Hoods: The Gangs of Nottingham, A Study in Organised Crime (2012)
y the beginning of the 1990s, as the Robinsons fell under the spell of crack cocaine, a new drugs king emerged who would rise to such an influential level he would be feted by politicians in Westminster and police officers alike. I met David St Anthony Francis at a hospital next to Nottinghamshire police headquarters. The meeting had been arranged as part of research into a television documentary about the drugs, gangs and firearms problems being faced by the city in 2004. Francis, by then a veteran of the crime scene, had been out of prison for a few years – urban legend has it that on his release a friend arrived at Derbyshire’s Sudbury Prison in Francis’ favourite Porsche to pick him up – but the only way I could make contact with him was to visit his jewellery shop in the Sneinton area and drop off a message.
He responded promptly, partly because the message had contained a letter from a former police officer who knew Francis well and had effectively used Francis, albeit unwittingly, as an informant. He arranged to meet me at the private Nottingham Park Hospital, as he was undergoing treatment for diabetes. The hospital is just a stone’s throw from police headquarters at Sherwood Lodge, a place Francis was very familiar with. He was not at the hospital when I arrived, but shortly afterwards a phone call came through. He apologised. ‘I’m down at the Ferrari dealership having a look at a car but I won’t be long,’ he said. I wondered if this was some sort of joke but then, while having a coffee in the hospital’s cafeteria, I saw a car draw up. It was a new Bentley. From the driver’s side a bulky white man in his late fifties, reminiscent of a minder, got out. There was a pause of a few minutes, then Francis appeared, stepping almost regally out of the passenger door. It transpired that it was his own vehicle and the Bentley dealership had provided him with a driver for the day so that he could browse some new cars down at the Ferrari showroom.
After waiting a few minutes for him to make his way into the building, we wandered down towards his room. The forty-one-year-old Francis, bespectacled and with long dreaded hair, lay himself on his hospital bed, kitted out with his own Versace bedspread, ready to hold court. He was keen to give very little away but exuded a kind of enigmatic charm which you couldn’t help but admire. I can’t better the description of him by investigative journalist Nick Davies in his book Dark Heart. ‘Dave positively breathes money,’ wrote Davies. ‘He wears diamonds in his teeth. They have been drilled into the enamel by a specialist dentist – half a dozen sparkling advertisements for his success in life. When Dave smiles, the rest of the world sees his wealth winking back at them. In his ear, he has another diamond, on his wrist he wears a heavy gold Rolex with diamond studs which he says cost him thirty grand. There is gold around his neck, more gold around his wrists.’
I mentioned to this black Goldfinger the media coverage he had received and in particular Davies’s book, in which he prominently features. ‘Just as well I’m not the sort of person to bear a grudge, eh?’ he said, pointedly. When I raised the subject of wanting to do a documentary with him, he was less than enthusiastic. ‘Why would I want to do that? There’s nothing in it for me. My days of all that [crime] are over. I’m a grandfather now, I’m just getting on with things at the shop and keeping out of trouble.’
I was interested in his views on white criminals, particularly as the vacuum created by his own arrest and conviction for supplying heroin had been filled by the mob known as the Bestwood Cartel, and signs were that the police were about to bring them down. ‘It’s taken them long enough,’ he said. ‘I mean do you think they would have got away with it for so long if they had been black? That’s Nottingham Police for you. I’m black so they make me out to be this big dealer. I’m just another nigger dealing drugs to them.’ Francis was always quick to play the race card. When I raised the subject of a friend of his who had been forced to quit a high profile job because of allegations of impropriety, he said, ‘Ah well you see, he’s got his troubles now just because he was trying to help out a few brothers. Don’t tell me it’s not because he’s black.’ The fact was, as I was to discover, that Dave Francis had done more to damage the black community in Nottingham than possibly any other individual.
He grew up in Arnold, a leafy suburb to the north of the city. By the time he was fourteen, he had already come to the attention of the police for handling stolen goods. He was, as a youth, very much feared at school, taking on pupils much older than him in the playground and often leaving them bruised and battered. By the time he was a young man he was beating up hardened thugs twice his age. The playground fights didn’t always go his way though. One fellow pupil remembered an incident in which Francis almost came off worst – to a girl. ‘Dave had these huge hands which gave him the tools to be a formidable fighter. One day this girl, who was very hard and very useful with her fists, got into an argument with Francis and launched at him. As the fight went on the classroom resembled a warzone, there was blood and desks and chairs strewn everywhere and the teacher just ran off because she couldn’t handle it. In the end, after her beating seven shades of shit out of him, they called it a draw. Francis so respected her that he then asked her out, even though she had left him battered and bruised.’
By his early twenties, having moved to the Meadows estate, he was a prolific young offender and was on his way to heading the Meadows Posse. This gang of black criminals, which was highly organised by four main leaders, specialised in armed robberies, burglary, handling stolen goods and drugs. To avoid detection they wore Jackson Five-style afro wigs and used stolen cars. If stopped by police they would admit to taking the car but could claim that any evidence found in the vehicle, such as a firearm or overalls that matched the description of the armed raiders, must have been in the car when they nicked it. When a burglar cleared out a gun shop in Carlton, the Meadows Posse took control of the haul of firearms. These guns would regularly turn up at crime scenes over the next decade. Later, Francis even admitted to officers that he had control of the distribution of firearms across the city. ‘Guns are fine if they are in the hands of people who know how to use them,’ he told officers.
In July 1989, the gang came a cropper after a painting was stolen from the house of an eighty-three-year-old woman in the Bilborough area of Nottingham. Believed to be a Gainsborough worth £1 million, it passed through the hands of Francis and his Meadows Posse; they were arranging for it to be handed over to some unscrupulous art dealers for £300,000. In fact, they were dealing with undercover police officers. Francis stayed on the periphery of the sale and let two other Meadows Posse main men, Tony Slacks and Alvin Henry, arrange it. Slacks met the ‘dealers’, who included an undercover police officer and a police informant, at the city’s Albany Hotel and said he was willing to sell the painting for a discount price. It had been almost a year since the burglary and the Posse were keen to shift it. Slacks and Henry arranged to meet the ‘art dealer’ himself at a Gamston Airport, near Retford in Nottinghamshire, where the exchange would take place. An undercover officer flew up from London in a light aircraft. While the Meadows gang had no inkling they were dealing with undercover officers, the police were also unaware that the gang planned to rip them off. Henry and Slacks were armed with sawn-off shotguns and had brought flex to tie up their victims. When it came to the exchange, Slacks became suspicious and asked to see the money again. Then he realised it was a setup. ‘We’re both playing same game,’ he told the undercover officer. ‘That’s not the money. I was going to rip you off but you are doing the same.’
The incident descended into chaos as police moved in to arrest Slacks and Henry. Slacks was apprehended as he tried to run off, but Henry threatened to shoot some of the unarmed officers and managed to escape. He was arrested a few days later. Despite feeling he had been fitted up, Slacks was given twelve years for his part in the crime, which included possession of two firearms. Henry was cleared of conspiracy to rob but convicted of firearms offences and sentenced to three years. The painting turned out to be a fake and was probably worth just a few hundred pounds.
The case dealt a severe blow to the Meadows gang and, though they had all grown up together, they began to distrust each other. Then they were caught up in another case, after attempting to rob a store in Nottingham. Again, police seemed to have inside information and the robbery went wrong, resulting in the arrest of one of the Posse, Godfrey Hibbert, an ex-boxer from the Meadows. A white man called Kevin Morledge, who had acted as a dogsbody for the gang – Francis called his white helpers ‘tampaxes’ because they were on a string controlled by him and would absorb any unwelcome problems around him – had been approached by the police after he was arrested on burglary charges. Francis evaded the police and was busy devising a cunning plan to destroy the police case against the Posse. He gained access to the depositions in the attempted robbery case and knew who was saying what to their solicitor and what evidence the police had. In Morledge, he saw an opportunity to wreck the police probe. Officers had been to see Morledge in Lincoln Prison after he let it be known that he wanted to speak to them about a deal. Before they could make a follow-up visit, Francis smuggled a tape recorder to Morledge. When two officers from Nottinghamshire Police arrived again at Lincoln Prison, they outlined the help Morledge might receive if he gave evidence that Hibbert and Francis were involved in armed robbery. Morledge secretly taped the conversation, and then got the tape out to Francis, who edited the recording to make the case against the detectives even more damning.
By the time the case came to trial, in December 1989, Morledge was claiming the police had tried to get him to make a false confession in return for immunity against prosecution. The judge at Nottingham Crown Court dismissed the jury and then heard, in closed sessions, about the tape recordings. Though the police denied making the offers and said the tape should be scrutinised forensically to see if it had been tampered with, the judge had little option but to dismiss the case against both Hibbert and Morledge. Five years later, Morledge received £10,000 from Nottinghamshire Police as compensation. Dave Francis was once again safe, and as Hibbert had ended up going to prison anyway after being convicted of a separate drugs offence, could now crown himself King of the Meadows Posse in his own right.
But the fact was that by 1991, there really was no Meadows Posse left, or at least not as it had been. Francis was still organising the movement of stolen jewellery and gold but had moved into the drugs business in a big way by 1990. Though he owned a gold shop, he still made regular trips to Birmingham to see two contacts who were prepared to melt it down for him, no questions asked. Still, Francis saw that the drugs business was where the money was to be made. There were two drugs which were bringing in colossal profits for those wanting to trade. Ecstasy sales were booming. It was clubland time in Nottingham and people were coming from London, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham to enjoy the sounds and hedonistic nightlife at venues like Venus, as well as at illegal raves. Francis organised security for some events, along with nights at the Marcus Garvey Centre, which would spill over into violence when rival gangs fought it out on the neutral turf of Radford.
Controlling the doors at large raves effectively meant control of the drugs going into the venues. Francis’s street dealers could sell the pills without any worries and he could cream off the profits. A genuine ecstasy pill, most of which were coming in from factories in Holland, sold for around £20 in the UK at the time, and dealers were making huge profits. Speed was also still one of the main drugs of choice in Nottingham. Some said it had been around since the days of the miners, who would take doses to stay awake on long shifts underground. By the late 1980s, the mines were all but gone and the speed culture became a recreational one. The rate of consumption during the late 1980s and early 1990s was such that police were often baffled when they came to make busts. Frequently they would discover that in the few days it had taken it to organise the raid, kilos and kilos had already been sold off and consumed, suggesting a quick turnover.
Cocaine was also increasing in availability. It was already destroying the Robinson family, some of whom were members of the St Ann’s Crew (or St Ann’s Massive or Playboy Posse). During his trips to Birmingham to melt down the gold he was accumulating, Francis hooked up with the two Birmingham brothers whose feud with the Robinsons had led to Eaton Green’s infamous blues party robbery. Francis believed he could help the brothers make inroads into the Nottingham drug scene and at the same time gain help in distributing cocaine with some heavy backers who would not fear other traders from the St Ann’s estate. But this move, together with potential flashpoints at the nights he ran at the Marcus Garvey Centre in Lenton, meant trouble was always just round the corner. It ultimately brought him into conflict with the Yardies and Francis decided to strike out further on his own.
By 1993, Francis had served a number of spells in prison and had thirty-odd convictions dating back to 1976. They included possession of a firearm, actual bodily harm, unlawful sexual intercourse and possession of drugs. Now he embarked on a new criminal project, building up a network of contacts who ranged from the influential within local politics and the police to the useable young wannabes who saw the chance of a career doing the bidding of Nottingham’s premier gangster by becoming street dealers. Francis was to achieve this partly by getting himself a proper job. He applied for, and amazingly landed, a posting as the manager of a local drugs charity project which specialised in 24/7 outreach work for addicts, particularly those ravaged by crack cocaine. The charity, the Association for the Prevention of Addiction (APA), later to become Addaction, was setting up units across the country and Nottingham addicts were to be among the first outside London to benefit from its Open Doors crack awareness team. Francis, despite his convictions and his flamboyant lifestyle, was the ideal candidate as far as the APA was concerned. Here was an intelligent, streetwise black man with whom drug users could identify. He breezed through the interview.
Former CID boss Peter Coles remembers Francis visiting him at the time. ‘He had just been to the interview and he drove down to Central Police Station and parked his Porsche up in the garages there. He was keen to stress his life of crime was over, he said he had made four million pounds by that time and he was going to be a Good Samaritan now and help the community. I was aghast. I couldn’t understand how this man who was wearing an Armani suit, driving a Porsche and had all these convictions could have got the interview, let alone the job. Didn’t anyone think to ask why this man, dripping in jewellery with a Rolex watch worth fifty thousand pounds on his wrist, would want a job as a minor social worker? These crack awareness teams were beginning to spring up all over the country and ironically there was another individual who had done a similar thing down in north London. Francis knew this man well through the national drug supply network. He was higher up in the chain than Francis and I think Francis aspired to be someone like him and I think that’s where he got the idea from. It was a perfect cover for him to branch out into large-scale dealing.’
With Yardies seemingly attracted to Nottingham likes bees to honey, Francis was keen to avoid street dealing and the hassles it could bring. He embraced his new role with gusto, raising his profile as a bona fide drugs worker, attending Home Office select committee hearings at Westminster on the crack cocaine problem and appearing in an ITV television documentary to talk about the problems facing crack users. During this time he was in fact building up his power base and recruiting people who would later become his dealers. As the main CAT worker, he would be in and out of police cells on an almost daily basis to offer ‘advice’ to addicts who had been arrested. He also had access to depositions in criminal cases. This all provided him with useful information, particularly when it came to who was grassing up who and the police’s weak points. Francis’s advice to those languishing in a cell and dreaming of weaning themselves off heroin or crack was, ‘Come and work for Dave, I’ll look after you.’
Francis told newspapers the Government was not doing enough to solve the cocaine problem that was blighting the city – and he sounded convincing. He waxed lyrical about what needed to be done and how the work carried out by him and his band of followers was an essential part of that process: ‘Crack cocaine users are people who have lost their houses, their jobs, sold most of their possessions and are no longer capable of looking after their children,’ he told reporters. ‘Their lives are chaotic. There is not a lot of point in giving them a nine-thirty appointment for four weeks’ time because they are never going to make it. For years they virtually denied that there was a crack problem. Most of the calls we get are at about two or three in the morning when people are on a down. The two things we don’t give them is drugs or money. But we can give them food, liquid if they’re dehydrated and we can listen. At other times we can help them sort out court problems, warrants, Aids tests.’ He wasn’t afraid to be controversial in his interviews either. ‘The fact is that there is a good side to most drugs. If you’re telling people it’s all bad they are bound to start looking up to people who look as though they are having a great time. The issue is that there is a downside as well and to show people that side and make it clear to them where they are likely to end up,’ he said.
It was the perfect ruse to cover his tracks, for Francis was dealing in heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine, ecstasy and weed. He was, in fact, one of the biggest dealers in the Midlands. He also had a job which paid him £21,000 a year from the public purse, which he drove to in a Mercedes convertible worth £50,000. He also changed his BMW every year. He kept a beautiful mistress who earned a living from high-class prostitution; a house in Jamaica in his mother’s name which resembled the White House; several properties in Nottingham, including a three-bedroomed house in Compton Acres, a stone’s throw from his Meadows home turf and kitted out with the latest Bang & Olufsen hi-fi; a flat in the appropriately named Francis Street in Hyson Green; diamonds drilled into his teeth and gold dripping from his fingers. He was sitting on anti-drug and child prostitution problem-solving panels alongside the likes of Nottingham South MP Alan Simpson and former Chief Constable Dan Crompton and had influence over the spending of £170,000 a year from the likes of the Department of Health and other Government bodies.
Francis’s deputy at CAT, Henry Warner, was his first lieutenant in this booming drugs empire and Francis had also bought the loyalty of many of those going through the Open Doors offices, or working alongside him, by selling them gear or getting them to sell for him. He was fast becoming out of reach from the authorities, not least because he had built up a wide network of influential people who would tip him off about any investigation into his activities. And he was clever. He knew the road to power and people’s weaknesses and he exploited them ruthlessly. Each time the forces of law and order got close to him, there were people willing to help him. Some were in lowly places, like the young white ‘tampaxes’ who served him; others were in high places, some of them white, middle class individuals willing to cry racism if Francis was criticised and to say, ‘This man is a good guy, he is doing great work. We should be applauding him, not doing him down.’ Others began asking themselves: what does Dave Francis have on these people? What power did he wield over them that they felt an obligation to support him when many knew or suspected he was one of the bad guys?
So frustrated were the police by the lack of evidence against him that some even resorted to illegal tactics to try to nail him. On one occasion, an officer arranged for a stolen credit card to be placed inside Francis’s car overnight. The following day a call was made to local traffic police to pull over his vehicle. It resulted in his arrest and detention in a cell for a few hours, which enabled a warrant to be obtained to search his house and safe – which in turn helped police to gather intelligence about where Francis was keeping his money. But it was still not enough to nail him. He had to be caught red-handed if anything was to stick.
During 1997, Francis came to the attention of the local health authority after complaints were lodged by some fellow workers who had not been corrupted by his charm and wealth. They were prepared to stand up and be counted, even if it put their careers at risk. Sue Loakes and Tony Herbert were among a number of ex-workers and clients who knew what Francis was up to and could not stand to see what was happening any longer. In November 1996, they went to Nottingham Health Authority, which partially funded the crack awareness programme, to complain that Francis was actually selling large amounts of crack cocaine, heroin and weed. Not only this, some alleged he was dealing in firearms and prostitutes. He was, they said, nothing more than a charlatan who was using the CAT project as a prop to hide his drug-dealing empire. The APA launched an inquiry, but by the following March Francis had been exonerated. Worse still, he was taking retribution against those who had spoken out against him. Tony Herbert found his car vandalised and several clients who had been brave enough to speak to the inquiry received anonymous telephone threats. It was clear that dark forces were at work. How could the APA committee reject overwhelming evidence from more than twenty professional workers whose clients were on the frontline, witnessing Francis in action every day? Most had never even met each other and so could clearly not be tainted by association.
When material started to leak out to the Guardian newspaper, it became clear just how much power Francis had accumulated. Among those speaking up for him were MP Alan Simpson and the chairman of the APA, Sir Geoffrey Errington. Sir Geoffrey told the Guardian that not a scrap of real evidence had emerged which could be backed up and that critics were tainting Francis’s character unfairly. ‘He’s a good guy as far as we are concerned and he is a jolly worthwhile employee,’ said Sir Geoffrey. ‘We couldn’t find a spark of evidence to back up any of the allegations. These things were rumours. I don’t think we have been fooled.’ Simpson also spoke to the inquiry, telling them Francis was the victim of malicious gossip at the hands of people who had their own agenda. Staff that had made the allegations about Francis were threatened with legal action by the APA if they were repeated. However, by 1997, faced with a particularly damaging article in the Guardian which ‘outed’ him as a drug dealer, Francis decided to resign from Open Doors. Nottinghamshire Police meantime had launched a secret operation against him, convinced there was truth in the allegations and determined this time to nail him.
By 1998, Operation Odin was well underway. A meeting took place in a car park off the M1. In a car were two detectives from the Major Crime Unit and they were waiting for a man who would help unlock some of Francis’s secrets. The silent stranger who greeted the two officers looked more like a down-and-out than the specialist operator that he was. He got into the back of the car with stealth-like ease, the two detectives jumping with a start. The mystery man sported a tattoo on his wrist, a snake entwined around a dagger. The symbol could mean only one thing to the detectives babysitting him: he was either a serving, or former, Special Forces operative. The car weaved its way back towards Nottingham, taking the ring road past the Queen’s Medical Centre and out towards leafy West Bridgford.
Detectives knew that Francis would be out of the way for only a few hours. He had taken his mistress to Luton Airport, where she would make one of her regular flights to Switzerland. Officers had also carried out research on all Francis’s properties to determine which one was most likely to provide the wealth of intelligence they needed to bust him – and what sort of security they needed to bypass. They already knew they would have to get past a highly sophisticated alarm system. Then there was the small problem of the Doberman guard dog. Their target was his home in Maythorn Close, Compton Acres. Their plan was to break in, immobilise the dog temporarily and plant a device which would allow investigators to hear his conversations. It was, of course easier said than done, unless you had a bit of help from some extremely talented individuals. Arriving at their destination, the mysterious tattooed man was out of the car and up the street almost before the detectives had a chance to pull up. He disappeared around the corner. Within fifteen minutes, a call from the senior detective in charge of the operation made it clear that the man was on his way back to the car, the bug having been planted safely. These were pieces of equipment which could break down at any time. Every month the batteries had to be changed and, at the conclusion of each operation, the equipment had to be retrieved. These mysterious specialists were invaluable. ‘These were guys who could tell the type of key and lock needed for a property and any security systems to bypass with a mere glance,’ one senior Nottinghamshire officer told me. ‘They could also break into the most difficult locations and you just knew they would leave not so much as a strand of hair behind.’ In Francis’ case, detectives would eventually bug a passenger seat on a jumbo jet carrying him to Jamaica in a bid to learn more about his conversations. According to one very senior officer, this may be the only time a police force in the country has undertaken such a radical move to monitor a criminal target.
Months of surveillance work would now be undertaken, but the validity of the material coming through on the bugs would have be tested every month in order to get ongoing Home Office approval. If there was no incriminating material on the bugs, there would be a problem gaining the authority to use the devices the following month. The officers listened in as Francis briefed his foot soldiers. ‘Be very paranoid, don’t trust anybody. There are people out there who would love to destroy us so keep your eyes and ears open and don’t say anything unless you have to,’ he told them. ‘We can’t fuck around. We’ve got to be the best team, the cheapest and the quickest to get the gear out, otherwise the other crews will be on top. I don’t want us getting into a warzone with any Yardies.’
Francis’s and Henry Warner’s mobiles were bugged and every day, against the background noise of the repeated cable TV soap operas that his crew seemed to be avid fans of, they heard him organising kilo after kilo of the brown heroin. Francis was only just keeping up with demand as sales soared, partly as a consequence of the crack epidemic sweeping Nottingham. Crackheads found that one way to reduce the drop from their cocaine high was to smoke or inject heroin. Many were therefore fighting two addictions at the same time. Prostitutes, some of whom Francis was pimping, were among his best customers. The crack kept them working through the night and the ‘brown’ comforted them when they eventually got back home. It took the pain away for a brief few hours, until they woke and needed a toke on their crack pipe, starting the cycle all over again.
Francis was making extraordinary profits and the police knew it. Six officers monitored conversations round the clock from the listening post in Wilford as Francis organised his shipments. He was talking to dealers in London, mainly Nigerian contacts he had built up over the years, and was dealing with people like Ramzy Khachik, a major supplier from Leicester, who had made some of his wealth from the city’s notorious ‘hotdog wars’. Khachik would later be jailed for nineteen years for conspiracy to supply class A drugs. In addition, Francis had contacts in Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham. Meanwhile, officers on the ground were taking out Francis’s troops. A number of his key street dealers had already been taken arrested as part of Operation Odin and its forerunner, Operation Diamond Back, and he was clearly starting to feel vulnerable. That would mean, it was hoped, that Francis would have to start taking more risks and ultimately get his hands dirty, which might just result in them catching him with drugs – they could only hope for such luck
By February 1999, the end was approaching as the accumulation of material indicated that he was clearly selling heroin and cocaine on a large scale. In the final weeks of the operation more than seven kilos of heroin alone passed through Francis’ hands. After allowing four kilos to go through in less than two weeks, the team was ready to move. They picked up information through the bugs that there was to be another kilo delivery of heroin that evening coming in a hired VW Golf from south London, which Francis had had to organise himself. Better still, Francis – running out of troops he could trust or who had not been arrested – would be at his flat in Francis Street, Hyson Green, to take stock of what had come in, weigh it and help bag it up. Alongside the bugs, Nottinghamshire Police had also brought in a black undercover officer a year earlier who was so convincing he had been accepted as a trusted Yardie drug dealer by the local criminal underworld and local police officers. The pièce de résistance was that Francis’s inner sanctum had been penetrated: Nottinghamshire Police had ‘turned’ one of Francis’ loyal crew, a heroin addict they had busted during a low-key operation. The tactics that won him over were reminiscent of the TV series Life on Mars: according to one of the officers involved, he was taken to a desolate area in the dead of night by two detectives, who then retrieved a spade from the boot of their car, pulled the petrified young man from the car and told him to start digging his own grave. He later provided important information about Francis and his movements.
On 23 February, police made their move. After the VW Golf arrived carrying the heroin from London, they waited until they were sure Francis was inside his flat before they burst in. Their startled target was standing at the top of the staircase, mobile phone in one hand and thousands in cash spilling from his pockets. Shocked he may have been, but to the officers he appeared his usual confident self, almost as if it was all some silly misunderstanding. After all, he was Dave Francis, King of the Meadows, the man everyone looked up to.
Francis initially tried to make out that the drugs were nothing to do with him and that he was renting out the flat to someone who had brought the drugs in. He was already aware that he would be one of the last to face the courts out of an army of some 150 soldiers he commanded; most of them had been removed from circulation over the previous nine months by Operations Diamond Back and Odin. Nottinghamshire Police had managed to get to Francis only because he had believed his own invincibility and because they had painstakingly removed the tentacles of his operation from the foot soldiers up to the man himself by removing, brick by brick, the business pyramid which Francis oversaw. This was a tried and tested technique against large-scale drug dealers which usually resulted in the ‘main man’ being flushed out from his or her safety zone. If the tactic worked it would result in the target being left isolated; all around him the network of street dealers who had previously hidden, supported him and ultimately protected him, left in tatters. There was also the issue of the assets Francis held in various parts of the world. There was at that time no assets recovery unit to track down ill-gotten gains and, even if there had been, it would still have had to prove in court that Francis was the true holder of those assets.
It would be a further year before any kind of case came to court. In the meantime, Francis converted to the Islamic faith while in prison. It meant that he could order his own prison food and have some time on his own set aside for prayer. It could also become a useful tool in mitigation should he face conviction at Crown Court. He had used the technique once before, converting to the Christian faith while on remand previously. Nevertheless, Francis also believed he held good information that he could trade with the police to reduce his sentence if he were convicted or forced to plead guilty through the weight of evidence against him. His trusted lieutenant, Warner, had already pleaded guilty at the first chance that he got, which lengthened the odds on Francis being able to squirm his way out of trouble. ‘Whenever Francis had been arrested and he knew he was in trouble he would always contact his favourite solicitor,’ said former CID head Peter Coles. ‘He would then let it be known he wanted to do a deal with the police. In reality all this meant was that he wanted us to talk him through a deal and then he would hope that he could make some use of it in the courtroom to try to sully the case against him. We got very wise to that though after a while.’
By the time he faced Nottingham Crown Court in March 2000, charged with conspiracy and possession with intent to supply class A drugs, Francis was ready to accept some guilt, but right up until his last day in court he told officers he wanted a deal. The full details of that deal are not known but Francis had planned to reveal some of the police’s covert tactics in open court, which could have damaged future operations and may have led police to considering a deal. There is also speculation that he provided information on drug consignments being awaited by other major dealers in the city. Whatever the truth, in the end Francis pleaded guilty to possessing half a kilo of heroin with intent to supply. Another charge which could potentially have added another seven years to his sentence was ordered to lie on file by Judge Dudley Bennett. Jailing him for seven years, Judge Bennett summed it all up in a sentence: ‘I have to deal with people day after day in this court who appear before me after committing crimes to fund their drug habit. Because of your involvement in the past with trying to stop all that in your work, you more than anybody else should have known the misery of people who had become addicted.’
Francis, his dreaded hair cut short and tipping his glasses back towards his face, looked like a trendy academic trying to make sense of a spurious argument. He would be able to do this stretch standing on his head. But the Operation Odin team were ecstatic. Regardless of the sentence, they were proud that the case had stuck and they had nailed their man. The command team of Nottinghamshire Police lost no time in helping the headline-makers turn Francis into the city’s premier black criminal. There were red faces in Westminster too, with MP Alan Simpson admitting, ‘Those who said he was bad have been proved right and I was wrong.’
Francis had claimed to speak for the black man in the street and to want to help drug addicts. It had been a sham. He was dealing addictive illegal drugs to his ‘brothers’ and used women without remorse. ‘His runners have the rocks that the working girls want, so he has power over them,’ wrote Nick Davies. ‘Sometimes, he sends them down to London where he has friends who run brothels. Sometimes, he keeps them for himself.’ He was the worst thing that could have happened to Nottingham’s black community. He was concerned only with power and wealth. Yet despite trips to Jamaica and investigations in Switzerland, Nottinghamshire Police were unable to trace the millions that Francis had told Peter Coles he had gained. Once out of prison in 2004, he would enjoy plenty of trips to Jamaica to the white house he had bought with his sullied profits.
There was a price to pay for the success of nailing Francis and his foot soldiers: the vacuum left by the removal of his operation would ultimately lead to the worst sustained outbreak of territorial violence ever seen on the streets of the city, pave the way for the growth of a white crime gang whose proclivity for brutality eclipsed even that of the Yardies, and ultimately would shatter the reputation of Nottingham.