It was November 1974 and Detective Inspector Dick Lee from the Thames Valley Police was putting together his annual report for the Forces Drug Squad. He noticed some contradiction regarding the use of the drug, lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD. He knew from work that undercover officers were carrying out at pop festivals, the ones at Reading and Windsor were in his force area, LSD was being used and the demand for it was huge. However, on making enquiries DI Lee found that in a Home Office report regarding the drug scene in the UK, there were no LSD seizures. He carried on his enquiries liaising with drugs intelligence at the home of the Metropolitan Police, Scotland Yard. By his own account he found that there was no intelligence regarding LSD and the UK drugs market.
In 1975 undercover officers on duty at pop festivals around the country were being offered LSD regularly. DI Lee continued to put the drug information together and concluded there was an LSD factory in the UK manufacturing LSD before distributing it worldwide.
Two of the names that emerged were Richard Hilary Kemp, a chemist who had been successful in the manufacture of LSD in the late 1960’s and his girlfriend Dr Christine Bott, a GP. They lived in a cottage, Penlleiniau in Blaencaron near Tregaron in rural Wales.
In April 1975, a Range Rover was involved in a fatal road traffic collision in Machynlleth, Wales. The driver of the Range Rover was Richard Kemp. A passenger from the other vehicle involved in the collision was fatally injured. As was usual there was a police investigation. DI Dick Lee of the Thames Valley Drug Squad knew of Kemp because of his earlier enquiries and suspected him of being involved in the drug trade. During the collision investigation the Range Rover was searched, pieces of paper were found, when these pieces were put together the words, ‘hydrazine hydrate’ were written. This is an ingredient required to manufacture LSD. This was an indication that Kemp was involved in illegal drugs and was operating in rural Wales.
It would later transpire that Kemp and an author, David Solomon had founded a drug manufacturing organisation, based in Cambridge, a University city in the UK. To distribute the drugs, they enrolled Henry Todd and later he recruited Leaf Fielding. Fielding was a tabletter, making the substance into equal specific doses. There was a breakdown of sorts within the organisation and what emerged from this was two drug rings involved in the manufacture and distribution of LSD.
Kemp and Solomon relocated to West Wales, whilst Todd recruited Andy Munro to be the chemist and their base was at 23 Seymour Road, Hampton Wick, Kingston Upon Thames, UK.
As a result of the findings in the fatal collision case involving Kemp, DI Dick Lee and other senior officers put together a squad. This involved 11 UK police forces, so commenced the investigation that became known as Operation Julie.
Plas Llysyn was a large detached manor house in Carno, Powys, Wales. Surveillance revealed that Richard Kemp and his partner Dr Christine Bott were travelling from their home near Tregaron to Plas Llysyn which was owned by Kemp’s friend, an American, Paul Arnaboldi. Bott was seen to drop Kemp at the property and then return a few days later to collect him.
The team, one of whom was DC Stephen Bentley, set up an observation post which was an old caravan, it was parked in the lane by the house. Their cover story was that they were surveyors. On one occasion police sent a letter addressed to the surveyors at the caravan and it was duly delivered by the local postman. This validated the story, no doubt in rural Wales in those days, newcomers would be the topic of talk and speculation but by having the postman deliver a letter to those in the caravan, their position was somewhat authenticated.
Whilst the team kept the comings and goings at Plas Llysyn under surveillance it was apparent that things were being scaled down. Arnaboldi left Wales, his whereabouts has been a mystery since then. As a result, DI Dick Lee instructed the team to break in to the house and gather evidence. Once inside the basement at Plas Llysyn they took exhibits, tests revealed traces of LSD. The exhibits also included a dead rat, which, upon investigation, was found to contain LSD in its body. This was evidence that the basement of the manor house had been used as an LSD laboratory.
As the operation at Plas Llysyn now appeared to have ceased. DI Dick Lee asked DC Stephen Bentley and DC Eric Wright if they would be prepared to go undercover and infiltrate the community in and around LLanddewi Brefi and Tregaron, Wales. It was at this briefing the two officers met for the first time. They hit it off straight away and agreed to take part in the ongoing undercover operation. Their main interest was Alston Frederick Hughes, known as ‘Smiles’, a resident of Llanddewi Brefi.
The officers became Steve Jackson and Eric Walker, they had driving licences in their new names and created a cover story, that Eric’s brother, Trevor, had gone missing from home, in breach of his police bail conditions. They had heard that he was living in Wales with ‘hippies’. Eric’s family had wanted the pair to go and try to locate him, a believable story. They bought a camper-van to live in and on 3rd June 1976 they embarked on the next stage of their important part in Operation Julie, to infiltrate the community. They met Smiles on their second day. The officers passed themselves off as secondhand car salesmen and their absences from the area, when they needed to return to their force or their homes, were explained away as trips to the auctions to buy used cars, another believable story.
In the meantime, a surveillance team rented a property near to Tregaron called ‘Bronwydd’. From here they could conduct 24 hour surveillance on Kemp and Bott’s home, Penlleiniau in Blaencaron. Listening devices were deployed to eavesdrop on the two and any visitors.
Now living as Steve Jackson and Eric Walker in their campervan they made friends with Smiles, his partner, Mary and their child and many of their acquaintances. They visited Smiles and his young family at their home Y Glyn in Llanddewi Brefi. They were regular visitors to the New Inn in Llanddewi Brefi, Y Talbot and the Red Lion in Tregaron, the Ram Inn near Lampeter and the Red Lion in Pontrhydfendigaid. They became part of the fabric of rural life in Wales. As the summer months faded and the harsher weather came the officers rented a house not far from the New Inn called ‘Cartref’. And so they remained, as part of that community.
At the same time, the operation set up by Henry Todd and Andy Munro at Seymour Road was also being kept under surveillance.
The decision was made to raid the properties involved and arrest the suspects. It was a well planned and well managed operation, both in the UK and abroad.
The simultaneous raids on 87 properties in Wales and England were to take place on Saturday 26th March 1977. Other raids on the continent were also planned. But then officers got information that the occupants of 23 Seymour Road were going to be flying out of Heathrow before the raids took place. So that one address was raided the day before, Friday 25th March.
The leaders from both rings were arrested and other suspects too. Property was retrieved from the locations including cash, drugs, drug making equipment and details of bank accounts held outside the UK.
The offenders including David Solomon, Richard Kemp, Dr Christine Bott and Alston Frederick Hughes (‘Smiles’) from the Welsh organisation and Henry Todd, Andy Munro, Leaf Fielding and Brian Cuthbertson from the London based ring were all arrested and charged. The case was heard at Bristol Crown Court the following year.
Of the 17 defendants, after conviction, Kemp and Todd were sentenced to 13 years each (the offence for which they were charged carried a maximum sentence of 14 years at that time), Cuthbertson was sentenced to 11 years, Solomon and Munro to 10 years, Kemp’s girlfriend, Bott, 9 years, whilst Fielding and Hughes (‘Smiles’) were sentenced to 8 years and Douglas Flanagan received a 2 year suspended sentence. A total of 124 years imprisonment.
Operation Julie had been a success it removed 90% of LSD from the British market and caused great disruption. However, it came at a great personal cost to some of those involved one of those was Stephen Bentley who had lived undercover for the best part of two years, he was returned to ‘regular’ police duties as Operation Julie was disbanded.
He was promoted to Sergeant but couldn’t settle back into ‘normal’ life. Back in the 1970’s there was no training for undercover officers and Stephen Bentley’s experience of life undercover as an infiltrator weighed heavily.
Definitely worth a read : Stephen's book
He resigned from the Police service in 1980. His second marriage ended in divorce and his health suffered. In the years that followed, he did any number of jobs to keep himself going, sales manager, truck driver, motor cycle courier and the like then in 1993 he went to University and studied for a law degree which he successfully achieved. He then completed the Bar Vocational Course at the Inns of Court in London and qualified as a barrister in 1997. Until 2011 he practised in the criminal courts around the UK. Since ‘retirement’ he has become a successful author. He writes crime fiction, a popular genre but it is his book ‘Undercover Operation Julie – The Inside Story‘ that is a book without comparison. It charts those heady days of living undercover and tells of the times he and his undercover buddy, Eric were nearly caught out and how they managed to deflect suspicion. It’s a riveting read and details Stephen Bentley’s role in Operation Julie far more than is possible here.
In this series of four episodes we have followed Stephen Bentley’s involvement. Operation Julie was a vast investigation which involved many officers and other defendants.
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