Undercover officer says police should refuse to arrest drug dealers

Undercover narcotics officer who infiltrated UK gangs controversially calls for an end of drug prohibition and for police to REFUSE to arrest street dealers – and claims clamping down makes violence worse

  • Ex undercover officer Neil Woods spent 14 years infiltrating British drug gangs 
  • He met dealers, users and gangsters and witnessed the brutality of the trade 
  • Woods claims the use of undercover officers has made the streets more violent 
  • Controversially called on officers to refuse orders to arrest street dealers
  • A former undercover officer who infiltrated British drugs gangs including the notorious Burger Bar Boys has controversially called for police to refuse to arrest young street dealers as part of a move to end drug prohibition. 

    Neil Woods spent 14 years on the front line witnessing first hand the brutality of gangs which, he believes, is driven by the use of undercover officers and criminal informants.

    Gangsters’ most effective way of fighting back against suspected police surveillance is to up the use of fear and intimidation against potential informants. If informants are too afraid to turn on them, they remain out of reach of the law.

    ‘Every passing year, the streets became more dangerous because of the presence of people like me in that marketplace,’ Woods explained in an interview with LADBible.

    ‘And these people become more violent because that’s how you don’t get caught. The harder we police this, the more we sharpen that sword, the more we encourage that brutality by forcing that competition on the streets.’








    Neil Woods spent 14 years on the front line witnessing first hand the brutality of gangs which, he believes, is driven by the use of undercover officers and criminal informants. Pictured, Neil, facing the camera, on the streets during one operation

    Neil Woods spent 14 years on the front line witnessing first hand the brutality of gangs which, he believes, is driven by the use of undercover officers and criminal informants. Pictured, Neil, facing the camera, on the streets during one operation

    In an interview with LADBible, pictured, Woods called for drugs to be decriminalised in order to take the power away from organised crime groups and called on officers to take a stand

    In an interview with LADBible, pictured, Woods called for drugs to be decriminalised in order to take the power away from organised crime groups and called on officers to take a stand

    Woods called for drugs to be decriminalised in order to take the power away from violent organised crime groups and called on police officers to take a stand.

    He said: ‘I would like to address any police. I would encourage you to also turn a blind eye, I would encourage you to decide not to ruin some young person’s life by arresting them and putting them into the criminal justice system for possession of drugs. I would encourage you to ignore your orders in that regard.’ 

    Woods joined Derbyshire Constabulary in 1989, aged 19, and helped pioneer undercover detective work in the field. 

    For more than a decade, his chosen method was to befriend the vulnerable addicts at the bottom of the chain, sometimes posing as a dealer, before steadily gaining access to those who control the trade.

    He bought drugs, pretended to deal them and even took them on a handful of occasions.

    Many of the gangs he faced committed horrific crimes and he helped hold them to account. His drugs investigations put people in prison for a total of well over 1,000 years. 

    Many of the gangs he faced committed horrific crimes and he helped hold them to account. His drugs investigations put people in prison for a total of well over 1,000 years. At one point he infiltrated the Burger Bar Boys. Pictured, hooded members of the Burger Bar Boys gang

    Many of the gangs he faced committed horrific crimes and he helped hold them to account. His drugs investigations put people in prison for a total of well over 1,000 years. At one point he infiltrated the Burger Bar Boys. Pictured, hooded members of the Burger Bar Boys gang

    ‘My biggest case was that against the Burger Bar Boys in Northampton,’ he said. Formed in the late 80s, the gang took its name from a cafe in Handsworth, Birmingham, where they used to congregate.  

    Along with their rivals the Johnson Crew, the Burger Bar Boys were involved in drug dealing, robberies, kidnapping and later murder. At the time Woods was brought on board, gangsters were using sexual violence against women to ‘build a reputation’. 

    Woods, who spent weeks preparing his ‘legend’, or backstory, before each case, said he was given an introduction to the gang after complaining about the quality of street heroin and asking to meet the people in charge. 

    ‘I was taken to where they were holding court, their local headquarters in a snooker club at the centre of Northampton,’ he said of the day the introduction was made. ‘I was taken straight into the gents’ toilets. The man who was going to be introducing me was looking terrified. 

    ‘This hooded figure walked in and he went into the cubicle. He shut the door, stood on the toilet and looked over the top of the cubicle and said, “what’s this?” 

    ‘As soon as he said that, the door burst open again and these four hooded figures walked in and began walking around me, slowly. As they were walking around me, one would headbutt me, then a few seconds later one would punch me in the ribs.

    Woods believes many of the people capable of sickening violence became that way through exposure to the drugs trade. Pictured, in his LADBible interview

    Woods believes many of the people capable of sickening violence became that way through exposure to the drugs trade. Pictured, in his LADBible interview 

    ‘As this was going on, the man [in the cubicle] was asking me questions then asking my mate questions, trying to catch us out… I became convinced I wasn’t going to leave there in one piece. It was hurting and I knew their capacity for extreme violence and I thought it was going to explode at any moment.’

    But the man in charge was convinced by Woods and agreed to sell him crack cocaine and heroin. 

    ‘That was the most important moment for the operation,’ Woods continued. ‘We exchanged phone numbers. From that day onwards I started gathering evidence of conspiracy on the whole gang, I bought from all of them, and I carried on for months. 

    ‘I was constantly in fear of immediate violence, that it could happen at any time. They would never let up on the intimidation.’

    However Woods believes many of the people capable of sickening violence became that way through exposure to the drugs trade.  

    ‘Most dealers of heroin and crack cocaine are people who are being exploited by organised crime,’ he said. 

    ‘They are being exploited and pushed into dealing and they’re pushed into finding new customers. They are pushed into it because they have their own habit. They are exploited because if they deal for the organised crime gangs, the actual gangsters, then they get their supply for free. 

    ‘And yet these people [the small-time street dealers] are treated as dealers by the court and get extraordinarily long sentences, when really they need rescuing from that exploitation and they need help.’

    Woods recalled one 16-year-old dealer who went from a ‘cheeky’ teenager to a ‘terrifying’ gang member in the space of six months.   

    ‘The reason he changed, and changed so rapidly, is because the group who he was with made it clear to him how he had to behave to survive in that world,’ Woods continued.

    ‘By policing drugs, by having undercover cops like me in that marketplace, or police informants in that marketplace, it creates a Darwinian situation where the ones who don’t get caught, who don’t get grassed up, are the ones who prepared to be the most ruthless, who can show extreme violence to intimidate people.’  

    Woods eventually began to struggle with the work he was doing. He now believes ‘successful’ drugs policing has led to an increase in street violence. 

    ‘I realised I couldn’t be in the police any more and this conflict,’ he said. ‘I was also starting to have a breakdown because of my PTSD and the profound sense of guilt I had for causing this harm to individuals.’

    Since leaving the force in 2011, Woods has joined an organisation called LEAP – Law Enforcement Against Prohibition – which was founded in the USA in 2002. It campaigns for an end to drug prohibition. 

     ‘We must end this war on drugs,’ he said. ‘By that, I don’t just mean the decriminalisation of people who use drugs, I mean, I’m looking at this through a police lens, we need to take this power away from organised crime.

    ‘We have to take the drug markets away from criminals. We have to legally regulate drugs to take the power away from organised crime, to save lives, and make a safer society.’

    Calling on serving officers to stand up to orders to arrest street dealers, he added: ‘As this movement grows, internationally, amongst police, the movement who want to stop this war on drugs, there will be more people inclined to stand up to those orders. There will be more people inclined to refuse to criminalise young people like that.’ 

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