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Life undercover: Operation Julie relived

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Stephen back in 1976: Posing as Steve Jackson

Stephen back in 1976: Posing as Steve Jackson

DURING the 1970s, Stephen Bentley, a 29-year-old detective, went undercover as Steve Jackson, spending his time as part of a gang making and distributing LSD.

He has now released his shocking story, outlining his time within the West Wales cartel. Within ‘Undercover Operation Julie – The Inside Story’, Mr Bentley tells his story of how he helped to bring down two criminal networks during his time in the field, and how his undercover persona as a cannabis-smoking hippy ultimately became his demise.

With origins in counter-culture, the drugs ring that Bentley helped to infiltrate over a period of two years involved doctors, scientists and university graduates.

Recruited in 1969, Liverpool University chemist Richard Kemp was employed by Cambridge author David Solomon to manufacture LSD, initially as part of a social experiment in a bid for world peace through ‘mind-expansion’.

Henry Todd, a London-based businessman, was then employed in order to handle sales. However, by 1973, the group had fallen out, prompting Kemp and Solomon to move production from Cambridge to West Wales.

In 1975, evidence of hydrazine hydrate, a key ingredient in the manufacture of LSD, was found in a Range Rover belonging to Kemp by the police after it was involved in a fatal crash near Machynlleth, West Wales.

Police then begun to set up a drugs operation, run in secret by Operation Commander Dick Lee, as a precaution against corruption in the Metropolitan Police and provincial police stations.

Mr Bentley was hand-selected for the potentially dangerous role of undercover detective by Commander Lee.

Commander Lee regarded Bentley as a ‘talented, friendly and intelligent detective’.

There was no training manual for infiltrating a drugs cartel and Mr Bentley now recalls that his first operation required him to watch Plas Llysyn, a mansion deep in the heart of central Wales. This was where Kemp and his girlfriend, Dr Christine Bott, were suspected of producing LSD.

Although most surveillance was ‘utterly boring’, a decision was made to break into the property, said Mr Bentley.

The break-in provided the team with substantial evidence of an acid factory hidden within the property’s cellar.

Commander Lee issued a new plan in June 1976, which required Mr Bentley, along with Officer Eric Wright, to infiltrate a ‘community of drop-out hippies’ living in the village of Llanddewi Brefi.

Alston Hughes, known as Smiles, was a member of said community; he was later revealed to be a key figure in the distribution of LSD.

Mr Bentley and Mr Wright were given fake IDs and a cover story in order to infiltrate the group. They claimed to be searching for a lost brother who had absconded from court and joined a commune in Wales.

The two officers stopped shaving and cutting their hair and lived in the back of a transit van with an array of psychedelic flowers painted on the side.

“I had a job to do but I was getting good money and living a carefree life,” said Mr Bentley. “I was able to throw off the shackles of being Stephen Bentley and become a completely different person, with a different outlook on life, different standards, and different scenery.

“The freedom in itself was a high. It was exhilarating.

“Who was Steve Jackson? He was really me in a live stage play, but instead of being in the West End, it was real life.”

This level of freedom was not without cost as the constant fear of being found out left the duo with a ‘constant, unrelenting awareness’ as they feared not only their own personal safety but also the risk of the whole operation.

Both officers had virtually no contact with their families during the operation.

“My cover of being a used car dealer enabled me to get home to my wife for a day or two every so often but I was forced to hide indoors. People would have asked too many questions about the radical change in my appearance,” said Mr Bentley.

When it comes to what attributes are needed to be a successful undercover officer, Mr Bentley was quite clear.

“The first quality is to be likeable. That breaks down most suspicions. I don’t think many people believe a police officer is capable of being a genuinely nice guy while the second is to be prepared to be reckless and take ‘them’ by surprise,” said Mr Bentley.

In order to fit in within the commune as Steve Jackson, Mr Bentley had to adapt to his surroundings – this included taking drugs.

“The over-riding feeling was fear. I was worried about smoking dope and taking cocaine, but those fears subsided as I took more and didn’t end up in the gutter,” he said.

He also had to resort to heavy drinking in order to keep up with the gang.

“I was drinking for England. It was a minimum of five or six pints a day and three or four shots. On a heavy day, it would be 12 to 15 pints and who knows how much whisky.

The two officers’ main aim was to build up a level of trust and socialise with members of the hippy community. They offered their services clearing trees and putting their van to use in order to move people’s furniture.

During one comical occasion, an upright piano went flying out the back of a van when the gang attempted furniture removal after drinking and smoking cannabis.

The local police were unaware of the operation and on another occasion, Mr Bentley enhanced his cover by directing drunken abuse against a village constable.

The truncheon-wielding PC chased the hippies from the pub, although as Mr Bentley recalls, the officer’s ‘athleticism had long gone’, so they were able to out run him.

By then, Mr Bentley was so assimilated into the group that they gave him the nickname ‘cop killer’ – because of his abuse towards the officer.

Mr Bentley built up a ‘perfect’ friendship with Smiles over the years; however, this friendship almost undermined the whole operation.

“Really, when I look back, I wonder how I kept it together,” he said. “There was one occasion that stands out.

“I was sat cross-legged with Smiles in his living room. Through smoking cannabis and drinking I came very, very close to losing self-control and confiding in him who I was, mainly because I really liked him. It was just sheer willpower that stopped me.”

During his undercover assignment, Mr Bentley continued his friendship with Smiles. He said: “I was relieved not to be involved in his arrest, but I went to see him in the police cells at Swindon.

“I’d shaved off the beard. When he recognised me, he just said, ‘no hard feelings’. I felt very emotional. Close to tears. He felt like a brother.”

The pair of undercover officers were pulled out from the ring in February 1977 when all the evidence necessary to arrest the gang was gathered.

Raids were carried out on 87 addresses in Wales, London, Cambridge and France between March and December 1977, eventually turning up laboratory equipment, more than £1m in cash and shares, and enough LSD for 6.5 million doses.

Although Mr Bentley was awarded a promotion for his efforts, be become alcohol-dependent and continued to smoke cannabis, causing his second marriage to break down.

“I was treated so badly that it still rankles now,” he said. “I was a good copper and enjoyed the camaraderie of being part of a crack detective team. I loved the job and resigned while suffering from severe depression.

“My drug habits would never have happened without my exposure on Op Julie.”

While Operation Julie was deemed a success – a total of 120 arrests were made, resulting in 15 convictions and prison sentences totalling more than 120 years – Mr Bentley thinks the long term impact was ‘negligible’.

“The surveillance and undercover techniques honed during the operation were lost,” said Mr Bentley. “Infiltration is highly specialised and should have become a career option to avoid the transition back to normal policing.

“Op Julie was special because it surmounted this parochialism and proved what could be achieved by a de facto national squad.

“The establishment didn’t want to know.”

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Carmarthenshire’s sensory garden: why locals should embrace this wellness trend

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WITH ‘#sensorygarden’ 499.1k views on TikTok – locals have the advantage of experiencing a sensory garden on their doorstep at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Wildlife experts explain why you should visit.

Wildlife expert Sean McMenemy shares how sensory gardens can do wonders for our wellness whilst providing a safe haven for wildlife and encourages Carmarthenshire locals to visit their local sensory garden this autumn.

A sensory garden is an outdoor space that stimulates the five senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste, and can be created in your own garden. Sensory gardens at home remain relatively rare, but the trend is growing with the TikTok hashtag ‘#sensorygarden’ amassing 499.1k views*. 

Carmarthenshire, dubbed the Garden of Wales, has a huge array of beautiful green spaces to explore. It’s home to the National Botanic Garden of Wales which spans a huge 568 acres, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The stunning Great Glasshouse features a sensory trail that explores the largest single-span greenhouse in the world! From fluffy flowers from South Africa to a strongly scented Australian plant, it’ll engage all your senses. 

Having recently gifted King Charles with a beautiful oak sapling, the National Botanic Garden of Wales care deeply about the nation’s natural heritage. For those visiting the garden, the paths are wheelchair accessible with manual wheelchairs available on site. Open 10am – 6pm every day of the week.

Wildlife expert and founder of bird food provider Ark Wildlife, Sean McMenemy, explains the benefits of sensory gardening: “Sensory gardens provide a great deal of physical and mental benefits for different people and purposes. From getting vitamin D from sunlight to improving physical fitness by maintaining a garden, there are several physical benefits. Mentally, you can benefit from a mood boost and relaxation by spending time surrounded by calming stimulation.

“Sensory gardens can also have huge benefits for children, older people, those with learning disabilities and those who struggle with their physical and mental health. You can also create a sensory garden for your pets and garden wildlife!”

Top tips for creating your own sensory garden

If you do have the outdoor space, creating your own sensory garden is therapeutic in itself and doesn’t need to be a complicated process. The most important thing is to ensure that the garden engages all five senses. 

Melody Estes, landscape design gardening supervisor, says: “Whether you’re new to gardening or a seasoned pro, you can always improve your garden by adding some sensory elements.” 

Here are some tips from Melody for creating a sensory garden:

Sight – Plant colourful flowers that change with the seasons.

Sound – If you have a fountain or water feature on your property, consider adding some relaxing music to play alongside it. You could also place chimes near your front door to welcome people in.

Smell – Use scent. Consider planting scented flowers or herbs like lavender, rosemary and thyme that will give off a lovely aroma when they bloom.

Touch – Mix textures. The texture of plants can be as important as their colour and shape. Try using plants with soft leaves like ferns or grasses that are texturally different.

Taste – Planting herbs, fruits and vegetables not only provide tasty treats, but is a sustainable source of food.

Sean McMenemy adds: “Sensory gardens are an easy way to engage with wildlife and the outdoor environment. Growing your own plants and vegetables provides countless ways to learn about the natural world.

“You can bring your sensory garden to life by using bird feeders to attract beautiful feathered friends into your garden. They’ll bring the sound element to your sensory garden naturally. Fragrant flowers will attract colourful butterflies and other pollinators to your garden, giving you something to observe whilst helping nature to thrive.”

Some people may not have the time, money or space to create their own sensory garden. However, those with balconies and window ledges can still plant colourful, sweet-smelling flowers and edible plants. This mini sensory garden can still provide the benefits and satisfaction of an outdoor garden.

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Prince and Princess of Wales to visit Wales

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THE PRINCE and Princess of Wales have planned a trip to Wales to visit a variety of communities across the nation and learn about the work of key charitable organisations. 

The Prince and Princess have a deep affection for Wales, having made their first family home in Anglesey, and have thoroughly enjoyed their previous visits and the warmth and kindness shown by the Welsh people. 

Their Royal Highnesses are looking forward to spending more time in Wales over the next few years, they hope to strengthen their relationship with communities in all parts of Wales. 

During their first engagement, Their Royal Highnesses will visit the RNLI Holyhead Lifeboat Station, where they will meet crew, volunteers and some people who have been supported by their local unit.

Holyhead is one of the three oldest lifeboat stations on the Welsh coast and has a remarkable history of bravery, having received 70 awards for gallantry. 

Their Royal Highnesses will then take a short walk to the Holyhead Marine and Cafe Bar, where they will meet local people, including representatives of small businesses and organisations, including the Coastguard and Sea Cadets. 

In their second engagement, the Prince and Princess of Wales are expected to visit Swansea. 

Their Royal Highnesses will visit St Thomas Church, a re-developed church in Swansea which supports people in the local area and across the City and County of Swansea. 

Over the last two years the church has been transformed into a thriving community hub and is home to a vast array of services, including:

  • A foodbank which supports over 200 people per week
  • Swansea Baby Basics which distributes essential items for vulnerable mothers across the city, such as toiletries and clothes
  • Facilities for the homeless including food, showers and toilets
  • A not-for-profit cafe and community training kitchen
  • A surplus food distribution network which collects food from supermarkets at the end of each day and distributes it from the church to prevent food waste and to help end food poverty

As part of their visit, Their Royal Highnesses will meet those volunteering at the church across different initiatives including Baby Basics and the foodbank. Their Royal Highnesses will also spend some time meeting members of the public gathered outside the church. 

The Princess of Wales has previously worked with Baby Banks and the in summer of 2020 brought together 19 British brands and retailers to donate over 10,000 new items to more than 40 baby banks nationwide, operated by Baby Basics, Little Village and AberNecessities. 

Her Royal Highness has visited a number of baby banks across the UK, including in London, Sheffield and West Norfolk where she has spent time speaking with families about their experiences of using their local baby bank services, as well as helping unload donations. 

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Carmarthenshire farmer dies following attack by bull near Llandeilo

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A FARMER has died following an incident with a bull on a farm in Llandeilo.

The 58-year-old, named locally as Maldwyn Harrier, was attacked by the animal during a TB test on Friday morning.

Police have confirmed that they were called to a farm in the Penybanc area of Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, and are investigating alongside the Health and Safety Executive. 

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