This is Neil Woods. A normal looking guy who’s probably had a relatively normal life you’d think – but boy could you be further from the truth.
Neil worked as one of the UK’s first undercover cops for over 14 years – infiltrating some of the nation’s most barbaric and notorious drug and organised crime gangs, often posing as a heroin or crack cocaine addict.
Not only did Neil, who has recently written a book about his experiences, infiltrate such gangs but he also helped bring many of them down – including the gang fronted by one of Nottingham’s most infamous ganglords – Colin Gunn.
Now we’ve all seen the movies. Donnie Brasco, The Departed, Resorvoir Dogs – for instance. So it certainly doesn’t take a genius to figure that if you’re working on covert operations in scenarios with stone, cold, murderous, criminals things can get very intense, very quick.
So what is the reality? How heated can things get? Speaking to UNILAD, Neil explained that one of the scariest, and somewhat hilarious, experiences in his career came early on.
He told us:
There was a time when I was on a long term undercover job working in a sleepy village where there were this group of almost surreal gangsters who ran a pub. Honestly you couldn’t believe how bizarre the whole thing was.
Basically this gang were involved in a national car theft organisation who would steal cars, replace the plates, and sell them in a very sophisticated manner for profit. But the boss of the organisation was also a big cocaine and crack dealer in the village and he was incredibly vicious.
The mistake I made to this boss was making myself out to be a real connoisseur of amphetamines which I’m obviously not. I wasn’t long into my career as an undercover cop so I thought ‘yeah I can talk speed etc’ but I clearly couldn’t.
You can see where this is going.
So on one day in particular I saw this boss dish out a pretty brutal beating on a guy who owed him a £10 debt. One minute later and the boss approaches me with a big bag full of this sticky pink glue like substance and says to me ‘I’ve got a present for you. Have a bit of that’. It smelt like the urine of a cat that had been sniffing glue.
Now this guy was a real maniac and already he was growing suspicious of my hesitation. I knew that I had to try some or I’d be in a lot of trouble. All I kept saying to myself was ‘I am really in trouble here’. So eventually I put my hand into the bag and pulled out a fingerful – but immediately the boss said ‘no, more than that’, and pulls out a handful.
The second I put them into my mouth I could feel the ulcers forming. It turned out whereas street amphetamines are between 5 to 7 per cent pure, this was 40 per cent pure. It was horrific. I didn’t sleep for three nights. Then again – my house has never been so clean.
However after a couple of years in the job, Neil realised that nothing good was happening. Drug use wasn’t getting any lower, drug crimes were getting more and more barbaric, and he was part of the problem.
He explained to UNILAD:
Eventually it became clear to me that the war on drugs just wasn’t working. Drug dealers were getting more and more violent. They were vicious and getting more vicious by the minute – using murder and rape. And this was because of me and people like me.
But what is the answer? Interestingly this former pioneer of the war on drugs believes drugs need to be legalised and regulated. And who on Earth would know better than Neil?
Neil gave his reasons for believing in a legally regulated world of drugs – and it’s incredibly hard to disagree.
He told us:
If drugs were regulated there would be none of this. You don’t see Smirnoff employees killing off Grey Goose employees because they’re on their turf.
Drug related deaths are now higher than deaths on the road – and this could all be stopped by legally regulating drugs.
For instance look at smoking. Smoking in the UK is now at its lowest point since 1940. Smoking is regulated, there are warnings everywhere, there are campaigns and help for anyone who wants to stop smoking. Why is it different for drugs?
Shockingly 99 per cent of under 18s can’t get their hands on alcohol but the majority of them could get their hands on cannabis in minutes.
People hear the words ‘legalise drugs’ and picture a free-for-all. It’s a free-for-all now. Legalising and regulating drugs would make everything significantly safer for everyone.
And as well as all of this – legalising and regulating drugs would immediately take the gangsters out of the question.
Ganglord Gunn currently serving a 35 year sentence after his influence helped earn Nottingham the nickname ‘Shottingham’.
The barbaric druglord who won’t be released until he’s in his seventies spent his years of prowess on a daily cocktail of cocaine and steroids, turning him into a real life Mr. Hyde.
He drove a Porsche with a personalised plate reading POWER. He wore the most expensive clothes and jewellery. He thrived off driving fear and terror into the hearts and minds of all those who came into contact with him, let alone cross him.
Neil Woods was one of the men who infiltrated his gang and eventually brought him down but, surprisingly, Gunn wasn’t the scariest thing about the mission. Corruption was.
In his own words, Neil explained to UNILAD:
When I was working undercover in Nottingham I was trying to get in contact with a lieutenant of the notorious Colin Gunn. So after months and months of trying to get in touch with him he eventually agreed to meet me.
So when we meet what does he do? He thrusts a knife just below my groin and against my bollocks. I can actually feel the cold steel against my testicles. And he proceeded to hold it there for a full 15 minutes while interrogating me.
I answered everything he asked me and eventually he removed the knife and seemed to believe what I had told him but the story gets worse.
A day later my backup team both called in sick and two replacements came to help me out. Now you need to know that my backup team weren’t allowed to know my real name, my background, my family – nothing, and it was made clear to them before even meeting me not to ask any questions.
Now the first replacement I met seemed okay, nothing too suspicious about him. But the second guy – the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. His name was DC Charlie Fletcher.
Working in that sort of environment your senses become very very good – almost to the point of paranoia – but this guy just really stood out to me so I called my boss and said I can’t work with him, I don’t trust him, so he said ‘no problem’ and we got rid of him and worked short staffed.
Neil went on, saying:
Anyway months later when I learnt that Gunn’s empire had been brought down, I found out that the guy who made me very suspicious was actually an employee of Gunn who had been sent into the police with no convictions and he was paid £2,000 a month by Gunn as well as huge bonuses – all on top of his police salary.
That man was in there to find me and it was common knowledge at the time that if any undercover police were caught infiltrating Gunn’s gang they would be tortured to death.
But shockingly the worst part is yet to come. Woods then revealed that months later when chatting to senior officers he told them about the Gunn informant and their response? ‘Of course’.
According to Woods, the senior officers told him: ‘Of course this happens with this much money involved, how can it not happen?’.
Woods concluded our interview by saying:
Even the senior police know the war on drugs is corrupting the police. The only way to stop it is by legalising and regulating the drugs.
Nowadays Wood’s has left the police and spends his days as the CEO of LEAP UK. A team made up of police, undercover operatives, intelligence service, military, and criminal justice workers to raise awareness of the UK’s dangerous drug policy.
You can read more about Wood’s terrifying experiences as an undercover cop in his book, Good Cop Bad War.
Joseph Loftus is a Gold Standard NCTJ journalist with four years experience working for international and regional press.
As well as working for UNILAD and LADbible, Joseph has worked as Liverpool Correspondent for Unsigned & Independent Magazine, as well as stints with the Liverpool Echo and Warrington Guardian.