Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Lush LifeConstructing Organized Crime in the UK$

Dick Hobbs

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199668281

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199668281.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2017. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 25 February 2017

(p.241) Appendix 2 Traffickers

(p.241) Appendix 2 Traffickers

Lush Life
Oxford University Press

(p.241) Appendix 2


In order to unpack the manner in which individuals locate and engage with the drug trade, the following typology presents a series of role-specific case studies derived from both published and unpublished material based upon interviews with 222 convicted drug traffickers serving over seven years in British prisons (Matrix Knowledge Group 2007; see also Marsh et al 2012).

The Boss

Bosses are seldom problematic drug users, and utilize legitimate business to aid operations, generally dealing in kilograms, and relying upon general networking in order to garner information, which includes collusion with law-enforcement personnel. They have a small number of contacts, and, as well as suppliers and customers, work with individuals undertaking a number of different supporting functions, for instance storers, transporters, and legitimate professionals.


Billy became involved in the drug trade, not through the stereotypical ‘shop floor’ or street-dealing route, but via the laundering of money. He was a successful car dealer and nightclub owner, and had also made money from an expanding property portfolio before he was introduced to a group of drug importers who were contemplating how to invest their profits. Attracted by the prospect of easy money, Billy fed these profits through his car dealership, and progressed to become a ‘middle man’, seeking out buyers for importers. Eventually, he ran the enterprise, becoming embroiled with the day-to-day workings of a large operation consisting of storers, mixers, testers, and legitimate professionals, many of whom were paid a salary. Billy also courted the friendship of police officers who, in exchange for free drinks, would provide him with information and carry out background checks on business associates and employees. He called his associates a ‘community of friends’, all with their role to play.


At 16 Charlie got involved with ‘the wrong people’, and was storing cannabis for a local dealer. Charlie's family owned a number of newsagents and a transport company, and his older brother was using the newsagents (p.242) as a front to sell heroin. At the age of 20 Charlie inherited the family heroin business when his brother married. Charlie described ‘transport as the key’, and his father's transport business was crucial. He bought 10 to 15 kilos a week from his suppliers who were importing the heroin via Liverpool, London, and Dover in trucks with carefully concealed compartments. His role involved ensuring that everything went smoothly in the UK, and in particular he assumed responsibility for security and anti-surveillance, making sure that no one was followed and that phones were not tapped. He also kept the number of people ‘in the know’ to an absolute minimum, set routes for various operatives, and took an interest in the general appearance of these operatives, emphasizing a low-key, non-extravagant demeanour. On occasions Charlie would personally observe the exchange of drugs by surreptitiously walking his dog nearby. He worked with one supplier, whom he described as a partner, with four main customers, and four workers who were paid salaries.

The Manager

Managers are employees of an enterprise who manage key activities, and this pivotal role locates them in close proximity to both the supplier and the drugs. Managers are involved in logistics, recruitment of ‘mules’ or couriers, and the collection of drugs. In contrast to the bosses, managers work with fewer types of roles, yet are more personally involved in ensuring that tasks are completed than are bosses, which, along with their proximity to the drugs and suppliers, places an increased emphasis on risk management (Morselli et al 2007).


Ron was in his mid-fifties, and had been retired from his job in law enforcement for a decade when he first became involved in the drug trade. Ron managed an operation based upon couriers importing cocaine into the UK from Grenada, and his role was to recruit and manage the couriers. He frequented a local casino where he spotted potential couriers from amongst the casino's clientele, tending to target white, middle-aged men, low on money, and ‘who needed a holiday’. Ron made all the travel arrangements, purchased the airline tickets, provided the suitcase, and handed over the spending money. He would then instruct the courier to ‘behave like a normal holiday maker, don’t draw attention to yourself, basically enjoy your holiday’.

The couriers would have their holiday and return with an identical suitcase containing cocaine. On the successful arrival of a consignment into the UK, Ron would collect the case from the courier at the airport and hand the drugs over to his bosses, who would be waiting in a nearby car park. The bosses would then take the bag away to offload the drugs, before returning an hour later with £12,000 in cash, often in shopping bags. Ron (p.243) would pass £7000 to the courier, who had also enjoyed an all-expenses paid, two-week holiday, and keep £5000 as his payment.1

Many inmates of British prisons who receive long sentences are little more than bit-part players in drug-trafficking operations. Couriers, or so-called ‘mules’,2 are expendable to dealing networks; for instance, one dealer using mules to import cocaine from the Caribbean estimated that one in four would not get through, while an international transporter importing via road estimated that four out of ten did not get through (Matrix Knowledge Group 2007; see also Green et al 1994; Green 1996).3

The International Wholesaler

International wholesalers buy drugs abroad and arrange transportation before selling them within the UK. Most individuals in this section dealt in a wide range of drugs and weights, were flexible in their methodologies, and often had long and quite complex careers that featured prison as a routine hazard. The majority working at this level progressed their careers and attempted to expand, their logistics were sophisticated, and they regularly used professional services and legitimate trade to aid business (Matrix Knowledge Group 2007: 28–9).


In the late 1970s Erving was serving four years for fraud, and during this sentence he first came into contact with the potential of the drug trade by dabbling in dealing cannabis. Friends of his wife were heroin users, and on his release from prison he commenced selling heroin. Initially he sold £10 bags, but became dissatisfied with his irregular ‘hit-and-miss’ supply, and apparently hindered by not being a heroin user himself, spent time seeking out reliable suppliers. Once this contact was established, Erving, who described himself as being ‘quite ambitious’, soon had two to three dealers working for him, and started buying ounces, until his supply went ‘haywire’ and he bought from three different suppliers.

In 1983 Erving was selling 10-gram bags, and within 18 months he was buying two to three kilos of heroin with 40 to 50 per cent purity, at £21,000 per kilo (£600 per ounce) and selling for £1000 per ounce to old friends, who would in turn sell on to their own networks of users. In 1984 he began (p.244) working with a group of Asian heroin importers, and in 1985–86 he made a huge career leap by travelling to India and meeting some contacts who were networked with his Indian/Pakistani connections. This was his first move into importation, and he described his aim as being to ‘cut out the middle man to cut costs and increase quality’. He made two trips during this period, buying two consignments of eight kilos of heroin. The Indians transported the drugs to the UK and Erving picked the drugs up in a suitcase from a pre-arranged address. In 1986 he was arrested by Customs and Excise after a relative, who was arrested picking up a consignment of heroin, had informed on Erving.

After serving his sentence Erving returned to the heroin trade, overseeing the importation of kilos of heroin concealed in passenger luggage from India. Erving explained that this was his favoured method of importation, and that although he did not normally carry out these pick-ups himself, the courier paid to pick up the drugs for Erving on one occasion had failed to turn up. The Indians had told him to go to a hotel to meet the courier who, Erving later discovered, had been arrested at the airport. On his arrival at the hotel, Erving was also arrested, and he served six years in a Belgian prison. It was while serving this sentence that he met some Kurdish and Turkish traffickers who educated Erving, in particular with regard to transportation and smuggling routes.

He was released from prison in 1992, and within a fortnight was working with some of his new Turkish contacts, but this time dealing in hundreds of kilos, supplying new customers in Scotland and the north west of England. Heroin was brought from Turkey to Belgium, and Erving coordinated the leg from Belgium to the UK. At this time he was selling for £1500 per kilo, and between 1995 and 1996 he coordinated about 12 transportations into the UK, while simultaneously buying and selling cannabis, and on one occasion in 10 days making £75,000 profit on a 500-kilo deal.


Dennis had been employed at the airport for over a decade in a number of occupations, progressing to be a manager of aircraft cleaners, a job that required security clearance, enabling him access to most areas of the airport, and paying £30,000 to £40,000 per year. He was contacted by a local man asking for information regarding where consignments of cocaine powder might be stored on aircraft coming into the UK from South America and the Caribbean. Dennis explained that there was a flaw in the security system at the airport in that there were no checks on staff driving off the site. He received payment of £20,000 for this information and became a watcher, watching flights coming in from South America and reporting any threatening Customs’ activity.

Dennis quickly progressed to removing the drugs from the aircraft and transporting them out of the airport. The cocaine powder cost £1000 a (p.245) kilo in Colombia and was sold in the UK to regular customers for £18,000 to £22,000, while one-off buyers had to pay £25,000. Dennis and his associates were bringing in ten-kilo consignments and turning the ten kilos into 20 kilos by changing its purity from 95 per cent to around 40 per cent. It took a day and half to ‘knock it down’ and sometimes he would draft friends in to cut the drugs with ‘any white powder’, such as bicarbonate of soda, novacone, or manatol, before repackaging and selling on.


Al came to England as a child, and as a young man took over the family Kebab shop when his father returned to Turkey. At this point Al started to gamble, and with his business in decline, he rapidly found himself £7000 in debt, at which point a fellow gambler asked him to store a parcel of heroin. This turned into a regular arrangement for which he received £4000 to £5000 for this service. Al graduated to seeking out customers, and when one of his colleagues was arrested he left the drug trade, but was soon approached by a contact and became a driver for a key London distributor. Al's job was to drive the man to meetings, and interpret for him.

After a couple of years Al took over responsibility for coordinating the distribution of 150 kilos of heroin in two London boroughs He was responsible for paying the storeman, the driver, and the distributor, and every two months he would travel to Turkey to meet with network associates who included lawyers, politicians, and border control police. Information regarding prices was shared with competitors, and Al would go to one of his boss's nightclubs every three to four months to meet with competitors to discuss informants and non-payers. Between 2001 and 2003, Al estimated that he made £400,000.

The National Wholesalers

National wholesalers buy and sell drugs in bulk across the UK. This group were highly adaptable regarding new commodities and innovative methods of transporting and trading drugs. They progressed their careers via small networks that frequently featured salaried employees.

Mr W

Mr W discovered the profitability of heroin while serving a prison sentence for living on immoral earnings: ‘They were turning £700, £800 out of an eighth of heroin [3.5 grams] and to me that was big money…All I could see was £signs, it was just too much money to let it go. So I started when I came out.’ People were prepared to pay as much as £1000 for an ounce of heroin, which Mr W could buy for £700 or less. At first he was turning over an ounce a day, but he was soon buying kilos for which he paid approximately £17,500 and, at his peak, he was selling five kilos per week. Four women worked for him who were each paid £1500 per week (p.246) for collecting and delivering parcels of heroin to his five main customers who were based in Manchester, Southampton, Bristol, and London.

This network was based on old friends and family members who happened to live in these different cities, and the financial arrangements were that if he bought one kilo from his supplier, Mr W would receive another kilo on a credit basis, and he would do the same to his customers, who were taking nine-bar (nine ounces) and half-kilo loads on a regular basis. Mr W also bought and sold smaller amounts of cocaine, although this was mainly because he liked to smoke crack ‘as a treat’. He reckoned that an ounce of crack cocaine costing £1000 would sell for £3500 on the basis of six or seven £20 ‘stones’ per gram. He was not particularly interested in this retail trade, however, and his main business remained heroin, which funded a lavish lifestyle for himself and his extended family. Mr W knew other small networks that were buying heroin in Amsterdam for £8000 per kilo and importing it via couriers secreting drug-filled packets into body cavities. As for his own position in the market, Mr W said: ‘People used to think I’m the boss, and OK I’m that, but I said to myself they should see some of the blokes who I’m dealing with, blokes who I’m giving seventy grand to twice a week, and I’m not his best customer’ (Pearson and Hobbs 2001).


Stan came to England as a small child and was incorporated into the family drug business from an early age. His family had been involved in importing heroin for many years, and he had accrued a general knowledge through ‘hearing things’ before, at 17, he became actively involved in drug dealing. He had been a recreational user of cannabis since the age of 14, and a recreational cocaine user at age 18. He began selling 1/16th (3.5 grams) ounces of heroin which he purchased for £50 before breaking it down into 12 £10 bag deals, and within six months he was purchasing kilo (36 ounces) quantities of heroin, selling this on in ‘ounce’ quantities for £900, half nine-bar quantities’ (four-and-a-half ounces) at £2400, and ‘nine-bar’ (nine ounce) amounts at £4800. He attributed his involvement in drug selling to being young and aspiring to a nice lifestyle.

Initially, his customers were drug addicts, but he began asking for introductions to their dealers, and then to the dealers’ dealers, who in turn became his customers. When he began buying in larger quantities he handed over his £10-bag business and customer base to someone else, and required them to purchase ounce quantities from him for £900. Aged 18 he was sentenced to three-and-a-half years on a conspiracy to import charge and spent 21 months in prison. After the prison sentence his drug selling resumed and he began purchasing five-kilo quantities from the importers, who were importing in 100- to 350-kilo quantities. Stan then became involved in collecting 350-kilo quantities from different docks around England; three cars would be sent—one to carry the drugs, and the other two to ‘ram the police off the road’ in the event of the operation being intercepted.

(p.247) He had 20 to 30 customers from all over the north of England, who included ‘suit and tie types’, and business people. Some of his customers were friends and others were business associates whom he trusted because ‘they knew the rules’. He had four or five people working for him, who were ‘family’ and were paid £500 a week, fulfilling various roles such as delivering the drugs and collecting money from customers. They acted as look-outs on the street when a hand-over of drugs took place, and sometimes they helped with ‘cutting’ the heroin. The iron rule for Stan, as for the majority of drug entrepreneurs, was to ‘keep the drugs and money separate’.


Steve was careful who he worked with, and, as a businessman with a legitimate enterprise, he believed that the qualities demanded by the drugs trade were the same as in any other business—integrity, reliability, and trustworthiness. He always trained his employees, equipping them with the knowledge and skills they would need by passing on his own experience.

Steve only ever worked with small units of four to five people, and although trust was important, it was vital that the members of the unit were not so close that they could be connected to each other if caught. New staff would be given easy roles at first, for instance organizing a drop-off or a pick-up. Each time they got through their task successfully they would be given tasks with more responsibility until they proved that they were reliable and trustworthy. Employees were paid on a percentage commission basis according to their role in a successful deal, and if they did well on a particular job they were rewarded with a bigger bonus. Steve did not work with close friends, and he did not employ drug-users, deeming them to be unreliable.

Communication with customers was disguised as part of his legitimate business, which was carried out over the phone. Steve never employed storers, but took responsibility for this role himself, burying the drugs in the ground. Although he lost some drugs in this way, he felt that if the drugs were discovered they would be difficult to trace to him. Steve's role was the buyer, sourcing the goods, and dealing directly with upper-level dealers, while a close associate dealt with the finances. He was never involved with any violence, although he did on occasion feel intimidated by buyers. If he did do business with people who had bad reputations he would only deal small quantities until they proved their trustworthiness, and if he was ripped off, he put it down to experience and avoided any conflict.

The Local Wholesalers

Local wholesalers buy and sell drugs in kilos and ounces within one geographical area. This segment of the market operates in small networks selling multi-commodities. (p.248)


At 18 Gary was out of work and started dealing in heroin and cannabis. He commenced with small bags, financing the enterprise by borrowing money from someone he knew would not require paying back, preferring to give the lender some drugs. He despised junkies, considering them to be potential informants, and felt that he was more likely to avoid police attention by moving up-market. Consequently, he moved away from the street and began dealing in kilos, one week selling 26 kilos. Gary also employed ‘young soldiers’ to grow cannabis, which he would then market.

Gary was very risk-aware, and would only sell to people introduced to him by a trusted source. He had about a dozen customers who he first came into contact with through socializing amongst a small network of people in his home town. New customers were checked out fully, they were followed home, and their family and acquaintances were checked. Gary changed his phone number every week, and had to keep his true source of income from his family. He also worried about creating enemies amongst strangers who threatened violence ‘even though you have no idea who they are’, and would constantly alter the method of picking up the heroin. For example he would call on a pool of young women whom he paid to take their boyfriends for a day out while picking up the drugs.

Gary worked with the same people he had grown up with, and he always used the same supplier as he was ‘good’ and Gary trusted him. He worked with four partners in a remarkably cooperative arrangement; although they shared the profits equally, if one of them needed all of the money one week for some reason then he could have it all. Gary employed an accountant, whom he paid in drugs, and a solicitor, while a local police officer would tip him off about police activity.


Joey was a 33-year-old white English man who had been involved with drugs since the age of 16. Through drinking in his local pub he met people who were involved in various criminal activities, and eventually he was asked to take on the role of delivering heroin, amphetamine, and LSD to various locations, for which he was paid generously. For instance, when delivering heroin he was paid £1000 per kilo, and although sometimes it was ‘just’ a kilo a week, it could be as much as eight kilos. The people for whom he delivered would put the drugs in a rental car, and Joey would then be told to pick up the car and drive it to a location, where he would leave it for someone else to collect. The car would then be returned to the hire company a week later. Joey would arrive in the area early in order to survey the surrounding area for police or surveillance activity. ‘If it did not ‘feel right’, he would walk away.

Joey progressed from being a driver, and by the age of 23 was buying kilos and setting people up to sell for him. He had a close business (p.249) associate who was a good friend with whom he ‘trusted his life’, and they moved to different areas of the country to establish customer bases and to avoid police detection, gaining local intelligence by drinking in pubs and talking to people involved in the drug trade. When they left an area because ‘things were getting on top’, they would set someone else up to take over the business, passing on their clients and supplying the new dealer with an eighth of heroin and building up from there. If the new dealer could prove that they could reliably pay back the cost of the eighth, they would be supplied with a larger amount.

Through being in social environments where drugs were voraciously consumed, from around the age of 25 Gary had become a daily heroin user and four years later he was a crack addict with a £2000-a-week habit. When he became addicted Joey lost his reputation as a competent dealer; he was no longer reliable and resorted to robbery and burglary to fund his habit. He was arrested in a car he had stolen.


Dee's uncles had been involved in the drug trade since the 1980s. In the mid-1990s Dee joined the family business and was given a kilo of heroin on credit, which he sold within two months. Dee quickly progressed to selling between nine ounces and a kilo per week, collecting the drugs from his supplier in Yorkshire once or twice a week, storing the drugs in his house and car, and selling directly to over 100 customers who were both users and dealers. After only three months he employed four workers to help him, and began working across a wide area of northern England. The four workers were of Afghani and Turkish origin and in their mid-twenties, and Dee felt that the trust that existed between himself and these men was due to the fact that they came from the same community.

Having a constant supply of good quality heroin and a line of credit with the wholesaler helped his business expand. His suppliers were delivering the drugs by taxi once or twice a week, and using six safe houses where the dealers bagged and sold the drugs. During this time Dee invested his profits in a number of legitimate businesses importing cars from Dubai, renting property, and running a post office, as well as buying and selling contraband cigarettes and alcohol from France.


Greg was a self-employed importer who earned an ‘above average income’, and although he did not use drugs himself, he socialized with a middle-class group of friends who used cocaine at weekends. When their supplier let them down, Greg called a dealer whom he had once met at a party, and purchased two ounces of cocaine for £1500. While Greg's girlfriend tested the drugs, the supplier explained that it was possible to make £26,000 profit on a kilo of cocaine, which inspired Greg to commence dealing.

(p.250) Encouraged by his girlfriend, he purchased a kilo of cocaine for £25,000 cash from the original supplier. Charging £600 per ounce to 12 of his close friends, he assumed the kilo would last for three months, but he sold out in six weeks. Two months later he purchased five kilos for £125,000, and from then on purchased ten kilos per month. By selling larger quantities to his friends, he created a fresh dealing network as his friends were selling to their friends, work colleagues, and others within their social circle. As Greg, who became a user three months into his dealing, explained: ‘It was a social network.’

Although Greg continued to work in his legitimate business, he was soon purchasing 50 kilos four times a year, which he sold for £600 per ounce. His supplier had now moved to Spain, where Greg would travel to pay for the drugs. Greg started with 12 customers, and six months later had 200 customers. He would reduce the price from £600 to £500 an ounce for customers buying a kilo or more, and reported up to a threefold increase in demand over the Christmas and New Year period.

The Specialist

Specialists are individuals who bring to the drug market particular skills and knowledge that have been acquired in a normative environment.

Tommy Atkins

Tommy Atkins is now in his early fifties, and after leaving the Army after over 20 years’ service had spent six years trying various occupations before entering the drugs trade through a friend, who paid him £1000 to carry out a ‘money-out’ trip. After regularly delivering money to an address in France for six months, he felt sufficiently confident to branch out as an independent. His business was to organize the transport of drugs across the English Channel, warehouse to warehouse, and pay the driver. Atkins explained that the various human links in the drug importation chain had no need to be acquainted, and claimed to be willing to move anything except heroin and people. For him, people-trafficking was tantamount to slavery, and two close members of his family had become heroin addicts.

Atkins stressed that although in his business there was virtually no violence, gangs had emerged to target money-out trips, and occasionally the supplier's own men would try to rob the shipment before it was loaded. However, these incidents were exceptional, and most of the violence was committed at the bottom of the chain, with petty villains robbing small-time dealers. Atkins dealt with both large and small loads. A large load was 100 kilos of cocaine or 120 kilos of amphetamine, transported by vehicle, while small loads, five kilos of cocaine, were ‘walked through’ by foot passengers on ferries. The cost of moving one kilo of anything across the Channel was £2000. Atkins made £500 per kilo and the rest went to his personnel. As an example he would charge £200,000 to move 100 kilos of (p.251) cocaine, and his personal profit would be £50,000. The value of the load would be around £4.5 million.

Atkins recruited ex-military personnel whenever possible, and spent considerable amounts of time talking to potential collaborators, making sure that they were genuine and that they really wanted to do this sort of work. Interestingly, he was also concerned to ascertain whether or not he liked them, as he had no wish to work with someone that he could not get on with. Atkins maintained a strict wage structure, and all of his personnel were paid £500 per week whether or not a job had been completed. Although from mid-December to February the trade was slow, ‘everyone gets paid and for holidays’. Atkins expected to be arrested at some point in his career, and so made provision for that event, a provision that resulted in him raising the price of his service. He also applied this principle to his employees, and when two of his personnel were arrested he made provision for their wives so that they continued to be supported while their partners were in prison.

Atkins would receive a coded call from a wholesaler telling him to use a payphone for a detailed conversation, and a face-to-face meeting was arranged either in the UK or elsewhere. At that meeting details of the transaction were discussed, in particular the nature and size of the load and the timing of the deal. All money for expenses would be paid up-front. Atkins would develop a plan and contact and brief his personnel. This would take two days, after which he would agree the pick-up and final destination details with the wholesaler, and arrange and rendezvous with the driver and supplier to load the consignment, although making sure that he was not present during the actual loading.

Atkins operated a cell-type structure where only a very few people actually knew each other; there were few face-to-face meetings, with an understudy in another cell ready to take over in case of any emergency. Atkins would then cross the Channel to the UK, confirm the details regarding unloading, and wait for the load to come through on the ferry. He would know the ferry number in advance and the registration of the vehicle, the driver going to a prearranged location near to the final drop point. Atkins would meet the wholesaler and receive the transport fee before phoning the driver to tell him the final destination point. He would then meet the driver at another location to pay him off. Atkins felt no need to bribe officials as the loads always looked legitimate even when searched—the drugs were imported as part of a load often bound for wholesale fruit and vegetable markets, or hidden in consignments of frozen fish.


(1) Another example of this method was that of a woman who was given a free two-week holiday in the Caribbean and paid £2000 to bring four kilos back to the UK. Having completed a successful run she was employed to recruit couriers herself, which she did, mainly from the local prostitute community.

(2) Individuals, often women, paid to transport drugs across borders.

(3) ‘[R]ough calculations suggest that, when balancing profits against prison risk, crime does not pay for couriers but can for organizations employing bent lorry drivers’ (Caulkins et al 2009).