FINAL UPDATE: Whew, what a day. Sorry to anyone who's questions I didn't get to, but I need some sleep.

I want to thank you all again for the overwhelmingly positive response. I know tensions are high in this climate and hopefully you'll have gained some insight into what it was like to do this job - at least from my own experience.

I also want to thank anyone again who's sent good luck wishes for my book. I hope that most of you didn't assume this to be simply a cash grab or self-promotion, as I have truly enjoyed just interacting with you all. These are difficult days and it's been a heartwarming surprise to see comments from those who decided to place an order.

Stay safe, everyone. Goodnight.

UPDATE: Alright everyone, there have been some fantastic questions asked and I'm having a ball. I'm glad so many people were interested. Sadly I have to head out soon as we've went over the 3 hour mark.

I'll answer all the questions that haven't been answered yet, over the few hours or so. But I have to wrap this up now.

Thanks for the great questions, well wishes for the launch, and interest in my memoir. If you didn't get a chance to ask something you can always pop in to the livestream on the 7th to ask it. I might even come back and do another one of these in the weeks following.

P.S. to all the commenters asking about a Funny or Not-So-Serious crime squad, I think you've found your colleagues!

This is Simon McLean, signing off.


Hi Reddit,

I was born in the 50s in Glasgow and spent the early years of my police career across the Highlands and Isles of Scotland. 

In short order I joined the elite Serious Crime Squad, first as a murder detective, and ultimately an accomplished surveillance expert.  I’ve seen the limits of the law stretched and fire fighting with fire.  I’ve seen it all: armed fugitives, gangsters, paedophiles.

I still consult and train in the field today, as well as coaching a football team - albeit a walking one! 

I’m coming here to get a bit of practice in before the launch of my memoir, The Ten Percent, as it’s going to have an audience Q&A element to it.  It’s a glimpse into the dark and dirty aspects of police work as well as a (hopefully) entertaining account of my life. It’s dedicated to my late daughter, Louise.

For proof, why not a bit of shameless self promotion! Here’s the link to my publisher’s site where you can pre-order the book, and the link to the launch’s Eventbrite page. It’s free, so why not join in if it strikes your fancy.

Oh, and here's me:

Full disclosure, I don't know how to work Reddit so I'm having a helper post these answers for me, but she'll be copying me word-for-word.

Go on then, ask me something!

Comments: 598 • Responses: 69  • Date: 

Bad-Banana-from-Mars441 karma

How did working undercover affect you mentally? Did you ever feel like your alter-ego was taking over and what help was available to stop that from happening?

undercover-author1050 karma

Firstly, no help was ever available for undercover officers in my day.

It's only with hindsight that I can see the person I became at that time. Initially you have to work very close to the criminal line in order to be effective, but after a while those lines become very blurred indeed. I was drinking far too much, my relationships were messed up (2 failed marriages) and increasingly my friends were the criminals. It was only through my children and my personal circumstances that I managed to get out of the spiral at all. Many didn't.

Some ended up becoming part of what they had started fighting. It's a whirlpool but man what a ride at the time.

Great question.

I could write a book about it. Oh wait...

Hippojaxx397 karma

Aren’t we supposed to call it “The Service” now ? Official vocab guidelines state that “force” is too aggressive.

undercover-author254 karma

My book is set mainly in the 80's and 90's, so that's my excuse!

galvanized_steelies237 karma

Bit more of a personal question, but what was it like growing up so soon after WWII, and through the Cold War? A lot of people, myself included, have never experienced tensions like that.

undercover-author516 karma

The main thing about the aftermath of the WW is that everything was in short supply. I was born in the 50's and things were just getting back to some kind of normality, but up until the mid 50's we still had a thing called rationing in the UK. This meant that food and lots of other things were in very short supply. Households were issued vouchers, or coupons, and this entitled them to essential supplies. They still had to pay but were only allowed to buy the specified amount, depending on their circumstances. ie: How many in the household, how many children and their ages etc.

For example, you might be allowed 3 eggs per week, and 1 pint of milk per day. Maybe a loaf every other day and so on. This was because the supplies of food hadn't yet got back to normal after all of our supply lines (merchant ships) were lost at sea in the war.

This still impacts my mentality today. Because the biggest sin we could commit as children was to WASTE food I still have that mentality. I hate waste. Probably because it was drummed into us as children that there were children starving. That we were lucky to have any food at all, and that we could move from the table until we had 'cleaned the plate'.

This is also my weak excuse for being a few stone over weight.

delboy1187224 karma

How do you cope with seing so much death and bad things in the city?do you still like to be in glasgow?

undercover-author436 karma

At the start of my book I talk about how we all see the world through our own eyes. From our very own unique perspective.

I still live in Glasgow, but now see it through the eyes of an old man, who just wants to be with his grand children in the park, go on nice holidays and fall asleep in front of the TV at night.

The adrenalin has long since stopped pumping and I have no desire to be involved in anything more strenuous than walking football or a wee cycle.

I love my city. And I know that every city in the world has it's issues. I live in a nice bit, and believe me, I know how to avoid trouble.

K--Will192 karma

Is there any truth to the rumors that taxi services and bus routes are owned and operated by the Glaswegian Mafia?


Many of my friends in London are, just, terrified of East Glasgow. Does the East End really see THAT much more crime, proportionally, or is it just talk?

undercover-author447 karma

Yes. I'm not up to date on current crime trends or figures, unfortunately, but in my day certainly. What I can say is that the 'east end' doesn't exist any more as far as police boundaries and divisions are concerned. All of the old divisions and boundaries have been changed and made much much bigger since the invention of Police Scotland, so everything is blurred.

From my own experience the east end was the home of many of the poorest people who came to Glasgow with nothing. Housing was shit, job prospects very poor, education rubbish, and therefore a breeding ground for crime.

Things have changed and continue to do so. I love the east end. It's still REAL.

Aside: I heard that the west end of UK cities is always better because the prevailing winds in the country come from the west, and so all of the smoke and smog in industrial times was blown east. Interesting theory.

jimicus165 karma

Have you ever fired your gun up in the air and gone "Aaah!"?

undercover-author199 karma

No. I was brought up in the days of the Lone Ranger and always shouted 'Yee Hah!".

In the crime squad we played cards during our break at night if things were quiet. We played for a penny a point.We were made to leave our guns lying on a table 30 yards away in case anyone got carried away. You never know.

jimicus24 karma

Oh, so you were authorised to carry guns?

undercover-author46 karma

In the Serious Crime Squad we carried guns quite routinely. There is plenty of training and rules around it. Regular bobbies don't carry them.

Tiggy_Dickers151 karma

Did you always plan on joining serious crime squad when you joined up for the force or was it more of a series of events that led you there?

undercover-author306 karma

It was a series of events, very early in my career. The first death I was involved with (where I had to go and watch the post mortem) had some slight CID involvement. This was the first inkling that I might want to be a detective. I had about a weeks service at that time.

A few months later a body was found in our area. It was a girl who had been abducted 2 years before and she had been buried in the wilds of Argyll, Scotland.

The Serious Crime Squad came to our area to help with the enquiries. I was only a wee boy watching from the peripherals, but we dubbed them the Serious Drinking Squad, and the seed was sewn for me then.

They were the elite to me but it took me 5 years to get there. I was the youngest SCS detective by a long stretch. I could also hold my drink which probably helped.

j0m1n1n126 karma

What is the worst case you've ever worked on?

undercover-author372 karma

The worst case I ever worked on has to be the Lockerbie plane bombing. It was just horrific.

I was only one of many detectives on the investigation, but the sadness and horror will live with all of us forever. Bodies and wreckage everywhere, spread over a vast area. All of the luggage and personal belongings. And, of course, wondering what it must have been like for the passengers falling 36,000 feet to their deaths. We were told that they would have been unconscious quickly due to the altitude and the temperature, but we always felt that was told to us just to keep us sane.

All of the cases I worked on involving the deaths of children were horrible, and any case where death is involved (quite a lot in my line of work) is sad, especially for the bereaved.

JesusLuvsMeYdontU105 karma

What would you say is the most common mistake people make that allow you to find them?

undercover-author214 karma

That's easy. Speak to the police. A lawyer once told me that the most damage to any case is done in the first 30 seconds of interaction with the police. And when you're undercover, they have no idea.

discodave333104 karma

How big of a problem would you say sectarianism is in Glasgow in respect of crime?

undercover-author217 karma

Sectarianism is still a big problem here in the west of Scotland. It will only weaken given time, unfortunately. It has done so in my lifetime, but a few more generations are required.

It's not such a big issue when there's no football like just now because of Covid. But when Rangers play Celtic is all kicks off.

Other than football, it's a domestic problem with mixed marriages, but again I think we're becoming more civilised and it's much rarer now.

Here's a wee taste of what it was like from the memoir:

"We had just arrived and were sitting in the lounge with our first of many, many pints when a troop of about a dozen of them came into the bar. Gary immediately got up [...] and went to greet them. They obviously passed or failed whatever test there was and, with big smiles, Gary brought them over to join us. Within seconds, we were all singing protestant songs, running through the familiar repertoire of historic and passionate unionist venom.

‘Hello, Hello, we are the Billy Boys’, ‘The Cry was no Surrender’, etc., always at absolutely full volume. This seemed to be some kind of greeting or welcome, but was certainly as much part of the process as buying each other a drink was.

Phil nudged me. I tried to ignore him, but he was obviously agitated, and so at an appropriate lull, I asked him what was wrong. ‘What’s a Taig, Simon?’ Through the side of my mouth, and as discreetly as I could manage, and with some puzzlement at his question, I told him, ‘It’s a Catholic, Phil. It’s just another word for a Catholic.’ ‘But I’m a Catholic, big man.’ ‘Do us all a big favour, Phil. Shut up and keep singing. OK?’"

Matt1982IRE76 karma

Hi Simon, book looks very insightful. Best of luck with its launch. A couple of questions, how has your job impacted your personal life? It must be very hard to do your job and not bring it home with you. Also, what do you think TV/Films get wrong about your profession and how can it be done better/differently?

undercover-author133 karma

10. I could write all day about how the job impacted my personal life. In fact I wrote a book about it....

It no doubt cost me a marriage. I was so wrapped up in that world. It seemed important at the time. It was a lot of fun and perhaps it's the adrenalin that is the real culprit. I was an addict maybe.

I have no doubt whatsoever that it took a huge psychological toll on all of us, especially at the sharp end, carrying guns and chasing down real and very violent men.

I read a few years ago that police officers are at the top or near the top of the professions where suicide, divorce and alcoholism are most prevalent. I can attest to that and lost many friends to all three.

An officer was shot dead yesterday in London. Two in the USA on Thursday. It affects us all.

undercover-author130 karma

Hello, I've answered another question about how it impacted my personal life so check that out (spoiler: a lot!)

TV and film annoy me so much. (And my partner who has to listen to me moaning).

The writers seem to have great advisers and consultants telling them everything about procedures and court etc etc. But NONE to tell them about surveillance or undercover work. Even my favourite character, Harry Bosch, is hopeless at surveillance. It does my head in seeing cops put on a baseball hat and peeking round corners.

Surveillance is a total art form, requires so much training, and is so slick when performed by a proper team.

Otherwise, a lot of the TV shows are very realistic now. Movies not so much.

The truth is that it's team work that solves major crimes, not individuals. But hey, what fun would that be. We need heroes.

HHS201975 karma

Your book's promotional material mentions, "The dealers, the shooters, the gangsters and the paedophiles; they need to fall by any means." Is supply-side throttling the best way to counter drug-addiction in communities? What about the legalisation or drugs and some public health options to help people deal with addiction and/or emotional problems?

undercover-author337 karma

No. I have been involved in 'supply-side throttling' (I like that term) for 40 years and it doesn't work. In fact, it makes it worse. We have created the black market.

I am a 100% an advocate of legalisation and regulation of the drug supply. As I told a previous questioner, addicts are the victims here. And prison is most certainly NOT the answer. Until our politicians get real about reform nothing will change. And we need more funding of help centres and the sort.

It is also big business now and has many vested interests.

HHS201958 karma

As a police officer, when you look at gun ownership law in the United States, do you think that this ultimately helps people defend themselves against threats or does it create a more dangerous environment? If you lived in the US as a civilian, do you think you would purchase a gun for the protection of yourself or loved ones?

undercover-author221 karma

This is a really hard question.

I have no doubt that the lawful carrying of firearms escalates everything. Here in the UK the police don't carry guns and the crooks tend not to either. It's a question of escalation.

I worked with plenty of police officers who I would not like to see armed, never mind some of the scumbags we locked up.

I think if I lived in the States I would have a gun available. I certainly don't miss carrying one.

Matt1982IRE57 karma

Any case start small and then spiral into something much bigger than you could have anticipated? And, has any the cases you were involved with/solved, ever changed anything for the better? Thanks!

undercover-author134 karma

Most drug busts start small. A wrap in a pocket or a bag in a car. This is where most trails begin.

I had a stolen TV I recovered in a house and the info I gleaned took us to an industrial estate, accompanied by 64 colleagues, where we recovered guns, drugs, hijacked lorries, stolen goods, everything. You name it.

Another bust came from a guy caught with 4 x tenner bags of smack, that led to a guy with a good stash and dealing operation, and in turn to a ship at Greenock that was bringing in tons of coke.

Of course at the time you think you're a good guy, fighting crime and making the worlds a better place. There's certainly some very bad men we took off the streets for a long time, and that made everyone safer. But the addicts themselves are the real victims.

We got some stated cases at court where the law was changed, reinforced, or clarified in light of the work we had done, which effects all future similar cases. So that's always good. Thank you!

AVDLatex55 karma

How realistic was the movie Trainspotting?

undercover-author235 karma

Trainspotting was very very good. I had real problems reading the book for the first few chapters because it was written in Edinburgh dialect, but I got the hang of it eventually.

Although it was realistic and shocking it still could never properly portray the real misery caused by heroin.

I feel very strongly that the users (junkies) who are addicted to smack are the real victims. They are totally abused and used by their dealers and I feel totally neglected by society who continue to wage this 'War On Drugs' which can never be won. We have created the black market and it is worth so much money now that it is impossible to fight the laws of supply and demand.

Of course Hollywood has to glamorize the whole thing, but the truth is that no one would want to watch the daily lives of actual smack heads.

Great film though. I might watch it again.

hndjbsfrjesus53 karma

When does your book come out? Loads of people would love to read tales from the job.

undercover-author78 karma

The official release is October 7th (virtual launch of course) but those who have pre-ordered before this weekend will get them before that - depending how far away you live of course. I'm glad to share my stories - I think my pals down the pub are sick to death of them by now!

Cabut24 karma

Great - get it on Amazon Kindle, would love to buy the electronic version.

undercover-author14 karma

Once it’s on Amazon after the launch there will be an ebook version, so keep an eye out!

Futuressobright50 karma

What's up with the plainclothes policemen I see on the streets of my city disguised as homeless people wearing ratty clothes and a two-day beard but along with tactical boots with a high polish and a crew cut that's probably one day older than their stubble? They always stand around on the corner in that stiff way that only cops stand.

Are these patrolmen who have never had any training being undercover? Are they hoping someone is going to try to sell them drugs? Because I'm a pretty straight- edge guy and if they aren't fooling me they aren't fooling an actual criminal. Or are they just there to keep an eye on a real undercover cop down the block?

undercover-author82 karma

He may not be a plainer. Although most plain clothes officers are taken from uniform and given no training whatsoever.

Also, although they might be in plain clothes, they often don't really want to be seen as a poor homeless person or dead beat. They actually want to retain a bit of their police image. Honestly, I think shoes are the hardest part of the plainers outfit. Most of us throw shoes out when they become worn or holey.

These are not detectives asked to go out in plain clothes. These are very young cops on the look out for shop lifters and such like. If people knew how amateurish the police are in many ways they would be totally shocked! But in this case, it is most likely some young cop getting experience. He's some kind of deterrent as well, and at least the public can see that there are still some police officers on the streets.

SixGunChimp48 karma

Is there a not so serious crime squad? Like a Silly Crime Squad?

undercover-author118 karma

Oh aye.

We had the Serious Drinking Squad. We were very serious about that.

I remember once being at the front door of a suspected bank robber (in fact he WAS the bank robber) and the guy I was with said something stupid. We both burst out laughing and were still in stitches when he opened the door. We could hardly point our guns.

Try telling him we were the Serious Crime Squad.

We could be the Smelly Crime Squad, The Very Serious Crime Squad, The Serious Overtime Squad, and the Seriously Fucked Up Squad. To name but a few.


Suibian_ni47 karma

Frankie Boyle said if you saw someone with a copy of The Guardian in Glasgow, it meant the bloke had just mugged a social worker. Does that sound about right?

undercover-author136 karma

It does to me!

Here's a wee excerpt about social workers:

"The attitude of the police to social workers is summed up by a joke that was one of numerous constantly circulating through our ranks.

A man is lying in a doorway. He has obviously been beat up, seems unconscious and is badly in need of medical attention. The passing public are ignoring him, giving him a wide berth. No one wants involved, crossing the road to avoid him and his situation. Until, thankfully, a social worker happens on the scene and immediately runs over to the injured man.

The social worker takes one look and says, ‘This is terrible. I must find the person who did this and help him.’ And then runs off into the crowd."

QuevedoDeMalVino41 karma

While your line of work would put you constantly in contact with the grim and the dark, surely you will have lived moments of funny, perhaps even hilarious, situations. What is one situation you especially remember for being funny?

undercover-author70 karma

Humour is a real escape valve for the emergency services, and humour raised its head all the time, especially when things are very grim. I'd like to think that in my memoir almost every chapter and story has a punchline. Here's a taste:

"...I have had some real scares doing that; once walking into the old fish factory yard where noises had been reported. Pitch black, shining my torch, and there, under an old trailer, revealed in my spotlight, two sets of feet, stock still. My scream soon put an end to this and we were off on a chase.

Another time again, a report of possible intruders at the coal yard in Rothesay: me on my own with my torch, walking through the tight pedestrian tunnel into the yard. As I came out into the yard, I shone my torch to the left. What a sight. Three big faces lined up no more than two feet away. For fuck sake, another suit ruined.

One of those big faces became my son’s father-in-law. He remembers the incident more for the scare I gave them!"

gkrutke7440 karma

In your experience, what percentage of of the police force are "dirty", i.e take bribes, steal evidence, coerce testimony from suspects, etc. I realize this happens around the world, but I'm wondering in your opinion what is the extent of it. And have you ever been confronted with this problem directly?

undercover-author82 karma

A tiny minority. In my experience.

There are degrees of corruption of course. A whole chapter of my book is dedicated to this topic, because it's important. In any job there are bad apples. I've know scoundrel lawyers, thieving bankers, dodgy accountants and so on. It doesn't make them all bad, but it taints the profession. Same with bad cops.

Weed them out, come down hard on them and get rid of them.

My only surprise is that with the world our officer occupy, there aren't more bent coppers. The temptations and offers of corruption are enormous, and the potential rewards are life-changing.

It's a testament to our recruitment, training and ethos that these bad apples are so few in Scotland. Because they stick out a mile.

dirkgent32 karma

There are quite a few television shows about your line of work, any "get it right"? Assuming you watch such things!

undercover-author101 karma

TV shows are tricky for me. See a previous answer about how they never get surveillance right. It quite annoys me.

My son, who's 35, called me a while back and said you have to watch this cop show, set in London. It was a vice squad thing.

Now my son is an accomplished musician, and gifted bass player. After watching a few episodes (I couldn't bear any more) I tried to explain to him:

If I had watched a program about playing bass and recommended it to him he would have watched it. If they had then started by saying, the bass has 4 strings. They are E, A D G, and this is how we play a scale... That was how the vice thing seemed to me. Most are the same in all honesty.

HHS201929 karma

Did you ever need to work with another country's police force or engage Interpol? Did you find the process efficient or was it fraught with bureaucratic fiction? What would you do to change it, if anything?

undercover-author70 karma

Yes I did. The problem was always politics.

It was never very satisfactory really, but in the end the job was done by us, and we let the big wigs sort out the details.

The bureaucracy is just part and parcel. I think Interpol is outdated and nowadays and we need a more integrated department across Europe at least.

The main problem is intelligence, which still isn't shared properly. This obviously benefits the crooks, smugglers, and international criminals. Again, they aren't always the people you would imagine or like to think they are.

copywrtr29 karma

What's the case you're most proud of being involved in? Also, is there an issue/ problem you think is more common in Scotland or UK than elsewhere?

Best of luck on the launch of your book. Sounds interesting.

undercover-author67 karma

I had a case as a young detective in a place called Rothesay. I had just been posted there. There was an egg box of unsolved cases involving flashing and sexual assaults on young girls over many years.

The problem was, everyone knew who the culprit was, but no one had ever managed to pin it on him.

He was a very well known bad yin. Everyone hated him. Bad news. I inherited this egg box of crimes and it sat in the corner of my room for a long time. It's a very long story how I unravelled this mystery, but it changed my career for sure. It had a happy ending. But I'll save the details for my readers. Thank you!

TrashTierDaddy26 karma

I apologize in advance if this is too loaded of a question.

As an officer yourself, what is your opinion on the current tension growing in the US between police and civilians/BLM movement? I only ask because I know our countries are so different in terms of policing, but compassion and human decency aren’t bound by borders. To be honest, it was the way you answered the question about trainspotting that makes me curious. I don’t personally hear of many officers that speak the way you did about addiction, and to be honest I got emotional reading your reply having grown up around family struggling with addiction.

undercover-author64 karma

I have a lot of misgivings about the current situation in the States. You are so right about the difference between our countries with regard the use of guns, and of course that escalates everything.

The George Floyd incident didn't involve firearms, but a flagrant disregard for his safety. It seems these incidents are the focal points of much wider issues with regard racism and such like, and of course there is no smoke without fire.

I think the whole thing, like many other issues, could have been handled much better and with more compassion and understanding, but these words are not well known to your current leader. I'm sorry if you were upset and I hope you have support around you.

All the best.

PS: Don't read the book if you don't want to cry a lot.

toenailsinteeth24 karma

What was your first assignment and what was your reaction to it? Like how you felt or how you proccessd it

undercover-author78 karma

This is interesting.

My first ever assignment was dealing with a sudden death. A young man, with a young family, died of a brain haemorrhage in the middle of the night. My first night shift.

The whole thing was a total blur. Blue lights, screaming, tears, everyone running about. I had to help take the body to the morgue and it was the first touch of a dead body that made an imprint on me. Nothing can prepare you for that first touch, the feeling of dread and absolute horror. Nothing you ever touch again will feel as COLD. The coldness of death. It still gives me a shiver to this day.


Jablu34523 karma

What whisky do you drink?

undercover-author30 karma

Macallan 12 year old or Cutty Sark.

MarchewkaCzerwona21 karma

Is it true that almost always the perpetrator is a relative or from close friend, known circle?

undercover-author49 karma

In my experience, yes. As I mentioned in a reply to another question, many murders that take place are between couples.

NicNoletree20 karma

What are the emotional tolls involved in working with the details of serious crime? Are there common coping mechanisms that worked for most members of the team, or does everyone have to navigate that on their own? And, lastly, how do those emotional experiences and coping mechanisms affect your personal lives?

undercover-author68 karma

The emotional tolls are immense, but it is really only with the benefit of hindsight that this is obvious. At the time it's your job and as a team you get on with it. No one would show any 'weakness' but many did fall by the wayside. Drink, suicide, divorce and so on.

Our way of coping was drink. We would all get drunk together and relive things. You couldn't really tell anyone else, because they wouldn't believe you or if it was your wife she wouldn't want you going back to work. She would worry all day. No use.

We just went to the pub.

There was no support from the force at that time. I hope it's changed.

henryderby19 karma

I have a question for you if you don't mind.

Is there a case that has remained un solved that you keep going back to? If so what are the details of this (that you can share)?

Thank you also for your service, I shall certainly be ordering the book.

undercover-author41 karma

There are plenty of cases unsolved, and I suppose it's part of why I wrote the book, because I still have them in my head. Writing about them helped.

I think as I get older they drift in time and become just part of me. My whole service, and certainly the undercover parts and serious shootings etc seem far off now, almost as if it happened to another person.

I'm glad I'm not him now. He wasn't a very nice guy, truth be told.

Thank you for ordering a copy, I really hope you'll enjoy it.

ardmory19 karma

How many times have you heard a suspect say “Get me Beltrami”? Why did he have such a solid reputation amongst the serious criminal classes?

undercover-author23 karma

More times than I could recall. If it wasn't Joe it was his side kick Dowdles.

These briefs were real characters. We had similar in the police. They were larger than life, always giving great quotes to the press, drinking with all and sundry, with enormous egos and real charisma in court.

I suppose it comes down to marketing really. They were always in the papers, always up to something and so the reputation just builds. There aren't any short cuts in court. Just diligence and hard work but these guys gave off an aura of being special. I suppose they were for that reason.

I'm not sure there's room for such personalities these days.

HHS201917 karma

During your undercover work did you ever get any acting training from a proper instructor or did you just need to learn on the job?

undercover-author60 karma

Everything was on the job. Never any training at all. Generally I was just playing a slob, ned, drunk or general bad guy, and I had trained for those roles my whole life!

You were either suited to it or not.

pablosito16 karma

When being undercover I imagine you had to deal with police that didn’t know who you were. How did you find the police behaved when you interacted with them while undercover?

undercover-author26 karma

They are a real danger to an undercover cop. They just don't think and can wave to you or smile or try to speak to you. They are to avoided like the plague and if you have to engage with them you do so aggressively. That way their instinct kicks in and they treat you like an arsehole. Which is great.

They are very dangerous to an operation at times.

Good question.

Hobash16 karma

How much corruption did you witness on the force?

undercover-author47 karma

What constitutes corruption?

A cop taking a wee dram at the back door of his local pub? Then turning a blind eye to some late night drinking.

A beat man who takes a free fish supper from the chip shop in the hope by the owner that he'll keep an eye on it more diligently.

A detective who lets a crime go unpunished or detected in exchange for information relating to another crime, perhaps deemed more serious?

The cop who gives false evidence in order to secure a conviction when he is sure he has the right man.

A cop who tortures someone to get information that will safe lives?

These are varying levels of corruption and have complex answers to whether they should be charged.

The short answer is yes, I saw all of the above.

Ninjroid15 karma

What were your shifts like? Five eight-hour shifts a week, four tens? Did you rotate daywork and evenings?

What is the pension like over there? Do you work 20 or 25 years, then the pension is a percentage of your base pay?

undercover-author25 karma

We had 4 groups, 1,2,3,4. We had three shifts. 7-2pm, 2pm- 11pm and nightshift, 11pm - 7am.

We did 7 nights on, 2 days off with a long weekend at the end of the cycle. Starting back Nights on the Monday. So, Nights, 2 off, back shift, 2 days off, early shift weekend off. 4 week cycle. The off group were always off duty.

You had a choice. 25 years and half pension, or 30 years with 2/3. You have to be 55 to get the pension.

DRAWKWARD7915 karma

In your 40y was there a case that really rattled you? One where you honestly lost faith in humanity? One where you just couldn’t believe the depths of human depravity? Or one you couldnt solve that still truly bothers you?

undercover-author31 karma

During my first 17 years as a policeman, I suppose the Lockerbie bombing sticks out there. Sexual crimes against women and especially children are really hard to fathom. The last 13 years of the 40 were as a consultant and trainer and I also worked for the defence - a bit of an eye opener from the other side of the fence.

In the time between, terrorism was the biggest issue for me and this is not the place to go into the details of my work as a surveillance operative, but what I can say is that these are the hardest crimes to understand. Generally the victims are innocent bystanders, and to my mind, whatever the cause that supposedly motivates these crimes loses every time.

Thanks for your question.

Pavementaled15 karma

Dinnae fash, ya bonnie Scott. I have a question for you.

  1. Did you ever work on a case that involved historical artifacts?
  2. How many murder cases involved a romantic couple?

undercover-author45 karma

Hoots mon the noo. Yes I did.

I had a case as a young detective where a painting by a Dutch artist, Koekoek, had been stolen from an old mans house. The scum bag dealer had visited, gained admission and had a chat with the gent. His daughter discovered it missing from the wall later that day.

It transpired that when I searched the elderly man he had £80 cash in his pocket that should not have been there. The dealer had taken the painting and left the cash, hence no crime was committed. The old man was none the wiser due to his cognitive condition, but the daughter was livid. It was her inheritance after all.

As an aside I made sure that the Tax man took a zealous interest in the dealers business, and hopefully they still do 40 years later. Scumbag.

Most murders are domestic, although romance has generally left the relationship by the time one of them murders the other. A big motivator is jealousy. Some men (and of course a few woman) just can't handle rejection or when a partner wants to move on. It's a type of mental illness and can lead to all sorts of tragedy. So in answer to your question, most murders fall into this category.

HHS201914 karma

What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of community policing? Does the change in strategy result in lower crime rates and a safer populous?

undercover-author55 karma

Community policing works. No question. Unfortunately all of our focus these days seems to be on BIG answers. Police Scotland, centralised offices, one call centre to take every call in Scotland.

When people knew their local bobby, could phone or pop into their local office or stop the beat man for a chat in the street life was so much better.

Alas money is tight, and more importantly the decision makers now are business graduates with no knowledge or experience of policing our streets. Decisions are based on PR and budgets.

The list of things that the police won't attend any more grows weekly. Try phoning your local office. It's almost impossible.

Edit: Sorry. To answer the other part of that it does result in a safer populous but not to lower crime rates. When cops are in the community crimes are reported to them. Just now it's very difficult to report any crime.If we turned the phones off crime would really drop!

czarinacat14 karma

Do you think the suspect in the Madeleine McCann will be convicted? It sounds like the Germans have “material” evidence but no “forensic” evidence. What would you say to people who think the parents are guilty?

undercover-author38 karma

The whole thing seems totally fucked up to me, and has done since day 1. It's very difficult making any judgements based on what we see in the press. God knows we only see what they deem relevant to selling papers.

I do believe that the McCanns were culpable in leaving her alone. No doubt. But apparently not under Portuguese law. Still, they do have to live with that for ever more.

I'm also distressed that there are thousands of kids who go missing without trace every year and we hear virtually nothing about it. It seems to be unpalatable and therefore ignored.

As for prosecution. Without a confession or the body it will be very, very tricky. As long as he doesn't ever get out.

HHS201914 karma

I've read reports indicating that some of the lorry / knife attackers in the UK and France in the past decade were already being watched by law enforcement. Does this reflect a necessary risk for any surveillance programme that tries to track potential terrorists but cannot arrest them until they have actually killed someone or can/should more be done?

undercover-author30 karma

I'm not sure what reports you've been reading, but by it's very nature, surveillance and investigations into terrorist activities are kept very much under wraps. Rightly so. What I can say is that officers make these decisions every day, and their criteria for doing so is ultimately the protection of life. The greater good always has to be at the forefront of decision making, and if loss of life can be prevented then it will be.

The problem with such operations is judging when you are satisfied that you can justify an intervention. Ultimately you have to answer these questions in a court of law.

These are very thin lines my friend. Thanks for the question.

micksabhoy14 karma

What's the best curry house in Glasgow and why is it the Dhabba?

Also, obviously Glasgow has improved with regards to violent crime over the past decades but do you believe it is still improving? Over lockdown, living close to town (Calton) I've seen a lot more trouble this past year than in previous years. What are your thoughts on where Glasgow is now and where it is going.

All the best with the book.

undercover-author7 karma

Dhabba is very good. Always loved the Village.

It is improving, but this situation is raising tensions across the globe. The class gaps are getting bigger and more obvious.

JC54_13 karma

What's the wierdest crime scene you came across?

undercover-author51 karma

I remember a flat where 4 Chinese restaurant workers were living. One of them was found dead in the morning. The flat looked as though a bomb had gone off. The furniture was over turned, clothes and belongings scattered everywhere. A real mess. I thought that a fight had taken place and the dead guy was the victim.

Turned out after post mortem and forensic examination he had died of 'natural causes' and so it was declared NO CRIME by the boss men. I still don't believe that. Must have been no overtime available.

Another time in Glasgow a prostitute was found naked lying in a stairwell at the bottom of a common tenement close. (4 stories of flats). Again it was deemed that she had fallen over the bannister. ACCIDENTAL DEATH.

The bannister was almost 4 foot high. She must have come out of her door onto the landing naked, and somehow fell over her bannister. Again, not convinced. Perhaps the status of the victim played a part?

JC54_16 karma

I've heard some wierd stories come out of Glasgow before.

I once heard about a guy who tried to rob a bookies with a cucumber.

Also, one time in Perth (my hometown) a guy tried to rob a brighthouse in broad daylight. Walked out the shop with a tv

undercover-author26 karma

A quick story from my assistant, who’s also in Glasgow. She got talking to a man on the bus who’d just gotten released from prison for armed robbery of a garage (gas station). His weapon? A plastic Bob the Builder knife. Apparently he was very nice.

HHS201913 karma

Your book's promotional material mentions, "The dealers, the shooters, the gangsters and the paedophiles; they need to fall by any means." Have you ever encountered a programme that effectively stops or deters paedophiles from repeat offending or even first-time offenses?

undercover-author25 karma

No. Not really.

Our system is not geared towards helping anyone. The resources to do so are almost non existent or a token gesture. Our criminal hospitals do try their best to assess and medicate but to my mind it's been pretty ineffective.

Nowadays we try to monitor people with these type of problems in the community, but again there are not enough resources. Change is happening, but too slowly.

decentlyconfused11 karma

Whats your favorite place for food/drink in Glasgow?

How do you feel about the traffic cone on the duke of wellington?

undercover-author42 karma

My favourite place is called the Three Craws in Jordanhill Crow Road. I go there every month. My daughter spent many months in Gartnaval Hospital not far away, and we would escape hospital food whenever possible and get her in there for dinner. It was our bolt whole from the ward. She passed away in 2011 with Cystic Fibrosis and made me promise to go there every month. I always will, God willing.

(Also, the cone is a national monument at this point. Let it stay.)

Ashers13211 karma

What are your opinions on retribution vs. rehabilitation in the justice system? Some people are just bad people and should be punished but what about those that found themselves in an difficult situation or made a mistake. Can they be rehabilitated or should they just all be punished to the fullest extent?

undercover-author47 karma

I feel very strongly that most low level crime can be 'punished' without prison. If we invested in education, rehabilitation etc we would save fortunes in money, and much more in the consequences of crime.

Low lever drug use and addiction is the most obvious example.These 'victims' as I see them, should not be in prison.

apackofnoodle11 karma

Can i ask 2 questions?

Did you watch some recent and new crime series or TV shows? Which one is actually "accurate" based on your experience in the field?

And, is there something you regret from your job? A case that you can actually solve, or moral issues or something like that? Thank you!

undercover-author54 karma

Of course you can! To the first, I don't really watch them as I get taken out of the story by inaccuracies I notice.

Regrets? Not really. I'm not one for regrets.

I tend to think we did our best with whatever we had available at the time. Hindsight is always a great gift. Regret can lead to some very strange and dark places indeed.

I lost my daughter Louise in 2011 when she was 23. She had Cystic Fibrosis. The list of questions I could ask myself about how things might have been different would lead to insanity, and probably an early grave.

I hope you understand. Thanks.

J_Class_Ford10 karma

What was the worst crime that you just couldn't solve?

undercover-author67 karma

The worst unsolved crimes are the ones where you know who did it, and can't get the evidence to prove it. I had one of these as a young detective where a friend of mine was almost killed. He was hit over the head by a pool cue, and the cops who attended the pub where it happened, initially treated it as a fall. When I went to see my friend he had two skull fractures, to different parts of his head. Some fall.

I found out who did it but no one would speak against him as he was really feared in the community. I did everything to get him but the crime scene was useless because of the gap and he had time to cover his tracks.

I got him for other stuff later of course.

My friend was awarded almost £100,000 in damages (in 1985) despite no one being charged, but he was never right thereafter and sadly died a few years ago. Still makes me angry.

chezzy198510 karma

Do the police know the full chain of illegal drugs supply, generally, and are lacking enough evidence to deal with it unless a big taskforce is commissioned? Or are they basically totally in the dark about most of the supply chain above a local level?

undercover-author12 karma

The police, in conjunction with the other security services, customs etc have a pretty good idea of the whole chain, and good information on the cartels etc who control the supply lines.

Getting information as to specifics is tricky because it really is life or death for these operatives. They would much rather go to prison that be dealt with by the cartel, as they are are totally and utterly ruthless. Thanks.

HHS20199 karma

If you have seen the film Seven, how would you have handled the "box" scene at the end of the film in the role of Det. Somerset (Morgan Freeman)? How would you talk down Det. Mills from shooting the perp?

undercover-author21 karma

I haven't seen it for years, so excuse my lack of seriousness. I'm not sure how Somerset handled it, but I wouldn't have tried to talk down Brad Pitt. I would have shot him myself... Wouldn't you?

NealR20008 karma

I am a former UK police officer who spent time doing undercover and surveillance work as part of the Drug Squad (early 80s). On the whole, I found it to be a fascinating experience and I feel that the population, at large, has no real understanding of the amount of criminality that exists in society. My question to you, is based upon my experience. Police life (back then), is very distorting in terms of ones perception of society. Social life almost exclusively consists of your fellow officers and their families. Your frame of reference for the public becomes jaded due to all the lies and abuse. What's your take?

undercover-author7 karma

I couldn't disagree with anything you've said. As part of the drugs squad in the 80's you saw the start of our War On Drugs. We thought we could make a difference. What a laugh. You guys shared a corridor at HQ with us. Unfortunately that was all you shared! Great fun though.

Some of your guys paid a heavy price for doing the work they took on. Many good guys, but the lines are very vague down there. Towards the abyss. Congratulations on surviving.

SqueegeeLuigi7 karma

Not an investigative issue per se, but how are Glasgow police equipped to deal with a "big Jimmy on the 37 bus" scenario?

undercover-author10 karma

Mainly through dialogue. The gift of the gab is always our best tool. No question. We can make friends of Big Tam and control him through humour and respect.

When that fails we always have brute force, and remember there are always dozens of cops ready to rush to the scene. We should always remind 'Big Tam' of this.

m00s3y6 karma

Loved reading this AMA, ordered the book, seems odd to thank you for your work... you've lived in a world most of us can only imagine (or read about), but thanks?

undercover-author6 karma

Thank you so much. It's really very kind. I didn't want anyone to feel pressured to buy the book as times are rough, so every single order is very appreciated.

Harlem_Huey826 karma

How difficult was it not to pass judgment on the pedophiles?

What advice would you give to american police officers in the face of current issues?

undercover-author38 karma

Like all 'criminals' when you see them up close they are usually victims themselves. In the case of paedos they are almost always really sad lonely people who have been fucked up as kids themselves. Addicts are victims of a market place, alcoholics of the booze peddled to them and it's mostly the same with paedos.

Also, they are in my experience total cowards. They are weak mentally and although their actions and habits are disgusting and abhorrent to most, I never saw it my job to pass judgement or any kind of punishment.

My part was just to catch the bastard.

And to officers and civilians, stay alert and stay safe.

ChasingPesmerga6 karma

Hello! This might sound like an odd question but I just want to ask.

I'm from a country that has almost zero forensics technology. Do you think that...we're missing out on a lot in terms of detective work?

undercover-author11 karma

Yes. For sure. Forensics play a huge role in modern policing, especially in court. It is much easier to dispute the evidence of a witness than that of a fingerprint or DNA sample.

InformalCriticism5 karma

In your opinion, did the prevalence of firearms restrictions ever deter criminals from obtaining weapons illegally, or were crimes carried out with other weapons regardless of whether firearms were available?

undercover-author7 karma

The presence of our laws and regulations has a big effect because there are severe punishments attached. Crimes are considered aggravated when firearms are involved, and so you are much more likely to get a heavy sentence.

FctFndr5 karma


As a 22+ year current Criminal Investigator in the US, I am always curious of the police system in the UK. I recently watched Broadchurch and it seems as if there is not a dedicated prosecution unit, but a solicitation system. In the US, Prosecutors are a specific and dedicated unit working for a District Attorney/ State attorney. Does the UK not have prosecutor offices which only handle the prosecution of cases?

undercover-author4 karma

Firstly, I've never seen Broadchurch, but perhaps they deal with localised minor crime.

If that is the case then the police take forward their own prosecutions and actually present the case in the minor courts.

For more serious crimes in England they have the Crown Prosecution Service who assess the evidence and decide whether a prosecution is warranted. They are under a lot of pressure just now due to some controversial decisions and lost cases.

I worked most of my Police career here in Scotland and we have a totally sperate justiciary. We have a Procurator Fiscal service and every case is filtered through that office. Our police never make decisions regarding prosecution and are totally separate from the PF.

I hope this helps. I must give Broadchurch a look.

guitarnoir4 karma

As an American, I've viewed various UK police TV shows, and it seems to me that in some of the shows the Detectives carry firearms, and in some they don't.

Is this a regional thing? Or is it just a fake TV thing?

undercover-author18 karma

It's not regional. The police here are unarmed. As always there are exceptions.

We now have ARV (Armed Response Vehicles) on our streets 24/7. These cars are only to respond to firearm or terrorist incidents.

We have cops at airports and such like who carry weapons now.

In day to day policing we have afo's (authorised firearm officers) at every office. These guys are kept trained up with regular courses, and the weapons are kept very much under lock and key at every police station. They can only be issued where a case is made for such deployment and the correct process gone through. It's still a big deal here.

Even then only a limited number of us would be issued a firearm. Maybe one per car. It all depends on the situation and circumstance, but it is all very controlled and accountable.

Increasingly, if there's no urgency, we would be required to call on the tactical firearms unit, who if deployed take about 6 hours to hit a house.

It works though. Happily we rarely shoot anyone, and thankfully our chances of being shot on duty are still pretty slim.

Thank for the question.

ketchemash4 karma

Getting fraud calls on my dad's phone. What should we do ? Was even sent a parcel which we didn't order. We returned it back but keep on getting robo calls. I believe we are being target how to safe guard ourselves.

undercover-author16 karma

Lots you can do. Is it a mobile? You need to let the carrier know, preferably in writing as well as by phone. Let the police know as they may have other reports. Give them any info you have. Again in writing is best. Get your dad to change any passwords he has on all of his devices.

Are you in the UK?

nescent784 karma

Why do the Scottish eat so much fried food?

undercover-author14 karma

Because it's great, obviously. We wonder why other countries don't!!

The serious answer is right back to the early question about post-war Britain. It's cold here. Fat was and is an important part of the diet. And cheap. Our parents were brought up where choice didn't exist, and unfortunately passed these traits on.

Zuzu19783 karma

Are there really families who set up fights to secure family honor and pride? taking 1 member of each family whos their strongest.. How do the police respond to that? Is it the culture? Is it allowed?

undercover-author4 karma

This has always been the case. Travellers used to do this constantly.

With all such cultural or tribal ways the police try not to get involved. Rarely does it spill over into the community and rarely does anyone call the police. Another example are the Chinese community. They tend to police themselves. Long may it last. There is not much training available for how to deal with the nuance of such things. Perhaps there should be more.

sreeker63 karma

Have you ever committed illegal activities while being undercover? If so what are all the crimes that you are allowed to commit?

undercover-author4 karma

Yes. I've been a drug user and dealer. A drug importer, a drug supplier, and was on the fringes of a growing operation. I've abducted people, held prisoners, took part in an armed robbery, committed numerous acts of aggression as part of a mob, lots of assaults but ever only in self-defence. Carried illegal firearms and other weapons. Visited houses and places of disrepute.

The list just goes on. When you're undercover you are just become part of what's going down, or you wouldn't last long.

We were not allowed to do any of these things.

duhduhdum1 karma

How can we remove the pedo networks who have entrenched themselves in government , police, intelligence and justice ?

undercover-author3 karma

I think entrenched is the key word here. The answer is undercover. It has to be deep cover, known to very few, and over a long period of time. The set up and running of it would be expensive and protracted and to be honest I'm not sure anyone actually cares enough to do this. It's the silent victim scenario as always.

Much like people smuggling and other forms of abuse, up top ignore it, basically.

mmherzog1 karma

Why do you call it Glasgow, UK and not Glasgow, Scotland?

undercover-author2 karma

Haha, I was almost worried that some people might think Scotland was a region in England as so many do, so I went with UK for my sanity. Glasgow is very much a Scottish city!