Undercover, page 6
We watched the taxi disappear up the hill, and then Hans and I started walking back towards our hotel. It had been a very long night, but I felt particularly sober and focused. I apologised to Hans, and promised him that I would never let him down again. He was very understanding and realised that out of his difficult evening there was a positive outcome. He said Ludo was a great ally for us to have and he now trusted us, and that wouldn’t have happened if I’d stayed there.
I looked at him and smiled and said, ‘Anyway, Hans, tell me what happened to you when I left you?’ He smiled back at me and said, ‘I used all the skills I have learnt to deal with the situation professionally.’ I nodded in admiration as I said, ‘Very good answer, Hans.’
We said goodnight and climbed the stairs to our first-floor rooms. I looked at my watch as I took it off and placed it on the bedside table. It was four in the morning and I could hear the sound of the birds beginning to wake up outside. Moments later, I was fast asleep in the luxurious, white Egyptian-cotton sheets of the huge king-size bed.
I felt more and more unhappy on the Flying Squad, and the supervisor of the unit had made it clear that he wasn’t going to make my stay there a comfortable one. I needed to have an escape plan. The work wasn’t what I expected it to be and I really wasn’t enjoying my time there.
Don phoned me up out of the blue and said that the head of the undercover unit wanted to see me. As normal when a boss wants to see you, I racked my brains for what I’d done wrong. I quizzed Don about the reason for the meeting, but he told me not to worry and to be in his office at four o’clock. I knew the DCI of the undercover unit reasonably well; he was a proper detective and had excelled in his time on the Flying Squad in South London. He was a man’s man and someone that I felt you could trust as a boss. He wasn’t flying through the promotion ranks and using the undercover unit as a paragraph on his CV; he believed in the unit and was a very safe and capable pair of hands to deal with the complexities of some of the operations.
I got to the Yard with five minutes to spare and abandoned my car in the chaos of the basement car park. I went straight up to the fifth floor, walked past the main office and down to the end of the corridor and the door marked Detective Chief Inspector SO10. The door was open and the boss was busily working at his desk. The office was set up considerably different from my last meeting in this office, when his predecessor had interviewed me to become an undercover officer. I knocked tentatively and he told me to come in and shut the door. He had a pot of coffee on a percolator and he poured us both a cup. We talked about football, as he was an avid Wimbledon fan and knew that I loved the game.
After the pleasantries had finished, he asked me if I knew why he’d summoned me to come up to the Yard to see him. I told him that I hadn’t got a clue, which was the truth. He explained that funding had been put aside to set up an infiltration unit as part of SO10. It would employ full-time UCs to deploy on long-term infiltrations. He said that Don was in the process of setting up the unit, but that he wanted two supervisors to run it. He described it as the ‘crown jewels’ of the department, and that it had to be run by experienced UCs and tactically astute detectives. He said that he wanted me to be the second supervisor in the unit. Don and I would report directly to him, and the work would involve national and international operations.
I was flattered, to say the least, by the offer. SO10 was internationally recognised as the centre of excellence for undercover operations. The supervisors that worked in the SO10 office were at the top of their game and were held in high regard. The DCI told me that there were two vacancies coming up in the new year due to retirements, and that initially I would work in the main office at the Yard but after a maximum of three months I’d be on the infiltration unit. I was not to say a word to a soul, and even when I started at the 10 office I was to keep his plan to myself. He told me that Don knew everything, so the secret was between the three of us. I was completely shell-shocked; I had just been offered the best job in the Metropolitan Police, a job that many people would have given their right hand for. I was a very lucky man.
Before I left his office, the boss told me that I could relax a bit now about that idiot who was causing me all the aggravation on the Flying Squad. He told me that he had always thought he was a wanker. I shook his hand, and he said I needed to keep my head down as the transfer would be agreed by the bosses and I need do nothing further.
I skipped down the corridor like a schoolboy and poked my head into the main SO10 office to see if Don was about. He came to the reception counter and I asked him if he had a minute for me. He grabbed his coat, and we left the Yard and went to our favourite cafe by St James’s Park tube station. The coffee in this place was the best, as all the staff were proper Italians, but I really didn’t like the tall thin glass cups. I sat next to Don and gave him his glass; he looked over at me and said, ‘I understand congratulations are in order.’ We then spent the next fifteen minutes talking about how my name had been suggested for the job. He said that Michael, the DCI, had insisted that he needed the two most capable staff in charge of the new unit and that he wanted continuity for the future. Don said that the boss had asked him if he would be happy to work with me if he could get me released from the Flying Squad. Michael knew that Don and I were close, and that we worked well as a team. Don told him that I would have been his first choice and that he couldn’t have asked for a better partner. Don said that in a five-minute conversation the deal was done. Michael had phoned the head of the Flying Squad, an old friend of his, who agreed to let me go. There was never a shortage of detectives who wanted to join the Flying Squad, so it was easy to agree.
I thanked Don for all his support and told him how excited I was about the prospect of running the unit with him. I felt proud, grateful and humble. I knew that I wouldn’t tell a soul – just in case, for some reason, the transfer fell through – but I had everything crossed that it would go through smoothly. I now didn’t care about the aggravation I was getting on the Flying Squad. He was irrelevant to me, inconsequential, and I would do my best to keep out of his way. I would be professional, and keep my head down and my nose clean until the transfer was complete. My escape plan had been prepared for me and I was looking forward to completing it.
Everything seemed to be going fine; I was ticking the days off and getting the job done. Christmas was upon us, and I had received a phone call from Michael to say that I’d be starting at SO10 in January but that no one was going to be told until a few days before Christmas.
We were fast approaching the Squad’s Christmas lunch. These lunches were traditionally very boozy affairs; they were often a time when pent-up frustrations aired themselves following too much red wine and lager. This particular lunch was in a rather lovely part of London. As usual, it had been an early start and the inter-team rivalry within the office was apparent. There were heated discussions over which team had the most ‘pavement’ jobs off, which team hadn’t had any, and which team had put which gang of robbers away for the longest stretch in prison, and so on. It was all a very macho rivalry.
I had learnt over the years never to drink wine at these functions. I always stuck to beer and was acutely aware of the detectives who would quaff red wine like it was water. It was always them that seemed to collapse onto their meal or be involved in any incidents that occurred. At this particular lunch I noticed that Justin was in the red-wine gang; the conversations from the three or four of them were getting louder. It was his role during the dessert course to stand up and say a few words. It wasn’t a difficult task to rally the troops and thank them for all their hard work. Well, it is very difficult when you have drunk far too much red wine. He stood up to deliver his speech and he looked dreadful. He wasn’t a well-dressed man at the best of times; the suits he wore just hung off his slopey shoulders and looked cheap and creased. The best item of clothing he possessed was the silk Flying Squad tie that hung halfway down his shirt. He began to speak, but the
The meal was descending into carnage as port and brandy bottles were placed on the table. I decided that I had seen and heard enough for one day. I told the six members of my team that I was going to the Gents and I’d see them in the wine bar two doors down where I’d buy them all a drink. I went down the steps into the basement, where the fully refurbished and plush toilets were. I went to one of the urinals and rested my forehead on the antique white tiles whilst I emptied my bladder. There was a loud crash and Justin half fell through the door, helped by one of the other, more sensible, officers from the office. He saw me straight away and made his way over to the urinal. He was slurring his speech: ‘Here he is, the so-called best undercover officer in London … fucking prima donna is what you are, a fucking prima donna.’
I ignored him, and turned and walked to the sink area to wash my hands. He followed me and made a grab for my arm, but missed. I washed my hands whilst he shouted at me, telling me my days were numbered and that I wasn’t fit to be on the Flying Squad. He detested the fact that I hadn’t worn a Flying Squad tie to the meal and said I had let the Squad down. I dried my hands on two or three paper towels and carefully placed them in the Brabantia silver-and-black bin.
I stopped in the middle of the toilets for a moment, and all the pain and unhappiness this man had caused me over the last eighteen months overwhelmed me. He was a nasty man; he had done all he could to ensure I knew I wasn’t welcome. No one would have criticised me for doing what I was about to do. I didn’t want any witnesses; I’d just ask the others to step outside whilst the ‘boss’ and I had a chat. Fuck it – what had I got to lose? In fact, a lot of people would thank me, would even shake my hand. He made another lunge for me as I stood there. Now was the time. I had thought about this moment in my head; I was going to smash him straight between the eyes. I could feel the pain as my knuckles crashed into the bridge of his nose. I could hear the sound of his nose breaking and see the inevitable blood that would splatter over his cheap and tatty shirt. He deserved everything that he was going to get.
He stumbled, and as I looked at his dishevelled and pathetic state, I knew what I was going to do. I’d show him who was the better man. I looked at him and winked. I patted him on the shoulder and said ‘Look after yourself. Make sure you get home safely.’ I put £20 in his pocket and asked him get a cab before he got himself into trouble or hurt.
I walked out of the pub and joined my team in the wine bar. These were hard-working detectives who were good at their jobs. They had covered my back whilst I was away working undercover, and I insisted that I get the bill in the wine bar as a way of thanking them. I didn’t utter a word about the antics in the toilet, and to this day only three people know what happened in there.
I was happy to make it through Christmas and glad to see the back of that year. The new year brought a new job and a new challenge, and it heralded a new era in my career. I was excited for the future.
I did have one ongoing undercover job that I wanted to finish before I started on the infiltration unit. An operation that would see me cross the water to Belfast, to finalise buying up to five kilos of heroin. It was a job that filled me with worry, a job that couldn’t be taken lightly. There was a huge amount of planning and logistics that went into an operation of this nature. There were huge dangers, and lots of pressure on me to ensure that it was successful, as money and time had been invested to get the investigation to its current stage. Deploying in Belfast was a new challenge that took things to another level of danger and high risk. I always liked to be put under pressure to test my skills to the limit, to see if I had the bottle. This was going to test me to the core. This was a big operation, and I knew that I had to finish it.
It was just before I started at the infiltration unit, whilst still at the Yard, that I was sent to Belfast. We landed at the city airport carrying only hand luggage. I was travelling with Don, my cover officer and best friend. As usual, he was anal about certain things. He kept telling me to take my sunglasses off, as he feared that they would trigger a stop by Special Branch. It was one of his pet hates, me wearing sunglasses indoors. As usual, and much to his annoyance, I ignored him.
I gripped my leather holdall tightly as we exited airside into the arrivals lounge. If I am to be truthful, I was a little bit apprehensive about this trip. Belfast was an unknown place to me. All I knew of it were the daily news bulletins and the scenes of carnage that accompanied them. It had been suggested by the Royal Ulster Constabulary that we stay at the Europa Hotel in the city centre, but Don said staying at Europe’s most bombed hotel wasn’t in his plans. He had booked us into the Culloden hotel in Holywood.
We had an important job to do. It had been some time since a UC had been deployed in Belfast, and there was a particular risk when it came to buying five kilos of heroin. A large amount of drugs in any situation, but especially so in this close-knit community where crime and drugs were controlled by those with guns and paramilitary power.
It was only a month since the much publicised and contested Good Friday peace agreement, and the political and religious tension could be cut with a knife. I was aware of the Troubles, the bombings, the murders and the Catholic– Protestant divide. But nothing could prepare me for the reality of the situation. The huge wall along Cupar Way that divided the Loyalists of the Shankill Road, their Union Jack flags flying, from the people of the Falls Road with their tricolour flags everywhere. The hand-painted murals of the UVF, the IRA and the UFF proudly adorned the walls of the different areas.
It was a new world to me. I felt safe across the water dealing with all sorts of nasty people – career criminals, drug dealers, murderers, conmen, rapists, and men who would think nothing of stabbing or glassing you in the face. But to me this place was different; it was the unknown, and it smelt of violence. I was apprehensive but I didn’t want to show it.
We were met at the airport by a big man with big hands and a huge smile. Mick was the detective sergeant from the UC office and he immediately apologised for the absence of his DI, who was known to both Don and me. He was an infamous character, a hard-drinking, hard-working detective who had worked undercover in his own maverick style – a style that we had both been critical of in the past. However, now I had witnessed Belfast for what it was, I understood a little bit more why he had decided to go it alone and do it his own way.
Mick drove us through the city, pointing out various places where colleagues, friends and even family members had suffered or died as a result of the bombings and killings by Republican terrorists. It was incredible to listen to the matter-of-fact way such atrocities were being spoken about. It was as if this was a normal occurrence, a geographical hazard, a way of life. I kept thinking about it, as I sat in the back of the Ford Mondeo: why the city was divided, why it was a problem that was ingrained in the make-up of families. I stared out of the window in silence.
Mick explained to us that this deployment was being taken extremely seriously, that there was to be a full briefing later that evening and any meetings by me would be covered by an armed surveillance team. The team wanted to see me so that there could be no mistaking me for any of the targets. Don looked at me to acknowledge I was happy with this before he nodded his agreement to Mick.
Mick then said that we would meet the team shortly, as we were going for a liquid lunch. He said we could relax; a friend of theirs ran the pub and it would be full of ‘our people’. We’d be meeting the team that was supporting my deployment, the people that would have my back should things go wrong. He said they’d worked together for years and were good men. It was a comforting feeling to know that we were all in this together, that we had a
We were introduced to a very attractive DCI, who was overseeing the operation, and she said she’d heard a lot about the two of us and was looking forward to running the job. She said that we’d talk about the specifics later, in her office.
The pub had a buzz about it and was full of big men drinking pints of Guinness and lager, all of whom were involved in one way or another in my deployment in their city. As I understood it, I would be at the centre of this team. They had never met me before, but they would be ensuring my safety at every turn. Standing there in the warmth of that Belfast pub, I felt like they would be there for me and for the success of the job.
It would be fair to say that after about five pints I was a tad windy about how long this liquid lunch might last, and Don was of the same opinion. Mick told us not to worry and to have another pint. In fact, before we could agree, he thrust another pint of Harp into our hands.
I pushed my way through the throng of drinking and talking men to the Gents, to relieve myself. To my right, standing at the other urinal, was a man who I had not seen or spoken to. Without introduction, he turned to me so that our eyes met, then in a soft Belfast accent he said, ‘Just so yous know, you’ll be on your own out there.’ He turned back towards the wall, shrugging his shoulders as he refastened his belt. ‘We know you’re a Fenian. Nothing personal.’
He turned away from the urinal, washed and dried his hands, and left the toilets without another word. I stood there, numb, resting my head against the wall and trying to digest what had just been said to me. In his calm, non-threatening voice, this stranger had let me know in no uncertain way that he knew I was a Catholic, and if anything should go wrong I was on my own. Turning away from the wall, I laughed aloud in disbelief as I realised the magnitude of the situation I had put myself in. I left the toilets and returned to the bar. I ran my eyes around the room to see if I could spot the man amongst the faces, but he was nowhere.