if he fancied coming and helping on the operation. I ran through the entire job with him and he was really enthusiastic about getting involved. I explained to him that it was the final day of a long operation and that he would be meeting a dealer that Ray had referenced to buy nine ounces of cocaine. I said the only issue was, I’d told Ray to tell the dealer that my fella spoke with a broad Manchester accent and always wore a beanie hat.
The silence on the phone was deafening. Peter came from somewhere hundreds of miles from Manchester, and his accent was anything but Mancunian. I broke the silence by saying that he had a week to perfect the accent and to make sure he went and bought a beanie. I put the phone down before he could ask any further questions. Don later said that whenever he and Peter spoke in the build-up to his deployment, Peter spoke in a Manc accent.
Emma and I sat down with Dave and ran through the plan for the evening. We knew that Pegg and his girlfriend were coming to have drinks at our house and then we would drive them to the hotel. In their minds, they were going to share a cab with us coming home. We were then going to meet Ray and Mario and their girlfriends at the manor house, where Don would join us. Emma had arranged for us to have a few glasses of champagne on the lawn outside, and we were going to sit at the best table in the restaurant. Dave assured us that the team had practised their approach and they would be completely invisible to us until they actually entered the restaurant to make the arrests. Dave anticipated this would take place whilst we were eating our main courses. As Peter would be about fifteen miles away at another hotel conducting the cocaine trade, Dave also had to consider the impact of the arrests and the risk to Peter.
Before we knew it, the day was upon us. It was a beautiful summer morning and the weather was balmy. I was in the kitchen before 7 a.m. and had the espresso pot on the stove. The birds were in full voice in the back garden, and I opened the patio doors and sat on the decking. The sun was warm on my face as I closed my eyes, and at that moment it dawned on me that I had spent my last night in this house. If I’m honest, I felt a little sad – this had been the place I called home and it was going to be hard to leave.
I could smell the aroma of the coffee and I poured a cup for me and one for Emma. I called up to her, and a few minutes later she came down and joined me. She was wrapped in a pretty patchwork quilt and she looked like she was still sleepy. She sat next to me outside on the decking, our backs against the wall. Neither of us said a word to each other for a while as we enjoyed the warmth of the sun. Then Emma looked at me and said, ‘You have no idea how much I’m going to miss this place, mister.’ She had made this house a home, and she had worked so hard to make this operation a success, and now it was over.
I went to get up, but she stopped me: ‘Please, just sit here for a bit longer.’ We both sat, comfortable in each other’s company, without saying another word.
There were many things to be getting on with during the day. I met with Don and Peter at their hotel. Peter now sounded like one of the Gallagher brothers, and on this warm summer day he sported a beanie hat. Don took me to one side and asked me when I was going to tell Peter that the Mancunian accent was a wind-up. I said that I had no intention whatsoever of telling him, and I thought that he’d practised it for so long that he may as well go through with it.
The three of us went over the plan again. Peter knew that he should wait in the bar of the hotel, and Ray would tell me when the fella was on his way. I would give Peter his number and the two could make arrangements to complete the trade. I arranged to meet Don at 7.30 p.m. in the bar of the hotel. I wished Peter good luck and said I’d ring him later, to which he replied in his broadest put-on Manc accent, ‘No mither, our kid.’ I chuckled to myself as I left the two of them.
I got myself ready for the evening in minutes, and left Emma upstairs to finish. She asked me to put a bottle of fizz in the champagne bucket and fill it with ice, in anticipation of Pegg and his girlfriend Alicia arriving. We’d both made an effort to dress up for the evening. I wore a plain blue suit, with a cream Smedley and Gucci loafers. Emma was wearing a pretty summer dress and a pair of Karen Millen shoes, and she had a shawl over her shoulders. She came into the kitchen and said, ‘We don’t make a bad couple, do we?’ I said that she looked great and I poured her a glass of champagne. I clinked her glass and toasted her success.
It wasn’t long before Pegg and Alicia walked up the drive to the back of the house. Alicia had really dressed up for the night, and it looked like she had bought Pegg a brand new shirt to go with the smart pair of jeans and nice shoes he was wearing. He was holding a carrier bag in his hand, and said to me after shaking my hand, ‘Give me one of them and put the other five in the fridge, I don’t want to have any of your poncy drinks.’ He grabbed one of the six tins of Stella he’d brought and then handed me the bag. I poured Alicia a glass of champagne and we all chatted for about thirty minutes, in which time Pegg polished off another two cans. I locked the doors for the last time and we all climbed into my car. Emma and I had both packed overnight bags, which sat in the boot of the car unbeknown to our two passengers, as we wouldn’t be returning to this house ever again.
I looked at Emma as we pulled out of the driveway for the last time, and I could see that her eyes were welling up. Pegg interrupted the awkwardness instantly when he started talking about eating a ‘nice bit of grub’. Alicia said that he fancied himself as a bit of a chef and loved it in the kitchen. He was still drinking from his third tin of Stella. Pegg drank almost as much as he smoked skunk and snorted coke. He liked to live life to the full. There was very little to him physically, but he had a reputation as a nutter. I think most of this was down to his harsh upbringing in London and the fact that he was scared of absolutely no one.
We drove for about twenty minutes before we pulled off the main road onto a tree-lined lane. This led the mile or so to the beautiful, old wooden gates that lay open for us. The red brick building was a picture as we left the smoothness of the lane for the noisy gravel of the horseshoe pull-in. I could see that Ray’s car was already there and I knew that he was bringing Mario and his girlfriend Sara. Pegg wasted no time in describing it as a ‘proper fucking gaff’ and said he bet that it had some treasure inside. Alicia linked arms with him and told him to be on his best behaviour and not to embarrass her.
We walked through reception and past the restaurant to the bar at the back of the manor. Emma had made the arrangements, and she went and spoke to the maître d’. Ray and Mario were chatting to Don; I kissed Chloe and Sara and gave them each a glass of champagne. I asked them to bring their drinks out through the open doors into the walled garden, where I could see Emma escorting the waiter outside. He had a beautiful champagne bucket with two bottles and a number of flutes in it, which he placed on one of the parasol-covered tables. Ray was so happy his smile was huge. He came over to me, a glass of champagne in his hand, and said, ‘We must be doing something right – this is the life.’ As always, he wanted to talk business and he said that the fella with the thing had just left and should be with my man in an hour and half. Ray gave me the fella’s number and I rang up Peter, who answered in his Manc accent. I gave him the number and asked him to ring me when it was done.
Everyone had dressed up properly. Ray, Mario and Don all wore suits, and the girls had really made an effort and wore dresses. Chloe said she’d been worried about fitting into hers as she was already showing. Everyone was so relaxed, and the surroundings made you feel like you had stopped in time. Pegg had disappeared, and Ray said straight away that he bet he was thieving. Ray said he couldn’t help himself, it was in his blood.
We had all had a couple of glasses of champagne when the maître d’ came over and told us that our table was ready. As we walked inside, Ray pointed to Pegg coming down the stairs, he winked at me and said, ‘I told you.’ I called to Pegg and told h
The large round table was laid out beautifully; it had clearly taken someone considerable time to set it so elegantly. I sat down with Mario on my right and Ray to my left, then Don and Emma either side of them. Chloe, Alicia, Sara and Pegg, who was next to Don, completed the seating plan. The staff treated us with the utmost respect, even though we were far noisier than any other table of diners and probably very different to the normal clientele. Seated at the closest table to us was an elderly couple who were impeccably dressed. I saw the girls looking over at them with a smile after Emma explained that it was their fiftieth wedding anniversary.
The waiter came over and took our orders for starters and the main course. In my mind I knew we probably wouldn’t be eating our main, so I ordered what I considered the biggest starter. This happened to be the braised pig’s cheek. I could see Emma making faces at me as if she was going to be sick. There was no way she would even consider eating anything like that.
Mario had ordered a rib-eye steak for his main, and the waiter brought him a huge, wooden-handled steak knife. As soon as the waiter removed one of his knives and placed it to the right of his place mat, I began to worry. Mario picked the knife up and held it by the wooden handle, with the gleaming sharpness of the blade facing up to the ornate ceiling. He only let the knife go to drink from his wine glass, but picked it up as soon as the glass returned to the table.
I could feel the pressure building inside me, but I was showing no outward sign of nerves. It was like the feeling when you know you’re going to crash on the dodgems or before you’re punched in the face in the boxing ring, or when you pull the trigger on a gun knowing that it’s going to go bang. Soon, all the hard work and dedication we had put in would be over. This would be the last time we ever sat round a table together, laughing and joking without a care in the world. Tonight would be a defining moment for many people, and a number of lives would change forever. I needed to play my part; there was no backing out now, what was done was done.
Everyone had now eaten their starters, and people were discussing the pros and cons of their respective selections. In a whisper, Ray asked me if I’d heard anything from my man. I said I hadn’t, but I knew it wouldn’t be long. At that very moment, out of the corner of my eye I saw a large police van stop on the gravel outside one of the windows. I was transfixed as I watched at least ten officers jump out of the van. I could see they were wearing black riot overalls and helmets. I tried to avert my eyes as quickly as I could, but Mario had seen my face and he saw them too. He looked from them to me, as if he was trying to work out why they were there. I wondered whether he could see the guilt in my face, whether my reaction had given something away. He had the steak knife in his hand, and for a split second I thought he was going to sink it deep into my neck.
Then the tranquillity and ambience of this historic room was shattered in an instant. As the police officers stormed in, the noise and intensity was deafening. I watched as Mario began to stand up, but for some unknown reason, he immediately sat back down and released his grip on the knife. I could see the shock on Emma’s face – it had caught her by surprise.
Pegg was the only one on our table to resist. Each of us had two officers allocated, and Pegg knocked over the elderly couple’s table as his two officers struggled to restrain him. Alicia was shouting for him to calm down, but her words were making him worse. He was calling them ‘mug cunts’, and for a very slight man he still had the better of two very large police officers. Eventually, four or five officers managed to get him onto the ground. Each of us was handcuffed and we sat at the table looking at each other. Chloe was desperate for the toilet, and being pregnant her need was even greater. They wouldn’t allow it, and for some reason this was really bugging me. I shouted at one of them to take her to the toilet, but they were having none of it.
Pegg was literally carried out – kicking and screaming and swearing – by his hands and feet. Then the rest of us had our names called out, and we were formally arrested and escorted out of the restaurant. As I was led out, I saw the elderly couple staring at me; they looked a little bit frightened and I wondered what they were thinking about me. I saw the man hold his wife’s hand gently in both of his. I thought to myself that, even in the chaos and mayhem and violence they had just witnessed, there was nothing that could stop their love for each other. It was a surreal moment.
The culmination of over a year’s work stopped at that very moment. This was the end of the operation.
I was standing at the front of a lecture hall that was full of detectives, investigators and support staff. I had been asked by a friend to deliver a presentation on UC work to an audience who had been described to me as ‘the future of undercover work’ in the region in which he worked.
The audience had just finished a free lunch, which was normally enough to ensure that the majority remained for at least the first presentation of the afternoon. The head of the undercover unit introduced me, but I wasn’t really listening to what he was saying. Instead, I looked at the faces of the people who filled the seats in front of me. Some stared back and smiled, while others averted their eyes nervously as if they had done something wrong. Sat in the back row on the left was a group of about six people I knew as undercover officers from the local unit.
My first question to the audience was: ‘How many of you have previously been involved in undercover operations?’ One smartly dressed gentleman in the second row put his arm bolt upright like a keen schoolboy answering his teacher. He had a neatly trimmed beard and wore a tweed jacket and a smart cream shirt. I asked him if he minded sharing his experience with the audience. He was a stocky man, and I couldn’t help noticing the thatch of hair that was protruding above his shirt. He explained very eloquently how he had supervised the delivery of a package containing cannabis to a local criminal on his patch. It was not the most exciting story, and I found myself thinking that I hoped there was a better example. A second man put his hand up. He was in his late twenties and was very confident when he told the audience that he had once trained as a test purchase officer. He went on to say that he had previously deployed on the streets to buy heroin, but that he hadn’t enjoyed the apprehension he felt in the build-up to meeting the dealers, so he’d stopped working in the role. I was impressed by his honesty, but hoped there would be some more experience in the room. ‘Anyone else?’ I threw the question out for the last time, more in hope than anticipation. The audience fell silent.
I never prepared for these presentations; I knew what I wanted to get over, and always used audience participation to make the presentation interactive. About an hour in, I paused and surveyed the faces in the audience, and the majority of them were open-mouthed. I could tell they had only really ever imagined that the police conducted these types of operations and would never be involved in such work in the future.
I continued for another half an hour, giving them examples of previous operations and discussing the dangers as well as the outstanding results that can be achieved in undercover investigations. I had always promised myself that whenever I delivered these presentations, I would only ever give examples of cases or operations I had personally been involved in. I would never tell someone else’s story and pretend that it was mine. This always guaranteed authenticity, and you could never be caught out telling a lie about an operation.
I had finished what I wanted to say, and I asked the audience if they had any questions. A few senior officers asked some relevant legislative and policy questions, which I answered. Then, from the middle of the audience, a very ordinary-looking man with silver-rimmed spectacles put his hand in the air. He had a brown cord jacket on, and an oversized manbag that hung diagonally across his chest. His hair was receding and he was about forty years old. He stood up and I noticed he was taller than I had expected. He waited for me to acknowledge I had seen him before he asked his question. I recognised the local accent as he said, ‘How do
I stared at him for a number of seconds. I wasn’t sure whether he objected to the type of work I was involved in, or the lies and deceit that I had employed to stay alive. Or was he actually trying to indicate that it was a brave role and he was acknowledging the dangers involved? I really couldn’t work it out, so I answered slowly: ‘Like a baby.’
I now knew, for sure, that if this was the future of the work that I had dedicated twenty years of my life to, it was time to move on.
I manoeuvred my Porsche Cayenne Turbo off the M62 as I glimpsed the sign for Stalybridge. I was jaded from another late night, and my Gucci sunglasses protected my bloodshot eyes from the autumn sun. I was wearing my Hugo Boss black suit, a white cutaway collar shirt with a thin black Boss tie, and a pair of black Loake country brogues. Hanging up behind me was my favourite Crombie coat – a coat that has its own story to tell at some stage, but now isn’t the time.
I shouldn’t really have been driving; one or more too many Courvoisiers during another day and night deployed in the country pub had taken their toll. But nothing would’ve stopped me from making this journey. I had thought a lot about this over recent weeks – the fact that he had died so suddenly, the fact he hadn’t told anyone he had cancer. I could close my eyes and see his face as it had looked the last time I’d seen him. He’d been sitting next to me at Doncaster races, drinking a pint of John Smith’s with a wee glass of whisky next to it.
Today was the funeral of a dear friend: a colleague, a hard man, a man who didn’t show emotion, a man who cared, a quiet man, a man that you and I owe a great deal to. This man had saved many a young child from the dirty, mucky claws of sick men – men whose only desire was to harm children, harm them in ways that are difficult to comprehend.