Dave Francis is convicted

Published February 2000

One of the biggest anti-drug agencies in the country was left reeling last night after a former manager admitted being in possession of half a kilo of heroin with intent to supply and was jailed for seven years.

Addaction – formerly known as the Association for the Prevention of Addiction – had repeatedly rejected complaints that Dave Francis, aged 37, who ran their Crack Awareness Team in Nottingham, was an active professional dealer. They disciplined staff who complained about his behaviour and attacked the Guardian when we exposed Francis as a dealer in May1997.

Sentencing him at Nottingham Crown Court, Judge Dudley Bennett told Francis: “You more than anybody else should have known the misery of people who have become addicted. I have to deal with people day after day in this court who appear before me after committing crimes to fund their drug habit.” A second charge of conspiracy was left to lie on the file.

Although the events which led to Francis’ arrest occured after he left the agency, evidence collected by the Guardian and by Nottingham detectives leaves no doubt that Francis was dealing under cover of the agency for nearly four years and continued to deal on a city-wide scale after the Guardian forced him to resign in 1997.

While Francis managed the Crack Awareness Team, posing as a crusader against drugs, he organised regular supplies of crack cocaine and heroin to addicts in the city, including those who had come to CAT for help. He employed a second dealer, Henry Warner, as his deputy and allowed CAT’s office to be used for drug-taking. Police believe that, while he was running the agency, he became one of the biggest dealers in the English midlands, controlling an illegal organisation of more than 100 workers in Nottingham.

In the summer of 1996 , a group of Francis’ colleagues made written complaints to the agency about his activity. Twenty other professionals in the city told of anxieties about him. His lifestyle ran far ahead of his income. He earned £21,000 a year from the agency and yet he drove a £49,500 Mercedes, had two homes in Nottingham, wore a £30,000 watch and sported diamonds drilled into his front teeth. The then head of the city’s major crimes unit said publicly that he was 100% certain that Francis was an active dealer. But when the parent agency, Addaction, finally held an internal inquiry, they concluded in March 1997 that there was no evidence against him. “He’s a good guy as far as we’re concerned,” the agency’s then chairman, Sir Geoffrey Errington, said at the time.

Addaction, which still receives £3.5 million of public and charitable funds for its work, has refused to comment on Francis’ conviction, continuing to claim that there is no evidence that he committed any offence while he worked for them. Since Francis was exposed, the agency, which includes the wife of the former Home Secretary, Michael Howard, on its board, has won new contracts to work with drug users in prison.

After being exposed by the Guardian, Francis resigned from CAT and continued to deal on a huge scale, flaunting his wealth and power. Nottingham police reacted by setting up a ‘total surveillance operation’, codenamed Odin, which was of such unprecedented scale that finally it not only arrested Dave Francis but took out 134 of his alleged associates and dealers. Detectives planted electronic bugs inside one of his homes with six officers manning a listening post around the clock; set up video cameras to record his movements; clamped tracking devices on his cars; trawled through his bank and telephone records; used army special forces for surveillance; followed him all the way to Jamaica and back and even bugged his seat on the plane; hired informers on weekly wages; and, most destructive of all, used a mixed-race officer from another force to infiltrate the community, recording sound and pictures of numerous drug deals.

By monitoring Francis so intensely, the police exposed his entire operation, which turned out to be a highly organised corporate structure, headed by Francis and a group of lieutenants who formed what police call an Army Council. Each lieutenant was responsible for supplying a different area of the city through his own network of middle men and street dealers. Francis organised the supply: sometimes through his Nigerian contacts in London, sometimes through a midlands gypsy who has become a millionaire from armed robbery and drug deals, sometimes through delivery ‘mules’ whom he escorted out to Jamaica. In the single six-week period just before his arrest, Francis moved seven kilos of heroin into Nottingham.

The police bugs recorded Francis playing the part of the conventional entrepreneur, urging his men to be the quicket, the cheapest and the most reliable suppliers in the city. He and his lieutenants held monthly board meetings at safe houses on the Meadows estate, where many of them had been born, to discuss supply lines and pricing strategy. His grip on drugs in the black community was so strong that he would order the supply to be cut to particularly buoyant parts of the city in order to drive up the price. He warned his men “Be paranoid”, but the bugs recorded his every move – recruiting new workers, haggling over money, organising supply, plotting to cut out the competition and then spending hours alone in his house, friendless and isolated, watching old soaps on cable television.

Finally on February 23 last year (1999) detectives heard Francis discussing the sale of a new load of heroin that was due to come up from London that night. They sent one surveillance team to follow the London suppliers as they drove up the motorway, and another team to Francis’ flat in the city centre. With the key players all in place, the detectives took the door off its hinges and found their target with a carrier bag containing half a kilo of 67% pure heroin. Francis also had a roll of cash which turned out to be so heavily stained with heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and ecstacy that the traces went off the scale of their recording equipment. In linked operations, police arrested a total of 134 suspected dealers, including Francis’ former CAT deputy, Henry Warner, who admitted possessing heroin with intent to supply.

Detectives say that Francis’ role in the Crack Awareness Team directly assisted his rise to power. According to one detective: “It gave him a perfect excuse if he was ever caught with drugs or with people in possession of drugs. It also made it much more difficult for us to hassle him, because he had political connections in the city”. The tapes from Francis’ house showed he had been running crimes in the city for years. Before he was hired by Addaction (then APA), he had headed a team of armed robbers and he had already been convicted of more than 30 offences involving burglary, theft, firearms, unlawful sexual intercourse and possession of drugs. He told Addaction that he had become a Christian and he was duly given access to some of the most vulnerable people in the city and a budget of more than £170,000 of public money. In his new role, he attended planning meetings with senior police and was invited to give evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee.

In the autumn of 1995, five current and former staff filed written allegations , accusing Francis of dealing in heroin and cocaine, of trading in firearms and supplying women for prostitution. Witnesses detailed incidents where Francis had been seen with “bags and bags of weed” and huge quantities of cash; where he had used heroin to buy stolen goods and helped one of them to sell a firearm. Staff complained that the subsequent inquiry was serviced by managers who had already defended Francis and that it failed to call key witnesses.

Addaction produced a report which exonerrated Francis and threatened leading witnesses with legal action if they repeated their allegations. One staff member who had complained was suspended for supposed racism, even though neither Francis nor his deputy had been suspended when they were accused of systematic criminal activity. It was only when the Guardian exposed Francis and the local health and social services withdrew their funding that Addaction was forced to withdraw from its schemes in the city.

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