DDN October2021 October 2021 | Page 9

friend in the world ’ ended up on suicide watch after he was arrested and discovered the truth .
‘ He was on bail for dealing heroin but he was on the periphery of the gang I wanted to get close to , so he was really useful . I spent a lot of time listening to him , I went shoplifting with him , hung around with him , and actually really liked him . You can ’ t even fathom the level of how much of a blow that was to him . Breaching someone ’ s trust and friendship can affect anyone emotionally , but when you ’ re on the fringes of society and don ’ t have the chance to form connections with people then it ’ s an even bigger blow .’
IMPENDING VIOLENCE He later infiltrated the Midlandsbased Burger Bar Boys , who were notoriously violent even by the standards of drug gangs . It was , he says , ‘ terrifying ’. ‘ Before I did that job there were so many times I almost died . Someone tried to kill me with a car , someone put a samurai sword to my throat , that kind of thing . I was always very smug that I could cope and carry on , but by the time I got to the Burger Bar Boys job I was feeling more weary , I was starting to feel the effect on my body and mind .’ That aside , it was still ‘ way worse ’ than any other operation , he says . ‘ In most there was some sense of relaxation once I ’ d won people over , worked out who I could trust , and they ’ d learned to trust me . But with the Burger Bar Boys that sense of impending violence never went away – not any day at all . It was awful .’
After seven months of intensive undercover work , almost 100 people were arrested . ‘ Most importantly , the six main guys who were running it ,’ he says . ‘ I ’ d met everyone , got everyone ’ s phone number , so I could be confident I was catching literally every person
‘ The gangs that flourish are inevitably the most ruthless and violent ... Through policy we ’ ve essentially created a Darwinian situation , where those people most able or willing to be violent are the ones who succeed the most .’
‘ While Woods found himself in some dangerous situations , somehow he always managed to find a way out and in the process took down some very unpleasant people , although being undercover for so long took its inevitable toll on his personal life and psychological well-being . Then there was the war on drugs itself . Woods increasingly saw this as an arms race ; the more undercover operations took place , the more clued up the gangs became and the people who suffered most were the very vulnerable street users who became human shields , commanded to do the street deals under threat of extreme violence ... Woods was led to believe that rather than shoot a heroin user for messing up , they would be given a hot shot . Heroin users lived in fear that their next hit would be their last .’ From a review by Harry Shapiro of Good Cop , Bad War in Drugs : Education , Prevention and Policy
involved . You think , surely that ’ s shutting down the entire market infrastructure and everything in one go .’
In the end , the disruption of the heroin and crack supply lasted for two whole hours . ‘ And that was for something that was way more effective than your average police operation , and way more far reaching . And it literally has no impact on the market at all . Well , it does have an impact .’
In that it provides an opportunity for another gang ? ‘ Yes , and more often than not , violence increases as a result .’ The gangs that flourish are inevitably the most ruthless and violent , he states . ‘ Through policy we ’ ve essentially created a Darwinian situation , where those people most able or willing to be violent are the ones who succeed the most .’
TEST OF SELF Although diagnosed with chronic PTSD , he ’ s ‘ nowhere near as bad as I was ’, he says . ‘ My brain was just collapsing in on itself with anxiety .’ In the early days , however , he actively enjoyed the work . ‘ It ’ s an exciting thing , a test of self . We all like to develop new skills , and that
was like a baptism of fire , feeling that intensity , the intellectual challenge of it , learning to read people ’ – and one unwelcome legacy of the work is ongoing hypervigilance . ‘ I ’ m stuck with it – I can ’ t necessarily relax with people or just switch off and not really care about the motivations of the person speaking to me .’
He ’ s unsure how many times he was convinced his cover was blown and he was about to be killed or seriously harmed , but it was ‘ at least eight or nine . When I was doing counselling for PTSD it ’ s all about unravelling and processing memory , because the condition prevents you from processing it . I can ’ t engage with those memories .’ As his ability to cope began to ebb away so did his conviction that it was all worthwhile . ‘ It was an incremental process . I was getting clues that things weren ’ t as they appeared , but the trouble is I was part of the most intensive group of police . The covert policing world in drugs is filled with incredibly hard working , dedicated and arrogant cops who really believe in what they ’ re doing , and you get invested in that expertise , the development of it , the whole culture , and it