Dope smuggling, LSD manufacture, organised crime & the law in 1960s London

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I can’t identify with any certainty the first international drug smuggler my mother – Julia Callan-Thompson – befriended, but one she met early on was Damien Epsilon, an Irishman who’d lived in Ibiza before moving to London in the early 1960s. In 1962 my mother approached Epsilon in Henekey’s pub in Portobello Road. She wanted to go to Spain and had been told he was driving there. Epsilon agreed to take my mother and her boyfriend Geoff Thompson to Ibiza if they shared the petrol costs. After spending a few weeks in Ibiza, Epsilon returned to London and my mother travelled on to Andorra alone. Thompson, who’d proved somewhat erratic about covering petrol costs, went back to London at the same time as Epsilon, but separately. When my mother returned to London, she socialised with Epsilon until he moved back to Ibiza in 1963. She returned to Ibiza many times in the mid-sixties to hang with Epsilon’s set, and this may well have constituted the first of a number of international drug smuggling sets with which she was acquainted.

In 1965 Epsilon had to flee the Balearic Islands because he was stopped on the Spanish border in a van filled with pot, which he’d driven overland from Istanbul. Seeing a customs officer prising open the panelling behind which drugs were concealed, Epsilon with his passport held aloft, wandered off pretending he was looking for an office at which to present his papers. He got up onto a hillside from where he could observe what was going on at the checkpoint. When he saw one of his companions being led away in handcuffs, he escaped into Spain. Recently Epsilon explained the situation that then unfolded as follows: “I knew I’d be wanted by the police from the moment of the bust. When I reached Barcelona, I dropped my friend’s passport at the American Embassy and with a note asking that they made representation to the Spanish authorities to the effect that I was totally responsible for the dope of which my companion was entirely innocent. I made it to Ibiza where I hid out in various houses for a month until I escaped the island (The) Police had searched for me in Formentera and were on the look out for me in Ibiza. It was the biggest bust ever in Spain at the time.”

After escaping Spain and the potential drug rap hanging over him there, Epsilon relocated to London, where by moving into the antique business he found himself working alongside one-shot novelist Bill Hopkins. My mother first met Hopkins in the early-sixties via her work as a hostess at Murray’s Cabaret Club. After the publication of his only book The Divine & The Decay, Hopkins was briefly considered one of the leading Angry Young Men; but by the time my mother met him he’d reinvented himself as a entrepreneur dealing in used goods. Hopkins introduced Epsilon to a girl he knew called Tina Lawson, who also happened to be Francis Morland’s babysitter. At this point in time Morland and his partner Keith Wilkinson knew nothing about drug scamming but they quickly became major players though the fortuitous combination of their money and Epsilon’s contacts after hooking up with the Irishman via Lawson.

Morland himself was an ex-public school smoothie, a former ski champion who belonged to the fast-set clustered around Princess Margaret, and would have inherited the Somerset Morland wool ‘fortune’ had the family business not gone belly-up in the seventies. In the sixties, he was a London art world insider with a teaching job in the sculpture department at St Martin’s College of Art. His mother, Dorothy Morland, had been director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Morland’s work in bronze of the early-sixties was well received. A Times critic covering the Sculptors of Today exhibition at the Bear Lane Gallery in Oxford praised him for ‘distinguished modelling coupled with imaginative insight’ (11 May 1962). The following year, alongside David Hockney, Joe Tilson, Peter Blake, Allen Jones and Derek Boshier, he appears in Gerald Laing’s photograph London Artists in Paris; this was taken during the Paris Biennale des Jeunes. 1963 was a key year for Morland, since he moved from working in bronze to using fibreglass finished in coats of cellulose paint.

When writing about Morland’s contribution to The New Generation 1966 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in Studio International, P. Procktor said of this change of direction: “Comparing the new work with the old there can be few transformations of style more radical. The break is complete. These large entwining serpentine shapes relate to the work of other sculptors in this idiom, speak in a sculptural language which is familiar because it is to a certain extent a shared language. What interests me is not the grammatical principles of the language nor who invented them, one can safely assume that Morland did not, but what this language is used to say. Kiss, the only title of the four pieces in the exhibition which has a specific human connotation, provides a clue to all. The twisting and entwining shapes are metaphors of the body, headless, limbless, featureless, but miming the poses of relaxation or sexual intercourse like gigantic strings of macaroni…”

1966 was to prove another turning point in Morland’s life, since as we’ve noted it was then that he secured an introduction to Damien Epsilon. Morland was unable to pay for his extravagant life-style from the sale of his work, and was keen to find alternative sources of income. Once he gatecrashed the drug scamming game, he realised that one of the ways he might smuggle hash was to seal it inside his large fibre-glass sculptures, a hole which could be re-plugged was all that was required to get the dope in and out of his art works. Many years down the line this ploy was imitated by Howard Marks, who substituted Morland’s modernist constructions with the speaker systems used by rock bands. To Morland smuggling was a means of subsidising his real passions, fast living and making art. In the late sixties Morland’s work appeared in group shows such as New British Sculpture organised by the Arnolfini Gallery at outdoor locations in Bristol and the 1st Burleighfield Sculpture Exhibition at Burleighfield House, Loudwater, Bucks (both 1968). Morland’s one person show Recent Sculpture opened on 12 September 1969 at the Axiom Gallery, London W1. Under the headline ‘Hinged and Unhinged’, Guy Brett dismissed it as ‘decorative’ in a Times review of 19 September 1969.

Morland’s first bust occurred in October 1969, hot on the heels of his Axiom show. The art world reacted with horror, seeing taking drugs as one thing and smuggling them as quite another. Morland’s career as a professional sculptor came to an abrupt halt, and he was dropped by many of his professional friends. The charges against him took some time to wind their way to a conclusion in the courts but The Times dutifully covered this on 23 March 1971 under the heading ‘Diplomats In Drug Ring, Crown Says’. Morland failed to answer his bail so he wasn’t actually up before the beak. Others not present were a Mr Khaled and Fulton Dunbar, Third Secretary at the Liberian Embassy in Rome. Morland and Dunbar were said to have made statements admitting their guilt and that of others. Morland’s partner Keith Wilkinson pleaded not guilty and so was tried separately. It was claimed the gang smuggled £150,000 worth of cannabis into the UK, and had plans to ship a lot more around the world. In the dock was Robert Paul Palacios who used his catamaran to transport the drugs from Morocco to Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, from where he drove them to London in a Rolls-Royce car. Palacios who’d been hired to do the job by Morland was fined £4000. Morland’s wife Susan was said to be only on the fringe of the gang and was fined £500 for possession of cannabis and cannabis resin.

Morland began his first jail sentence for smuggling in America. After sailing his 47 foot ketch loaded with hash from Morocco to the US in July 1971 and being caught upon entry, he was jailed for eight years and fined $15,000. The Times tersely covered Morland’s second bust on 4 June 1972 under the headline ‘London Man Jailed in US Drug Case’. After doing time for his first two ‘crimes’, Morland was next nicked attempting to land cannabis worth £3.5 million in northern Scotland. When he was jailed for nine years and had assets of more than £232,000 confiscated, The Times of 25 June 1991 covered the case under the headline ‘Drug Smuggler – Francis Morland’: Unfortunately this 1989 bust was not his last, nor did the 1991 judgement result in his final stiff sentence.

Like Morland, Terry Taylor is another figure who has been treated as relatively minor within the history of swinging London and yet played a key role in London’s sixties drug culture. Described by Tony Gould as ‘unconventionally successful’ [1], Taylor was for a time chiefly of interest to cultural historians because characters in the Colin MacInnes novels Absolute Beginners and Mr Love and Justice had been based to a greater or lesser extent upon him. In 1956 MacInnes introduced Taylor to photographer Ida Kar and he became her lover for a few years. Karr’s husband Victor Musgrave, who ran Gallery One, was apparently very happy with the arrangement. Simultaneously Taylor worked as Kar’s photographic assistant and she encouraged him to paint. [2] After getting his first drug novel published in 1961, Taylor went to Tangier to work on a follow-up. While away he smoked a lot of weed and hung out with a variety of fellow psychedelic explorers including William Burroughs. I can at this point allow the American poet Johnny Dolphin to take up the story:

“One day a curved-nose, thatched-haired tall thin Englishman about thirty, coiled beside me and ordered a mint tea […] After ordering the mint teas, Terry brought out his kief bag. He began deftly and with luminous attention to separate seed from the dried leaves. The seeds grew in size for me until they became as large as peas. He worked like a goldsmith. Then he laid out two pipes, wooden, curved, painted. I had gone on two peyote trips and for seven days had done a small amount of hashish, but never before had I seen anyone who knew what to do, exactly. I abandoned myself to a master… “ [3]

In his memoir Journey Around an Extraordinary Planet, Dolphin goes on to describe how he got heavily involved in a magic group formed by Terry Taylor and various Berbers which met to materialize thought forms:

“Each one would concentrate, projecting his inner scene. The one with the most power would make the scene that would take over the night in the Magic Room. That one would have made the greatest magic. I learned how to measure power. Terry, lean, deft and poised, prepared the kief from the dried plants, carefully selected from the Berber women’s stocks. Then he would pass out the majoom cookies […] We sat backs to the wall in silence focusing on making the scene appear. In one I heard Walid, the mute, screaming, ‘Let me out! Let me out!’ His eyes burned like a man newly sentenced to life imprisonment. Terry and Hamid became one glance which became tensile, material, then alive, as their two I’s danced out upon that high wire that their live bodies lavished their energies upon creating and maintaining. Lita and Mark, two bright six year old Jewish kids from Shtetl immigrants, played pat-a-cake on the sidewalks of the Lower East Side. My head rolled off my right shoulder and sat on the floor, taking it all in while I watched myself become a contemplative head with no body to care for or react to. This scene had not been the one I projected nor did anyone else claim it. The great magic scenes came from an undiscoverable magician…” [4]

These scenes were destined to be repeated in London, albeit with a different group of ‘initiates’. Intimating a little of what was to come, Dolphin writes:

“Terry labored for the perfect pipe of kief and the perfect cookie of majoom. Terry labored to become the perfect observer. Terry got the unreliable cheap Chinese batteries that did enable us to hear what he said we must hear by candlelight, the Beatles, and Ginsberg doing Howl. Terry wanted to turn all London on and later helped start the process with street acid together with his tall, thin-nosed call-girl friend from Chelsea. Terry could talk about the fine points of sentence structure and the power of paragraphs. He had written a novel of which he had no copy available and had been in prison in England once on a drug count. “ [5]

In 1964 Taylor introduced my mother Julia Callan-Thompson to Detta Whybrow, the woman Dolphin describes as Taylor’s ‘call-girl friend’, and with others they formed a magic group in west London. Fuelled by grass alone the attempts of this coven to materialise thought forms appear to have borne some strange results but when they came to be powered by LSD their activities immediately took off into another stratosphere. At that time Detta Whybrow had a john who was a chemist and I’ve been told that through a combination of her charms and various weird rituals, this boffin was persuaded to make acid. There may be some mythologising going on here, while Detta does seem to have suggested to the john he manufacture acid for her friends to deal, the lure of easy money was probably enough to convince him it was a good idea. That said, when the cops raided the two acid laboratories set up by Victor James Kapur, they also recovered a huge stash of photographic negatives showing him having sex with Whybrow and various other women; agreeing to pose for these shots could have been the means by which Whybrow’s circle got the chemist to commit to manufacturing LSD for them. Terry Taylor informed me recently that at first he thought Detta had gone crazy when she told him she had a john who’d make acid for her. Street sources say the acid was extremely pure and potent; the English equivalent of the legendary Orange Sunshine.
In November 1967, after a series of police raids across north and west London aimed at smashing an LSD manufacturing and distribution operation, Detta Whybrow then aged 39 was one of ultimately nine individuals hauled up before the beak at Bow Street Magistrates’s Court over drug offences. Hauled in alongside Detta was her 29 year-old boyfriend of the time, John Sherwood Pendry. Their chemist Victor James Kapur, who was just a year younger than Detta, was given a nine-year stretch at the Criminal Court at the end of May 1968 for manufacturing LSD. Amazingly, Whybrow got off with two years probation. A 54 year-old antique dealer Harry Nathan of Chelsea copped the main blame for overseeing the distribution of the acid and was jailed for seven years; my view is that Nathan was a very minor player and Detta was the only individual who played a key role in the acid distribution to be arrested. A 31 year-old dispenser Mohammed Hassan Ally who assisted Kapur got 21 months. The authorities claimed the LSD involved had a black market value of a quarter of a million pounds. But prior to this bust taking place, another important drug connection opened up for the circles to which Detta and my mother belonged.

While travelling in the Middle East in 1967, Graham Plinston met Salim Hraoui [6] through a third party. Among other things Hraoui wholesaled hash and the two men decided they could do business. The Lebanese connection Plinston established in this casual fashion regularly couriered hash to London on his behalf via ordinary airline flights, arranging for the pot to be concealed in body harnesses strapped to those paid to act as drug mules. It was by such means that Plinston’s supply was smuggled until Hraoui introduced him to Mohammed Durrani in 1969. Durrani knew some Pakistani government officials who were prepared to exploit their diplomatic immunity to smuggle hash. By this means Durrani’s diplomats were able to get drugs into mainland Europe but not the UK. The biggest hurdle for dope smugglers was getting their gear into Europe; transporting it around the continent was viewed as considerably less risky. Nonetheless Plinston and Geoff Thompson were busted in Lorrach in 1970, as they ferried dope in a car from Switzerland across the West Germany border. This is the famous seizure that gave Howard Marks his break into the major league of the pot trade. After being sent by Mandy Plinston to sort things out in Germany and then reporting back to various Middle Eastern connections about what had and hadn’t been compromised, Marks took over portions of Plinston’s business while his friends Plinston and Thompson did time in jail. [7]

Bizarrely, John Pearson in his tomes on sixties British gangsters the Kray Twins writes about a man called Alan Bruce Cooper, [8] who it is claimed was working reluctantly and under threat of imprisonment for the American Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Among other things, the American authorities are said to have known that Cooper had been manufacturing LSD and trafficking in this drug. Supposedly, it was decided that Cooper should entice Ronnie and Reggie Kray into committing crimes for which they could be convicted because the authorities in the USA were concerned about their connections to the American Mafia. Regardless of exactly what role various intelligence agencies did or did not have in controlling Cooper, he was a major player in the events that culminated in the conviction of the Kray twins for murder. In The Profession of Violence, Pearson provides the following details about a few of Cooper’s schemes:

“Cooper had the big ideas that Ronnie needed and seemed as thrilled as Ronnie by them all. They often talked about narcotics. Cooper had European contacts and clearly knew the market. This was the quickest, safest way for the twins to become millionaires. As a start Cooper suggested setting up a flat in Belgrave Square as a clearing house for wealthy addicts and their pushers. Cooper got as far as renting the flat when Ronnie said he wasn’t interested. Other rackets they discussed were large-scale gold smuggling, further currency deals, a take-over of an existing marijuana racket carried on through the diplomatic immunity of some Pakistani diplomats and the traffic in illegal Asian immigrants from Belgium. And each time it was Reggie’s caution that prevented Ronnie from becoming involved…” [9]

If this is to be believed, then it appears that American intelligence may have known in 1967 about the drug pipeline Plinston benefited from two years later. If what Pearson says on this score is reliable, it is possible that having failed to get the Krays to take over the pipeline the American authorities left it up and running for future use, and it is the same drug conduit that Plinston later stumbled upon. That said, despite the paranoia that permeates the drug subculture, I’m unaware of anyone from the circles around Plinston and Thompson who believes they were set up to be busted in Lörrach. It is nonetheless curious that on 18 July 1968 when Alan Bruce Cooper appeared as a Crown witness at Bow Street Magistrates Court against the Kray brothers, he should deny he’d given the police information about Victor James Kapur and Harry Nathan, claiming: “I discovered my father-in-law (Nathan) was a runner for the LSD Kapur was manufacturing when it came out in the papers.” Nathan was busted in his son-in-law’s car, and the police found Cooper at Nathan’s flat when they went to search it immediately after this arrest. [10]

Under oath on the same day of the Kray hearing, Cooper also denied that he’d planned to kidnap the Pope and hold him to ransom, and repeated his claims that he’d had a two year involvement with American intelligence, stating that the Krays’ lawyers could check this by applying to the European office of that service. This was reported in The Times of 19 July 1968. Top cop Leonard Read in his autobiography Nipper Read: The Man Who Nicked The Krays (MacDonald & Co, London 1991) provides a more complex take on Cooper’s relations with the British police than the one given at Bow Street Magistrates Court. Read does, however, assert that the evidence Cooper gave against the Krays was essentially true, and implies Harry Nathan was wrongly convicted as an LSD runner when he says in his book that it was Cooper – and not Cooper’s father-in-law – who was involved with Kapur’s drug factory. Read’s account appears to me reasonably consistent with the police file on the Kapur case, and what various street sources have to say on the subject. However, while Nathan may have been completely innocent, it seems to me more likely he was a minor player; but even if this was the case, his role in the drug running was very small in comparison to that of his son-in-law.

Cooper confirmed in court during the Kray trial that he’d made a living from gold smuggling, something to which Kapur was also connected. Two months before he was busted for manufacturing LSD, Kapur acted as a crown witness at Bow Street where he testified against former speedway champion Squire Francis ‘Split’ Waterman and three others who were charged with ‘attempted illegal export of gold, receiving gold bars, and possessing firearms and counterfeiting equipment’. This was reported in The Times of 23 September 1967. The case against Waterman ran in part that he’d been cutting and smelting gold from a bullion robbery in Clerkenwell, and that he’d enlisted Kapur’s aid in choosing and purchasing a furnace with which to do it. Likewise The Times of 19 July 1968 reported that in court testifying against the Krays, Cooper confirmed he was acquainted with Split Waterman who he knew to be both a gold smuggler and an arms dealer.

Under the headline ‘Four-Year Term For Split Waterman’, The Times of 20 March 1968 had already reported that the police believed Waterman to be a gun-runner as well as a gold smuggler. Reporting on the Kray trial on 20 July 1968, The Times records the claim that Waterman had fitted up an attaché case with a hypodermic syringe loaded with hydrogen cyanide, so that Cooper could furnish it to a third party who was to carry out an assassination for the Kray brothers. At the time this seemed an utterly fantastic escapade, but such methods of assassination were later taken up by eastern bloc security agencies. It is impossible for me to say exactly what Waterman, Cooper and Kapur, were doing; but it is reasonable to conclude that they were known to each other and collaborated on what were either criminal or intelligence enterprises, and possibly both. It is certainly strange that Alan Bruce Cooper, a man claiming to be a willing police informant as well as an American intelligence asset and former gold smuggler, may have had inside knowledge about what on the surface would appear to be two unrelated suppliers of drugs peddled by the group centred on Detta Whybrow, my mother and other individuals such as Mike Burton (who I am naming because I know he is dead, I have other names that I won’t include here). It is unclear to me where Whybrow and her circle were sourcing drugs immediately after the Kapur bust, but by the end of 1969 both the acid and the pot they were dealing was supplied by Graham Plinston and his associates.

Stewart Home

1. Tony Gould, Inside Outsider: The Life and Times of Colin MacInnes (London: Allison & Busby, 1993), p. 144.
2. Gould, Inside Outsider, p. 114.
3. Johnny Dolphin, Journey Around an Extraordinary Planet (Oracle, AZ: Synergetic Press, 1990), p. 3.
4. Dolphin, Journey Around an Extraordinary Planet, p. 5.
5. Dolphin, Journey Around an Extraordinary Planet, p. 6.
6. Salim Hraoui is called Lebanese Sam by Howard Marks in his autobiography Mr Nice (London: Vintage, 1998).
7. The history of the illicit drug trade of the sixties and seventies has to date been rather poorly served by English-language print sources. For example, while invoking Graham Plinston’s 1970 bust in Lörrach as a key event in the Howard Marks story, both David Leigh in his authorized biography High Time: The Life & Times of Howard Marks (London: Unwin, 1985), and Howard Marks in his autobiography Mr Nice (London: Vintage, 1998) omit to mention that rather than being alone, Plinston was arrested and subsequently jailed alongside Geoff Thompson.
In his autobiography, Howard Marks is two months out in his dating of the Lörrach bust. The fact that Marks and those drawing on his recollections get their facts wrong can be demonstrated easily enough by consulting press reports of the time. A Reuters news agency wire of 18 March 1970 led, for example, to coverage on page 5 of the London Times the following day headlined ‘Britons Held On Drugs Charge’. This report makes it clear that both Plinston and Geoff Thompson were in jail after the discovery of ‘about 105lbs of hashish in their car’, and that they had been arrested upon entering Germany ‘from Switzerland on February 26.’ The Times piece explicitly cites information contained within it as being provided by a British consulate spokesman in Stuttgart, and the authorities notified Thompson and Plinston’s families of the arrests before speaking to the press about them.
Therefore it is ridiculous of David Leigh to assert in his authorised Howard Marks biography High Times that in the spring of 1970 Mandy Plinston sent Marks to Frankfurt to investigate her dope smuggling partner’s disappearance. As should already be clear, Mandy Plinston knew of the bust before Howard Marks; as did my mother Julia Callan-Thompson, my mother’s boyfriend of the time Bruno de Galzain, Geoff Thompson’s partner of the time Jane Ripley, Charlie Radcliffe, Alex Trocchi and many others immersed in the London counterculture. The claim made by Leigh and some later writers to the effect that Howard Marks learnt of the bust by looking through German newspapers in Frankfurt, and then relayed this ‘discovery’ back to the UK, is utterly spurious. Its reiteration demonstrates the rather dubious status of a number of texts that claim to provide inside information on the dope trade.
8. John Pearson, The Profession of Violence: The Rise & Fall of the Kray Twins (London: Grafton Books, 1985); John Pearson, The Cult of Violence: The Untold Story of the Krays (London: Orion, 2001). Cooper is often referred to as The Yank rather than by his name in the ghostwritten gibberings of Kray camp followers. Those wanting to look further at the extensive if often wildly inaccurate literature about the Krays might start with Albert Donoghue and Martin Short, The Enforcer: Secrets of my life with the Krays (London: John Blake Publishing, 2001) or Reg Kray, Born Fighter (London: Arrow, 1991). However, Pearson’s Profession of Violence in its various revised editions from 1972 on remains the best work on the subject.
9. Pearson, The Profession of Violence, p. 281.
10. Barry Cox with John Shirley and Martin Short in The Fall of Scotland Yard (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977), address the corrupt nature of the London drug squad in a detailed if restrained fashion. While the bent coppery Cox addresses landed certain detectives in jail, considerably more serious allegations have been made elsewhere. It should be noted that Norman ‘Nobby’ Pilcher one of the bent cops who features prominently in The Fall of Scotland Yard played a key role in the Kapur bust.

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