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Authors: Peter Bleksley

Gangbuster

BOOK: Gangbuster
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GANGBUSTER

‘I DON’T CARE HOW HARD YOU ARE – IF YOU CROSS ME, I’LL BRING YOU DOWN.’

PETER BLEKSLEY

For JMB, just so you know.

 

The names of certain serving police officers have been changed throughout this book to protect ongoing investigations.

He was the best undercover cop the police ever had.

In a ten-year career with Scotland Yard’s most secretive squad, Peter Bleksley helped nail dozens of crooks and stopped millions of pounds’ worth of drugs and counterfeit cash hitting the streets.

He bent the rules but he got results.

A master of disguise, a crack shot with a pistol, his exploits in the dangerous world of criminal subterfuge earned him 13 commendations for bravery and a reputation that spread throughout Europe and America.

He was the cop’s own crook, skilled in the dangerous ways of the underworld. He knew more about cocaine, heroin, cannabis, LSD, Ecstasy and amphetamines than any other serving officer. He needed to. His skill in handling drugs, of talking the language of the perilous world of international trafficking, kept him alive.

Peter Bleksley adopted the guise of a big-time drug-dealer, gangster, counterfeiter, even hit-man, to combat some of the most powerful and ruthless crooks in the world.

He went deeper undercover than any other detective before him. A maverick by nature, there were times when he crossed the line, taking cocaine and cannabis when necessary to prevent detection by suspicious and sometimes paranoid pushers.

Bleksley was the James Bond of Scotland Yard, slipping effortlessly into countless roles in seedy drug dens or five-star hotel suites. He once made love all
night to a cocaine-addicted aerobics instructor as he pursued a leading envoy suspected of smuggling huge amounts of cocaine into Britain in his diplomatic bags.

He faced shotguns, pistols and knives. He faced the wrath of the Mafia and the IRA. So successful did he become in penetrating the inner sanctums of international crime, that the godfathers of organised crime in New York hired a professional hit-man to fly to London to kill him. He’d blown one of their big operations out of the water and they wanted him dead. That threat still exists today.

Bleksley was regularly hired out to police forces across Britain to carry out dangerous undercover missions their own men could not, or would not, undertake.

Posing as a swaggering drug-dealer, he regularly set traps for international traffickers and baited them with up to £350,000 of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s money.

He was at the centre of many spectacular police operations in which armed officers seized some of the world’s most dangerous crooks and met violence with violence. The words ‘courageous’, ‘fearless’ and ‘professional’ feature readily in his numerous commendations. The top award, the Commissioner’s High Commendation, can only now be made public because any media publicity at the time, in 1990, could have placed his life in even greater danger.

In his recommendation for the honour, Bleksley’s boss, Commander Roy Penrose, head of the Yard’s SO10 branch wrote, ‘All of us who know DC Bleksley, and more especially those of us who have had the pleasure of working with him or observing him at
work in an undercover role, have come to accept the high standards of excellence, bravery, and ingenuity he continually displays.

‘At the same time, I am sure that none of us fully realises the extent of the danger and few of us would want to change places with him. He is an officer dedicated to his role with the unique ability to think quickly on his feet as the circumstances change. While it is impossible to quantify, it is nonetheless an indisputable fact that DC Bleksley’s actions in bringing about the early arrest and successful conviction of so many career criminals has saved this force in particular and the police service in general many thousands of pounds in man hours that would have been necessary to achieve a similar result by more conventional methods.

‘DC Bleksley has consistently over a period of years maintained the highest standards of professionalism and integrity in the most difficult and dangerous role of undercover officer, both within and beyond the Metropolitan Police District. Moreover, he has shown a level of bravery far beyond the normal course of his duties and, in my view, is richly deserving of the Commissioner’s High Commendation.’

Peter Bleksley lived under a multitude of different aliases as he hunted down criminal scum the length and breadth of the country. Many swore revenge. Bleksley, now retired, still keeps a wary eye over his shoulder and is cautious of any unexpected knock at the door.

He could have written this book with the protection of yet another pseudonym. But he has decided to come out of the shadows and tell his
remarkable story in his own words and under his own name, with candour, with courage and with humour.

Co-author Mike Fielder was the former Chief Crime Reporter of the
Sun
newspaper. His previous bestsellers include
Killer
on
the
Loose,
the story of the Rachel Nickell murder on Wimbledon Common, and
Alibi
at
Midnight,
the story of the Barn restaurant murder in Braintree, Essex.

F
our million quid. There it was, inches away from me on a hotel table. Not in conventional currency, but the world's deadliest commodity – heroin. The guy sitting opposite me was there to sell it. I was there to buy it. This was the trap we'd set for one of the biggest fish in international drug trafficking. And we were about to fry him alive.

In smoky room 4136 of the Gatwick Hilton, I carefully weighed and tested 30 500g bags of the smack. It was a time for steely nerves and a cool composure that belied the ever-tightening knots in my stomach. When I talk about big-time drug dealing, this was premier league.

It had taken months of careful planning, the help of a high-level informant, and the combined efforts of Scotland Yard's SO10 undercover unit, Customs and Excise, the American Drug Enforcement Agency and
the Royal Ulster Constabulary to sow the seeds of this dangerous sting.

Ranged against us in Operation Zulu Cricket was the fearsome might of the IRA, the corporate capacity of the Mafia godfathers plus a motley assortment of heroin dealers and money-launderers spread halfway round the world. You didn't get a much more potent combination than that on a drugs bust. It's a cliché to say it was like a plot from a blockbuster novel, but it was. And I was in the thick of it.

I had been dropped into the operation posing as a big-shot heroin dealer after the US-based informant had tipped off the authorities in the USA and in Britain about a gang offering phenomenal quantities of heroin for sale in London. They were talking 20kg a time on a weekly basis. Millions and millions of pounds in cash terms. A lot of misery and death in human terms. And, incidentally, the informant had said if cash wasn't always available to buy the heroin, then they would take guns and ammunition instead. A terrifying scenario.

I moved into room 4136 of the Hilton, nestling beside Gatwick's south terminal and a good cosmopolitan venue for a drugs deal, where people come and go without attracting too much attention, on Monday, 29 June 1992. The technical wizards of Scotland Yard had been in before me to wire the place for sound and insert tiny hidden video cameras. The crack shots of Sussex Police Tactical Firearms unit had discreetly settled themselves into hiding places inside and outside the hotel. Armed back up had been deemed essential after intelligence reports suggested a couple of tooled-up minders might be sent along to watch over the heroin deal.

Alan James Johnston arrived in the hotel reception carrying an obviously heavy holdall. The trade was on. The signal went out to all units ‘Zulu Cricket is go'. He was allocated the room we'd had bugged up. He took the lift up to the fourth floor and rapped on the door.

‘Hello, Al,' I said, shaking his hand gingerly.

This was the Al I'd been introduced to a few nights earlier at a four-star London hotel as we baited our trap with a juicy wedge of banknotes held in a West End safety deposit box. The gang had seen our funds. Now it was time for a sight of the smack.

‘Hi, Peter, how are you doing?'

‘I'm fine.'

The arrangment was that Johnston would phone other members of the syndicate once our transaction had been completed. The cash, close on half a million, would be handed over in Central London. Cut and recycled a dozen times, the heroin would more than quadruple in value by the time it hit the streets. I knew there was no way big Al was going to leave room 4136 to make that call and set this consignment of death on its fateful journey.

Formalities exchanged – and formalities do exist even in the mercenary world of drug dealing – we sat down to the tense business of international trafficking, our £4 million heroin bounty nestling between us. First, I weighed each of the clingfilm-wrapped packages on my portable scales, part of my dealer's undercover kit I kept with me at all times on covert drug missions. All present and correct in 500g batches. A nod and a smile from Johnston.

Then it was on to testing the biggest pile of class A narcotics I'd ever seen in my life. It took me nearly
four hours to test the powder. My painstaking but infallible method of determining the quality of heroin was to take a tiny sample from each bag and burn it on silver foil over a lighter flame. It was time consuming but neccessary. No dealer worth his salt would walk away with an untested batch of the gear. And, as the hard-nosed buyer, I had to convince Al and his pals that I knew what I was doing and was only going to accept top-grade stuff. So every one of the 30 bags had to be slit, a pinch taken out with the blade of a Stanley knife and gently incinerated in front of us. If the powder left a heavy blackened residue, it would indicate that it had already been cut with some additive (such as baking powder or talc), substantially reducing its purity and therefore its value. Al's heroin burned well, with barely a scrap of residue left behind. This was top dollar gear.

Being sure not to inhale the pungent fumes was vital. Even accidently ‘chasing the dragon' would have rendered me ineffective for the bust I knew was about to happen. As it was, I had nothing more than a slight headache to concern me as we shook hands again and prepared to go our seperate ways, our transaction complete.

‘Nice doing business with you,' he said.

And then he walked slap-bang into the awsome power of a police ambush.

‘A
RMED
POLICE
,
STAY WHERE YOU ARE
.'

He was seized by three or four burly cops. To make it look as if I was also being arrested, and preserving my undercover role, the police team grabbed me as well and flung me on the floor beside Johnston, slapping handcuffs on me with such force I was bruised for days.

We all met up later that evening for a celebration drink, toasting another triumph for SO10. The secret squad had pulled it off again with what was then the biggest ever land seizure of heroin in the UK. Messages were relayed to law enforcement agencies around the globe that we had picked off a key player in the world's biggest drug ring. More would certainly follow.

Amid the euphoria of that evening, I never dreamed that Operation Zulu Cricket was to blight my life for ever.

* * *

It was nine months later and I was motoring towards my local in south-east London on an unexpected early evening break from SO10. It was a warm spring evening, the radio was playing golden oldies and I was only minutes from a decent pint. My mobile rang. It was Detective Chief Inspector Neil Germaine calling from the squad office at Scotland Yard. ‘Whatever happens,' he said urgently, ‘don't go home tonight.'

‘What's up, Guv?'

‘Can't say over the mobile, but the wheel's come off big time.'

I slowed the Porsche almost to a standstill, anxious for more details.

‘Who do you live with, Blex?' he asked, using the nickname familiar to my colleagues on SO10.

An odd question, I thought, because he was the officer in charge of the welfare of the covert officers in Special Operations, the man with our files available at the push of a computer button.

‘My girlfriend, Elaine,' I said.

‘Right, Blex, get on the phone to her right away. Tell her to go and pack an overnight bag for the pair of you, then vanish. Book yourself into a hotel, then see me at 9.00am sharp tomorrow in my office and I'll tell you what it's all about.'

End of message.

My mind was racing. There was a touch of panic in the DCI's voice. Not like him at all. He was normally Mr Cool. This was obviously trouble brewing big time. I rang Elaine, repeated Germaine's mysterious message and arranged to see her in the pub for a much-needed drink. She was as puzzled as me.

‘We've just got to do what the man says,' I told her. ‘Could be anything.'

We headed for a decent hotel a few miles away from home and booked in for the night under false names, using the phoney documentation and credit cards I always carried as part of my undercover kit. Not credit cards that were going to bounce and leave the hotel out of pocket. These were creations of SO10's own M department, complete and valid in every detail, down to bank accounts in place to settle the finances. All part of the meticulous planning and attention to detail that went into the lifestyle of an undercover cop. These were the sort of contingencies we were trained for, suddenly having to switch into undercover mode at a minute's notice. But never quite like this before.

We talked through a dozen possibilities for this sudden panic. You didn't earn Mr Popular medals in my game. It could be anything. There was only one thing to do in the circumtances – we hit the mini-bar with a vengeance. I'd planned a night of passion with
Elaine to alleviate the niggling worries of tomorrow but the booze took its toll and I crashed into a fitful half-sleep until dawn.

I was at the Yard at 8.00am, a good hour before my appointment with Germaine, feeling both apprehensive and hungover. I was the first in at the undercover unit's office, the Crime Operations Group, nerve centre of some of the most important ongoing police investigations here and abroad. Minutes later, a very near and dear pal of mine, who must remain nameless, sidled up to me and said, ‘Do you know what this shit is about, Blex?'

‘Haven't a clue,' I replied. He looked cautiously around to ensure no one else had arrived, then ushered me towards the photocopying room. He locked the door and pulled a bundle of papers from his pocket. It was a six-page report headed ‘Operation Zulu Cricket'. Now it was ringing bells. The Gatwick Hilton bust.

‘This is what's causing the stir,' said my pal. ‘Read it and be prepared for a shock. Then put it in your pocket and take it with you. You might just need it.'

Shocked I certainly was. The mob behind the Gatwick job had put out a contract on me and were touting in the US for a hit-man to fly to Britain and take me out. It was all there, in chilling detail. But what was worse – much, much, worse – was that a copy of this highly confidential document had gone missing, stolen from a police officer's car while he was out shopping. It could now be in enemy hands. And it had my
real
name in it. If the Mafia and IRA thugs behind the heroin racket had only been looking for ‘Peter', the guy who'd set them up at Gatwick, they would have had a near impossible task to find me for
a hit. If they now had my full name, and Bleksley is not that common, I might as well stick a target on my back. ‘Bang – you're dead, Peter Bleksley.'

It took me a good 10 to 15 minutes to digest the report. I knew the job was big from the start, with international links in half a dozen different countries, from briefings I attended before the Gatwick arrest of Alan Johnston. I had been a small but crucial cog in the detention of the gang's top courier. I had become a threat to this vast criminal enterprise. I had
double-crossed
the Mob. And I was now very dispensable. Other top members of the gang were still at large. They had the power, the money and the resolution to exact a dreadful revenge.

The message that my part in the Gatwick bust was highly suspect got back to the drug barons when Johnston appeared in court the next day and there was no ‘Peter' the drug buyer beside him in the dock. His suspicions were relayed back to the US via a network of go-betweens. They had found out I was a cop. Then the FBI picked up confirmation of a potential hit against me in bugged phone calls to an Irish bar in Boston, Massachusetts.

So here I was, 35 years old, in the prime of life and reading about a death sentence on me passed by aggrieved gangsters 3,000 miles away. And wondering how a copy of such a highly confidential report could ever have been ‘lost' by a member of the most security-conscious unit at Scotland Yard. How could such a sensitive report, with so many ramifications around the world, come to have been pinched with such ease from a copper's car? The answer, I'm afraid, came down to thoughtlessness and lack of concentration. The officer who had
compiled the report, at the request of a Deputy Assistant Commissioner who needed an urgent update, had it in a briefcase in his car when he pulled into a supermarket car park to do some shopping. He'd only been gone a few minutes, but time enough for a thief to break into the vehicle and snatch what he could. Probably an opportunist looking for cash or valuables. It happens every two minutes. But could this be more sinister? Could the report now be in the wrong hands, the people who wanted me dead and now knew exactly who I was and where I worked?

Surveillance on the drugs gang had profiled the kind of hard-case villains we were up against. The main suspect, an Irish Catholic we knew as Joe, and Alan Johnston, a known contraband smuggler from Ulster, had been seen at meetings with known middle-ranking IRA members discussing the funding of heroin shipments into the UK for onward transfer to the USA. The suggestion that guns would be acceptable as payment in lieu of cash clearly implied that the weapons could end up in terrorist hands.

The report said starkly that the gang bosses knew that ‘Peter' was a policeman and not the heroin dealer they thought and ‘did not intend to let the matter rest'. Irish Joe, whose surname I can't disclose for legal reasons, told another undercover operator, this time from Customs, who had also infiltrated the gang, that they were planning to ‘put a team on Peter to do the hit'. They had actively been seeking a professional hit-man to do the job and discussing locations in London where it could be successfully carried out. Irish Joe had been so confident of terminating me that he had talked to our informant about resuming the heroin deals once I had been
taken out. The hit-man was to be referred to as ‘the Doctor' during his mission to London and his gun was to be called ‘the Doctor's bag' in all conversations among the crooks. It was chilling stuff, straight from the pages of
The
Godfather.

The Drugs Enforcement Agency in America had relayed details of the assassination plot against me to the British Customs investigation branch on 18 July 1992, just 19 days after the arrest of Johnston. A detective inspector at Scotland Yard was alerted by phone, followed by the DEA fax. Yet amazingly the first I knew about it was
nine
months
later when my pal whisked me into the photocopying room and shoved the report under my nose. It had also been a full two weeks since the dossier had vanished from Detective Sergeant Sam Davies' car. And nobody had bothered to tell me. Every hour of every day had left me exposed. Such was the detail about the death plot, the source, the places involved, the people involved, that I knew we weren't dealing with empty threats. I'd been threatened many times. It goes with the territory. Now I was dealing with serious honchos on both sides of the Atlantic. I was potential target practice for some of the most dangerous and violent hoodlums on the planet.

BOOK: Gangbuster
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