DDN October2021 October 2021 - Page 8


As an undercover officer , Neil Woods got to see the ‘ war on drugs ’ from the front line . His experiences left him with PTSD , he tells DDN – along with an unshakeable conviction that reform is urgently needed . Photography nigelbrunsdon . com


Neil Woods is perhaps the UK ’ s most visible face of policing that has become disillusioned with the drug laws and their consequences . An officer for 23 years , 14 of them working mostly undercover , he has given high profile TV interviews and authored the best-selling Good Cop , Bad War and Drug Wars : The Terrifying Inside Story of Britain ’ s Drug Trade . He is also on the board of the Law

Enforcement Action Partnership ( LEAP ) in both the US and UK , an organisation that campaigns to ‘ reduce the multitude of harmful consequences resulting from our current drug policies ’.
He joined the police as ‘ a very young 19-year-old ’, he says , after dropping out of his business studies course at university . ‘ I was going to go backpacking around Europe but then I saw an advert for police officers in my local newspaper and thought , “ I could try that ”. So I flipped a coin , and it
came up heads .’ At that point , insofar as he thought about the drug laws at all , he had a ‘ very , very prejudiced , stigmatising view ’ of anyone with a heroin or crack problem , he says . ‘ I just saw them as people who were stupid enough to have tried them , and didn ’ t have the willpower to get out of the situation .’
UNDERCOVER As an undercover officer he was mostly pretending to be exactly that – a problematic user of
heroin and / or crack . ‘ Starting at the bottom and trying to get introductions to people further up the chain – the gangster running an area of a city ’. He did this by actively seeking out the most vulnerable people , he says , as they were the easiest to manipulate .
‘ It sounds like a very ruthless approach , but that ’ s the point . It ’ s like a micro way of looking at drug policy as a whole – this idea that you can cause harm to people but the end is justified .’ One man , who believed Woods to be his ‘ only