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Telling The Truth

Telling the truth... that seems to bring to mind a melodious tolling sound from long ago. One day, Jack & myself were sitting around waiting for something to happen, when there was a ring on the bell - usually it was the kids who couldn't resist pulling the rope as they went past, especially in the mornings on their way to school; and it was a very fine large brass bell which we had hanging just outside the upstairs window of this strange condemned semi-derelict property on the outskirts of Meanwood. It was a good location for getting logs for the fire; the trees started about thirty yards away (though if we were really lazy, then we'd get the odd plank from the timber yard next door). A good place, though sadly it was closed down by the health department shortly afterwards.

But it wasn't the kids; it was Derek. In he came. We put the kettle on, having found some relatively unused tea-bags, and all sat down. The place was pleasant enough despite being a little bare; just a few sleeping-bags, a hand-made bench and the glorious table that Jack had made from some of the rough cedar posts we'd carried back from the side of a nearby field, the bulk of which we had intended to use for firewood. When the vicar from the nearby chuch came round and hesitantly asked us for it back, explaining that it was fencing which had been taken down temporarily and was now due to be put up again, I remember him admiring the table's beautifully polished surface as he put his cup down on it.

Derek seemed in an amiable mood, showing us photos of his children and chatting about families and things. Anyway, it seemed that he was on his way to bust someone in one of the Black pubs in Chapeltown, and had an hour or so to spare before the guy was due to turn up. As sergeant, he was the senior member of the city drug squad, but Stevie, his supposed sidekick, rarely accompanied him. They were thought to spend much of their time calculating which of them had got the most column inches in the local paper. (When Stevie eventually got demoted to panda cars, one wondered whether it was because he was in danger of getting too far ahead.) The other two members of the squad were young women, who it was generally agreed, perhaps a little unfairly, would have been better off modelling chewing-gum.

When Angie and her mate first began their under-cover work, it didn't start too well. They casually walked into "The Conk" just as Monty was about to wander outside for a piss. La Conqueradore coffee bar was situated up an almost inaccessible side-street too far away from the shopping centre to have any hope of attracting passing trade, and by default catered almost exclusively to the druggies. A succession of initially enthusiastic Italian proprietors all inevitably came to the sad conclusion that though the current clientele had little money and were almost impossible to keep out, at least they didn't wreck the place, and it had to be better than having no customers at all.

"Don't shut the door Monty - them two slags are just leaving", shouted Simon from the far corner. Simon, despite having mellowed a little over the years, still occasionally lived up to the name of Satan by which he was commonly known. He had developed his antipathy towards and ability to instantly recognize police officers during eleven years as a tramp following six weeks in the paras as part of his curtailed period of National Service.

It was while Simon was sleeping on Brighton beach that a newspaper photographer gave Hilton, a tender 14 year old runaway at the time, five quid if he'd identify the "beatniks" supposedly skulking around beneath the pier. Hilton (known then, believe it or not, as "Biffo") duly pointed out anybody who looked as if they would be too zonked to notice their photograph being taken. As a result, when the pictures were published in the national press, he became persona non grata amongst the beach community (in fact he had to leave Brighton in something of a hurry), and Satan took on a new identity and found himself, despite his background as a gentleman of the road, firmly typecast as a member of this strange new culture. But that had all happened some time earlier, before he'd come up North with Pete (first husband of
Sher, Sol's mother) who was at this time doing a spell in Dartmoor (having taken the rap for a rapacious shop-lifting holiday with Sue & Aggie) - when younger, he had acquired a certain amount of experience in (and done a bit of time for) safe-blowing. (On arrival in Leeds, they'd caused quite a stir, both having very long hair and beards - well, it was a couple of generations ago.)

"Do you take drugs, Jack?", asked Derek out the blue. We both looked at him in amazement, wondering what he was talking about. The only reason he knew us was because we took drugs - not to mention the fact that another member of our household, Leather John, was his number one informer. "What do you think?", said Jack giving him a quizzical look. "Well do you?", said Derek. "What do you think?", repeated Jack with a smile - he could be extremely stubborn.

Then Derek asked me the same question. I thought for a couple of moments... of him previously admitting to me that he had taken most of the commonly available drugs except LSD (a notable omission, I remember thinking at the time), though I hadn't been sure whether to fully believe him - perhaps my definition of what was commonly available was a little wider than his. And I thought back to the first time I'd come across Stevie. "Yes", I said, and the conversation moved on to other matters, and I thought no more about it...

...until a few months later. While living in Headingly, I'd been set up in a major police raid. Having failed to score the previous night, there'd been little alternative but for a small piece of hash to be found in the pocket of my jacket which I'd left in another room.

I remember the excitement as the uniformed police opened up the bottom half of the dresser which was crammed full of old needles, syringes and empty ampoules; dragging Derek across to proudly show him their discovery; standing their preening themselves. Having visited several times a week over the previous couple of months, Derek knew the place and its contents as well as we did. (The place wasn't exactly low-profile - the record was 17 raids in a week: 13 visits from the drug squad & 4 by the uniformed branch.) His favourite joke was to bid us goodbye, then re-enter a few seconds later, look under a cushion or behind an ornament, and discover the drugs he'd previously left there. "Got you", he'd say, and then go off with a big smile on his face as the jeers and cat-calls erupted - it became a race to see if we could find out where he'd left the dope before he came back into the room. He yawned and shrugged. "It's all legal", he said, and then seeing their blank uncomprehending faces, had to explain to them that at least three of the people living in the flat were registered, and obtained their gear (or at least most of it) on prescription. (One of the uninformed uniformed police later admitted to me while locking the cell door, that if he had his way "people like you would be flogged with barbed wire"... the dull earnestness of the morally righteous with an s&m topping.)

To my pleasant surprise a couple of concerned and politically active people I knew but slightly had gone to the trouble of procuring me a solicitor, who suggested that not only should I plead not guilty, but in addition ask for the case to be taken to Crown Court for trial by jury. There seemed no obvious reason not to go along with this - though the normal routine was to attend the magistrate's court, plead guilty (having got the police to agree to put in a good word for you with the magistrate), and get fined or at worst be put away for a few months. Taking such a minor charge so seriously seemed almost to be making a fuss over nothing. (Crown Courts were only for major sentencing, or for those who were determined to prove their innocence and could afford to employ good enough barristers to ensure their acquital.)

Derek had been quite reasonable - giving me the standard couple of weeks warning that he was going to bust me. He was a bit pissed off 'cause I'd been doing some dealing, and wouldn't tell him where I was getting it. As it was from out of town, all Hilton was able to find out was what train I was planning to catch and the time I was likely to get back, for which information he was getting paid with some rather nice grass. They had a big bag of it, which used to be kept locked up in the large cupboard at the back of the drug squad office until Dave, one of life's opportunists, was able to rip off a sizeable amount after cleverly managing to get himself left alone in the room for a few moments - another of his reputed feats was to remove the slab of opium from its display case in the local museum. (I didn't suss out for a while, why, whenever I returned from scoring, Hilton would be stoned out of his head, looking slightly embarrassed, and insisting that I had half his dope - "Go on, man, take it. It's your share", he'd mumble. People sometimes overlooked his honourable side.)

The solicitors were most conscientious. The barrister they obtained was both well-known and well-respected. (At this time, drug cases were quite uncommon and in fact were almost a fashionable cause celebre for the radical/liberal establishment, especially where a hint of corruption was involved. Not that I considered the police particularly corrupt; even Stevie when he'd been pushing pills in York had never been known to bust anyone for anything he'd actually sold them - there again, he was rumoured to be ripping people off with dud stuff.) After a few moments chat before we went into the court, he admitted that I hadn't "a snowball's chance in hell" of getting off unless I took up my right to remain silent, and left it to him to try and invalidate the police statements (now no longer a viable option since the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act a couple of years ago). This he did quite brilliantly, to the point where Derek, having been asked for the third time whether he was absolutely sure that the illegal substance found in my pocket had not been placed there during the raid, turned a shade of red I'd only seen him once before - which was when he'd been showing off the large piece of dope he usually kept in his breast pocket, and Janet, asking for a smell, had suddenly made a grab and run off with it.

During the cross-examination, Derek was asked why the flat had been raided, and said that he was aware that I took drugs. "And exactly how do you know that?", asked my counsel. "Because he told me he did", came the for once completely truthful answer. Much to the surprise of everyone except the jury, I got off. Derek was quite upset; in fact he sulked for a while - didn't talk to me for several days, and refused to buy me drinks down the "Prince Charles" (the only pub in the centre of town where we could go without being hastled). He felt I'd cheated - the first person busted by the Leeds drug squad not to be found guilty. I felt a little sorry for him. My barrister had given him a pretty hard time - much harder than he'd ever given me. Stevie, who'd not been involved with the raid, was of course delighted by the result. Thereafter he always treated me as if I'd done him a personal favour, and indeed once or twice was most helpful.

Now I don't say that one must blurt out the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth on all occasions, regardless of whether anyone actually wants to hear it; only that the telling of deliberate lies is not something which I can endorse without qualms. I agree it would be easy to hypothesise a situation whereby it would appear that a small lie could prevent enormous pain and sorrow. But when considering this question, which I do from time to time, I recollect Jack's answer - most appropriate under the circumstances. I had always considered him wise, even before this incident.

- Weed (June 1996)

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