Friday, April 15, 2016


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A remarkable court drawing by artist Richard Adams illustrating aspects of the Howard Marks' drug trial at the Old Bailey in 1981. The accompanying piece was written by Tim Malyon and appeared in an issue of the London listings magazine City Limits dated November 27th - December 3rd 1981. Interspersed within the text are clippings about the trial from the Daily Mail

The case had everything. Britain's MI6, Mexican intelligence, the Customs, the police, the IRA, 15 tons of cannabis, and Howard Marks.

On the night of December 29 1979, the tugboat 'Karob' deposited the 15 tons on Scotland's West Coast, fresh from Colombia's dope fields. And it was that 15 tons that was to see Marks, Stewart Prentiss and Hedley Morgan on trial for eight weeks at the Old Bailey.

Last Friday they were acquitted of smuggling the dope - valued at around £20 million - and dealing in it. It was a stunning conclusion to a bizarre trial, and meant that Marks' tales of MI6 and Mexican intelligence and his claim that he was searching for the end of the dope trail had been accepted by the jury. Five others were found guilty on dealing and possession charges.

At the outset, prospects had looked bleaker for the defendants. From March 1980 the three men and their associates - who pleaded guilty - had been trailed by the authorities and they were arrested in May of that year. 

Marks was caught with detailed accounts of sales and income in his own handwriting.
Prentiss was accused of running the importation. He made a written confession.
Morgan was responsible for counting and banking the cash from the sales, just under £2 million by the time of the arrest.

The three responded in court. Prentiss claimed the Customs officers threatened to jail his wife - who had suffered a mental breakdown - unless he made a statement. Yes, he had transported some of the cannabis in his yacht 'Bageira' after the drop, but had done so because of threats from the American end of the deal. Either he co-operated or his children in San Francisco would be kidnapped.

Morgan explained that he thought the money had come from a tax avoidance scheme. He had been recruited by an old school friend, and Marks brother-in-law Patrick Lane.
Lane has disappeared. His role, said Marks, was 'banking the proceeds from cannabis, laundering it, and then transferring to investors and exporters.

Morgan's defence was assisted by leading prosecution witness - and prospective Liberal candidate -  Ron Banks. With his partner Barry Gregory he had channelled the banked cash out of the country on instructions from and in receipt of one per cent commission from Lane.

Banks admitted knowing that Morgan and Lane had used false names on paying-in slips. He had advised Morgan to use false payee names on certain occasions. Banks recalled that when Lane had first handed over the money, he'd been up all night counting and 'facing' £100,000 and needed his, and Gregory's assistance to finish the job. 'He had started to hallucinate whenever he saw pictures of the Duke of Wellington' said Banks.

But Marks was the pivot of the case. Before the trial he told the Customs that his work was 'of a secret nature'. he came out with 65 'no comments'.

During the trial Marks admitted that he had used false identities for the previous seven years. And he agreed that he smoked cannabis a great deal and had no moral objection to cannabis trading, apart from other drugs.

In the only outburst from a defendant during the trial, Marks vehemently denied an allegation by a custom officer that he had agreed that cannabis could lead users on to other drugs in some cases. 'No I didn't. That's a lie,' he shouted.

But if that sincerity was part of the reason for the verdict, other things may have entered the jury's mind, such as his involvement with MI6, the British external intelligence service, back in early 1973. At that time, he was approached by a fellow student from Oxford, Hamilton McMillan, by then an MI6 agent.

McMillan wanted foreign branches of Marks' dress shop 'Annabelinda', to be used as fronts for MI6 agents. And he knew, possibly through Dutch intelligence reports, that Marks was an acquaintance of Irish arms dealer James McCann.

MI6 wanted information on McCann. Marks obliged, but may well have told McCann of his MI6 contact.

In November 1973, Marks' long involvement with the law began. hew was arrested by the Dutch police for possession. Shortly before this, the prosecution claimed at the trial, MI6 severed contact. Marks denies this.

The British authorities were already interested in Marks for alleged drug offences. So two British Customs officials went to Holland to interview him, and Marks agreed to return. He didn't have to, since he couldn't have been extradited under Dutch law for a drugs offence. Perhaps he believed that MI6 would protect him.

Back home, Marks was charged with exporting cannabis from Europe to the United States. Out on £50,000 bail, he disappeared looking a very frightened man,on April 19, 1974, eleven days before his scheduled trial.

Marks says he was kidnapped and the police agree he was very probably frightened into not appearing. Both agree that the United States 'dealing' organisation to which those charges are related was involved.

Two somewhat conflicting stories now emerge about the attitude of the relevant police force, Thames Valley, to Marks at that time. Last weekend the Sunday Times  claimed the force were suppressing reports from an informant about Marks constant involvement with cannabis in Oxford.

Not so, says Martin Pritchard, who was then an undercover officer with the Thames Valley drug squad. They knew little of Marks then, but from early 1971 Dutch secret police records were being sent to England about Marks. The reports were concealed from both the Central Drugs Intelligence Unit and British Customs.

Whatever the truth, Marks' disappearance attracted immense interest. It was the time of the Lennon and Littlejohn affairs. Lennon had been murdered, allegedly by the IRA for being a double agent. The Littlejohn brothers had been arrested in the Republic on robbery charges linked with British intelligence.

The press pumped out reams about Marks, much of it straight from police sources. Heading the queue was the Daily Mirror's Edward Laxton. He printed letters from Marks to his girlfriend 'in possession of the police in Britain'. he tracked down and pestered Marks' sister Linda in Italy, and he reported an alleged finding of the supposedly secret 'Fairweather Report.' Superintendant Fairweather of Thames Valley police had prepared a lengthy dossier on the case.

So where was Marks? Italy had been his apparent destination but by 1975 he was back in London and living under an assumed name. In April 1975 the Customs hit the flat, accompanied by Laxton. Marks wasn't there.

Yet the Daily Mirror managed to print a picture of Marks, captioned 'on the run in London last week.' One wonders who was talking to whom. Marks was forced to change his identity yet again and was to remain out of the public eye for four more years. But his name didn't.

Mirror Books published 'Busted' on Martin Pritchard's career. Co-written by Edward Laxton and Pritchard, the Thames Valley drugs officer. An entire chapter was devoted to Marks and Pritchard referred to the 1975 customs raid. 

By 1979 Marks had become Donald Nice and was working on a film 'Life After Elvis' with P.J. Proby. But others were making films too. London Weekend television for one. It was about Howard Marks. At the last minute the programme was dropped, with LWT explaining they needed more time 'to consider the advice of their lawyers'.

LWT had managed to establish Marks' presence in Britain. A researcher went drinking with one of Marks' friends, who denied having seen him. The researcher slipped a photograph of Marks across to the barman. He recognised a regular customer.

LWT also relied on Dick Lee, former head of Thames Valley Drug Squad and colleague of Martin Pritchard, as a researcher. Lee who had run the 'Operation Julie' LSD investigation quit the force in disgust because neither the investigation nor his squad were continued after the massive trial. Lee was apparently fascinated by Marks.

None of which helped Marks' movie making. He dropped the film and changed name once more. He feared, he says, reprisals from the IRA or McCann.

McCann had troubles of his own. In August 1979 he was arrested in Naas, County Kildare. The police claimed he was seen armed next to a load of bananas and 850 pounds of Thai Sticks.

So how did McCann get into such an unfortunate predicament? He claims he was set up by British intelligence and that Marks had been involved in drug dealing in Ireland. McCann has frequently boasted of his arms dealing exploits to the press but denies the dope charges.

During his trial, Marks came out with a different story. He had been told, he said, by McCann's associate Michael Clarke, that McCann was planning to import cannabis into Ireland from Thailand and Colombia.

Marks claimed that he passed the information on to his alleged MI6 contact. This was Anthony Woodhead, former husband of Anna Woodhead, the 'Anna' in 'Annabelinda'. Hence the arrest of McCann.

Marks told Clarke that he 'would be looked after'. Arrested at the same time as McCann, he pleaded guilty to cannabis possession and received a one year sentence. And what of McCann? 

In March 1980 Justice Gannon directed a Dublin jury to acquit him. It does appear that McCann's alleged cannabis links have angered the IRA. He was badly beaten up in jail while awaiting trial.

But things were soon complicated for Marks. He claims that, having heard from Clarke that McCann had planned to import 30 tonnes of Columibian marijuana into Ireland, he was particularly interested to hear from his sister-in-law Natasha - sister of Patrick Lane - that there were plans to import 30 tons of Colombian grass into Scotland.

Marks explained that he wanted to find out who was behind the shipment, and suspected McCann. He was asked to do the accounts for the operation, he told the court, by Patrick Lane, because of a serious financial dispute between the American dope ring investors and the British distributors.

Why was Marks interested? He told the court that from 1976 he was working not only for MI6 but also for Mexican intelligence, tracing connections between right-wing organisations and the arms, heroin and cannabis trade.

'I'm a fanatic advocate of the legalisation of cannabis,' Marks testified. I feel it is essentially harmless and because of the illegality of it, we have a situation  whereby extremist terrorists can fund themselves from it.'

The jury's view may also have been influenced by the absence of any of the American 'investors' at the trial.

The trial hovered between theatrical tragedy and high farce. When 28 pounds of Colombian and two kilos of black hash were escorted into court, the judge, Peter Mason, known in the trade as 'Penal Pete' sniffed one of the cigar-shaped buds and complained of the lack of aroma. 'That goes off after a while' explained  the prosecution.

'How do you get the drug into the system? asked the judge. A couple of jurors barely concealed grins, whilst a solicitor's clerk asleep at the back of the court with his head in a briefcase sat up with a start.

It wasn't just theatre. Last Monday, five players, the accountant and storekeepers for the organisation, were sentenced to a total of 22 years. Penal Pete said he was being lenient. Marks was sentenced for two years, the maximum for his passport offences. Lord Hutchinson, counsel for Marks, summed it up. 'If ever there was a case for the legalisation of cannabis, this is it.'

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