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Search the Community: Showing results for tags 'uk history'.
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hi The acid-fuelled festival at Windsor and cannabis in a lion enclosure: The true story of a £570million LSD haul In the 1970s drugs were taken "by a few hippies" - until a out of control festival in Windsor Great Park made headlines and the police were called to answer - and made Britain's biggest ever drug bust. Operation Julie in the mid 1970s ended in what is still today Britain's biggest drugs bust. It uncovered a sophisticated drugs trade manufacturing and selling thousands of LSD tabs. Edward Laxton was a reporter at the Daily Mirror when he got wind of the operation and met undercover detective Martyn Pritchard whose information helped expose the criminals. Edward would later write "Busted" the true-life story of a under-cover hippie-detective about Martyn's life, here he explains how the pair met and why the bust was so important. Light-hearted stories about illegal drugs are rare. A secret patch of cannabis plants in the Lions’ Reserve at Longleat Safari Park, near Bath, was the exception. Stand up that story and I reckoned a page lead was a certainty. I started to make my inquiries and received a phone call from a detective who knew me. "Can you hold-off until we meet ?” asked Det Sgt Mick Strutt, head of Oxford’s drugs squad. That lunch time we had a beer together at a pub in Thame and he introduced one of his men Martyn Pritchard - an undercover drugs officer. Their problem was soon explained. “The cannabis plot exists, we’re sure, and it’s right there among the lions but the warden is into a lot of drugs. He has offered Martyn huge amounts of acid, LSD tabs at one hundred pounds a thousand, that’s far more interesting,” said Mick. “And if your story appears in The Daily Mirror he will disappear,” Martyn added. The DIY cannabis grower was their only lead to an English LSD ring whose tablets were turning up all over the world – and local street value £1-a-tab. The Mirror held off. My early inquiries had coincided, almost to the day, with the start of the biggest drugs investigation in the UK, and it still is the biggest. Operation Julie in 1978 ended at 5am one Saturday morning when 800 police officers knocked on doors up and down the country and made 130 arrests. Overnight LSD soared eight fold to £8 a tab. None of the detectives on Operation Julie, including Martyn Pritchard, had any idea how big and widespread their investigation would become. The manufacturing process was led by academics, a number of Cambridge graduates, a professor and a female G.P. and the officers had to find their secret laboratory. There were two, one near Hampton Court on the outskirts of London. The other, only discovered in the last few weeks of the 18-month-long investigation, was in a tiny village in West Wales where the maker was only getting three pence a tab when the drug was being sold for £1. But what was needed most was a connection between the producers and the global-network of suppliers. When the investigation started Martyn, who I came to call a friend, came up with two names. Many weeks passed before he realised the men were the same man but an address was still required. An old trick was used, the line in a passport application… name and address of next-of-kin ... usually has a truthful answer. Hours and hours of surveillance was needed, on foot, by car, in London’s tube trains, on buses. Business meetings took place in pubs and restaurants and once in Harrod’s Food Hall. etectives also had to trace deliveries of the vital chemicals needed to turn out these massive quantities of LSD tablets. That was the drug-of-fashion in the 70s, the dangers of tripping-out were not so widely known then, especially the unexpected “secondary trip” and victims reporting later they were convinced they could fly. "Mr Big" went to prison for 14 years without revealing where several thousand acid-tabs still lay buried, the hiding place of more than a ton of chemicals and where he had stashed millions of pounds, dollars and Swiss france. He winked at Martyn as he left the court in Bristol. Martyn who returned to uniform when the mammoth operation was over but could not handle the extraordinary change in life-style and left the police force. He lived and worked under-cover, a happy-go-lucky, hippie drop-out – long hair, ragged clothes, ruck-sack, sleeping bag, open-toed sandals, the lot. Thousands on the drug scene looked exactly the same. When he was back in civvy-street Martyn and I sat down to write his story of five-and-a-half years as a hippie-cop. “Julie” was the ultimate job and he started it all off, living with the safari-park warden, sleeping on the floor of his squat between Chippenham and Cirencester in Wiltshire. An unlikely location for the centre of a drugs ring, the county’s police force had no drugs squad of its own. Martyn was “on loan” from Thames Valley on another inquiry when he started to witness large-scale drugs transactions. Mainly cannabis, pills and acid were on offer. Astonishing amounts of money were involved but Martyn was able to buy “sample” quantities, supposedly for his personal use. But the LSD matched drug-hauls recovered in police busts in America, Australia, across Europe, the Middle East and in large Asian cities.. Martyn’s “under-cover” reports were checked out in several police HQs and a top-level team of assistant chief constables oversaw the operation. Clearly, a laboratory was turning out the tabs here in England, using electrical circuit-boards at moulds and which left tell-tale markings. As part of our “keep quiet” deal, Martyn was also reporting on developments regularly to me and we became close friends before we started writing. He had so many stories, hair-raising and hilarious. These were the early days of pop festivals and a liberal Home Secretary had allowed the hippie-movement’s much-loved Free Festivals – free in every sense of the word, including freedom from arrest. The hippie-hordes had mobile communes and moved from their permanent sites to camp out at the festival sites which, for normal police activity, turned into “No Go” areas. But scenes in Windsor Great Park in 1974, close to the Castle and the Queen’s week-end retreat, proved too much. More than 15,000 people turned up for an event which in previous year had attracted a few hundred. There were no toilets, no water, no provision of food. The atmosphere was, as one audience member later put it, "boy scout plus acid. That first night it felt as though everyone was tripping." Ultimately as law and order collapsed 600 policeman many with batons drawn cleared the area but the images shocked the nation and the Government cried “enough”. Ultimately, it fell to Martyn and his colleagues on the drugs squad, living on-site in their scruffy clothing and sleeping in small tents, to produce inside information identifying the organisers and revealing the exploits which landed some of them in jail. Martyn was right there in the early days of the three-day Reading Pop Festivals, a much different scene in the mid-70s when The Jam and The Stranglers were headline bands. The drugs squad made so many busts for possession, police stations all over Berkshire and Oxfordshire were over-flowing and local magistrates were holding night courts to deal with offenders. Along the way these detectives met their share of danger but not much support from senior officers. Martyn was often arrested when he was part of a mob and on a few occasions, he had to remind an unknowing bobby to “take it easy.” He spent a few nights as a prisoner in police cells, unable or unwilling to identify himself. On surveillance work he had many a nervous journey, wondering if he or fellow-officers, had blown it but there were far worse car rides. He described that scene graphically to me. “I was in a car miles away from my usual territory, in Bristol, with a bloody great West Indian feller I had only just met holding a knife at my throat for nearly half-an-hour. Three of his mates were looking on. “One of his mates had taken me along and made the introductions, and offered me a ton of grass. "No kidding, one ton of grass, the actual leaves from the plant, flown in from somewhere in the Caribbean, delivered to anywhere I wanted. Now if that was true, it was a trail worth following.” The knife-wielder was known as The Count and after several meetings with Martyn they set up a deal. The Count was arrested and went inside for four years. Martyn’s verdict, “My ordeal was just about worth that sentence.” Another facet of his life on the drugs scene was Oxford University – and very different threats. “I had two bits of information that firstly, produced a result and secondly, saved me from a nasty accident. This pair of students, whenever they were at home and ready to deal, put in place outside their flat a false step, with a four-feet drop for anyone stepping on it instead of over it. Their customers were all fore-warned and if we went to call, a sprained ankle or a broken leg would be a likely consequence. Well, four of us stepped over, rang the bell and all their gear was spread out on the table. "They pleaded guilty to possession and supplying, still wondering who had tipped us off.. “And I had a really clever b…..d who, I was told, kept his considerable stash in a waterproof cover at the bottom of a big fish tank. "But one oif the occupants was a piranha. Okay, not a very big piranha but I figured the fish could still bite. "You know what, when I gave him the option, a charge of grievous bodily harm as well as the drugs, he got everything out for me.” Sadly, Martyn died well before his time in the early 1990s, a victim of chronic diabetes. I have often wondered whether his years under-cover contributed to his later illness, certainly the diet would not have helped. As Martyn used to say, “Have you ever seen a fat hippie ?” And after the original book was published, and Martyn’s demise, so much more occurred in his line-of-business and among his old haunts and clients, I was able to bring “Busted” up to date. Edward Laxton was reporter and news editor of the Daily Mirror between 1966 and 1985. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/real-life-stories/acid-fuelled-festival-windsor-cannabis-13208167 Bongme