Stephen Bentley Co-Author of Operation George – The True Story of an Undercover Sting – is my Guest Author.
I am so excited to be able to host Stephen Bentley – co-author of Operation George, who is here to tell us about himself and his latest book.
He has also kindly answered some questions that I put to him later in this post. I think you will find his answers fascinating. I did.
There is an extract from the book at the end of Stephen’s post.
Operation George: A Gripping True Crime Story of an Audacious Undercover Sting
Operation George: True crime writing at its best – new book shares what it’s really like as part of a Line of Duty ™ undercover team*
About the Authors:
Stephen Bentley is a former pioneering undercover officer who wrote about his experiences on Operation Julie in his memoir to be published by Penguin Random House UK. An 8-part TV series based on his memoir is now in development. Stephen and that book have previously been featured in the Daily Express, Sunday Express, the Guardian, Wales on Sunday, BBC News England (online), and on BBC Radio 4, BBC Five Live, BBC Radio Solent, BBC Newsnight (TV), and ITV Wales news.
He is a member of the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association and is available for interviews remotely over Zoom or the telephone.
Mark Dickens is a pseudonym and is also a former undercover officer who operated in a more modern era than Bentley. A small part of Operation George deals with the vast differences between undercover policing in the days of both authors.
Mark is unavailable for interviews to preserve his anonymity.
Operation George: True crime writing at its best – new book shares what it’s really like as part of Line of Duty ™ undercover team*
Sharing the previously untold story of Operation George, former Detective Sergeant Stephen Bentley takes the reader through the audacious and brilliantly executed undercover sting on the English mainland that brought down a former Northern Irish terrorist and murderer and one of his followers
In 2006 at Belfast Crown Court, William James Fulton, a principal in the outlawed Loyalist Volunteer Force, was jailed for life and sentenced to a minimum of 25 years after the longest trial in Northern Ireland’s legal history.
Fulton was an early suspect in the Rosemary Nelson killing. Following the murder of the prominent human rights lawyer, he fled to the United States and, with help from the FBI in collusion with the British police, he was deported. On his arrival at Heathrow, Fulton ‘walked through an open door,’ a Lewis Carrol-like euphemism for an invitation created by the covert team, only to disappear ‘down the rabbit hole’ on accepting the invitation.
That ‘rabbit hole’ led to an alternative world: an environment created and controlled by the elite covert team and only inhabited by the undercover officers and their targets. The subterfuge encouraged the terrorist targets into believing Fulton was working for a Plymouth-based ‘criminal firm’ over a period spanning almost two years. In that time, over fifty thousand hours of conversations between the ‘firm’ members were secretly recorded and used to bring the killer to justice.
This unique story is told by former undercover officer Mark Dickens who was part of an elite team of undercover detectives who took part in ‘Operation George,’ one of the most remarkable covert policing operations the world has ever known. You won’t know him under that name nor the many aliases he adopted as an undercover police officer infiltrating organised crime gangs.
Stephen has been very kind in answering questions I was keen to ask him. Thanks, Stephen, much appreciated.
Are there dangers in revealing undercover policing tactics?
Yes, in as much as you don’t want to give criminals too much inside knowledge. This was a delicate balance in the writing process, just how much we could reveal. Much of the basic information about the Operation George undercover sting was already in the public domain via law reports and the Rosemary Nelson Public Inquiry Report. However, my co-author was able to tell the story for the first time about exactly how Jim Fulton, the target, was fooled into believing he was working for an organised crime group.
However, covert policing tactics are constantly changing to keep one step ahead of OCGs. For example, there was a recent county lines case with many arrests, seizures of drugs, and cash, and that was all done by using the latest technology without the use of UCOs.
Is there a contrast between Bentley’s Operation Julie undercover days and those described in Operation George?
Chalk and cheese. I was a pioneer in UK undercover policing and had to make it all up on the fly. There was no training whatsoever. The UCOs in the modern era are all fully trained and accredited at a national level. They are elite specialists.
Why do you think so many people are fascinated with true crime?
Human nature, I believe. People are fascinated by the blood and gore and tales such as Operation Julie and Operation George. I guess that enables them to live a life of danger in a vicarious way.
The mental strain and stresses of undercover policing must be overwhelming
They are immense. You are living a double life and in the case of the modern UCO, he or she is living that life constantly and often infiltrating more than one OCG at a time.
Is real undercover policing anything like ‘Line of Duty’?
No! Definitely not. That programme is a pale imitation of real undercover policing even though it is entertaining.
Were there occasions either of you (the authors) feared for their lives?
In my case, yes. On Operation Julie, I was threatened by a Canadian gangster in a Liverpool nightclub who acted out a mock execution if it turned out I was an undercover cop. Mark Dickens insists he was never in fear for his life and I believe the reason is in his day, he knew he had backup nearby. I never did.
How did your family (and Mark’s) cope with the strains of your career and activities?
With extreme difficulty. In my case, it contributed towards a divorce. Mark also went through the same experience.
Did you ever bump into someone you knew when working undercover? What happened?
Yes, I did on Operation Julie. He was a low-level dealer I had previously busted. Luckily, I was able to hide before he saw me.
Did you ever find it hard to become ‘yourself’ again?
I can only answer this for myself. I never became ‘myself’ again after my undercover stint on Julie. The duplicity of it all affected me psychologically and I found myself unable to settle down in ‘normal police work’ after Operation Julie was concluded.
Mark Dickens tells me he never felt that way. I believe that was partly due to the modern-day undercover cop benefitting from a system of counselling. That welfare support never existed in my day.
Stephen, thanks for answering my questions.
With the appetite for true crime novels showing no sign of abatement, Operation George, which was published on 25th February 2022, brings fans of the genre up close and personal with this undercover operation par excellence.
Bringing together astonishing content as told by former undercover officer Mark Dickens, who formed part of the elite team of undercover detectives involved in the operation, and the expert wordsmithing skills of bestselling author and pioneering Operation Julie undercover officer, Stephen Bentley, Operation George is fast-paced and bursting with operational minutia.
A book that will undoubtedly pique the interest of film development executives, both authors need to be congratulated for bringing this compelling story and landmark court case into the public domain.
Together in ‘Operation George,’ with pioneering Operation Julie undercover officer and bestselling author, Stephen Bentley, they have written a gripping account of a unique story reminiscent of the premise of ‘The Sting’ film, and the ‘Bloodlands’ setting.
Receiving critical-acclaim ahead of publication, Graham Bartlett, former UK senior police officer and co-author with Peter James, of the Sunday Times Top Ten non-fiction Death Comes Knocking – Policing Roy Grace’s Brighton, says:
“Operation George is brilliant. It’s a unique insight into the undercover world, the ingenious tactics, the outwardly serene UCO’s and the fastidious adherence to rules and training are nothing like I’ve ever read before.
“Devoting the majority of the second half of the book to the trial was inspired. It’s all very well for readers to have that amazing peek into the undercover world (and the way the team created a totally illusionary one for Fulton at the huge potential risk to themselves given his background and connections) but to show how the evidence obtained stands or falls in court does the whole tactic justice.”
“Just like Jim Carrey’s character in The Truman Show, Fulton’s environment had been controlled and his life manipulated,” co-authors Dickens (a pseudonym) and Bentley, both former undercover officers, write in this rare and at times compelling window into the murky world of undercover policing. – Kirkus Reviews
“This true crime and narrative nonfiction story of undercover policing proves fascinating… The most interesting and original aspects of this book are its look into the inner workings of undercover policing during the aftermath of the Troubles… Readers will find many aspects of this work to be compelling.” – The BookLife Prize
Stephen, thanks for being such an interesting guest author. I wish you and Mark great success and do come back again. Jane xx
Thanks, looking forward to it, and also thanks for the opportunity. Stephen xx
Published on 25th February 2022 by Hendry Publishing, Operation George is available to order on Amazon in hardcover (RRP £24.99), paperback (£8.99) and Kindle format (£4.99) from the following links:
Hardcover – https://amzn.to/3DOQ2Zp
Paperback – https://amzn.to/3II7EK1
Kindle format – https://amzn.to/3IIC1zN
*The publisher wishes to make clear by using the Line of Duty™, there is no implied association with the Line of Duty series nor World Productions Ltd and the trademark is attributed to World Productions Ltd.
An extract from Operation George:
The following true story is not about Rosemary Nelson, the Troubles per se nor Northern Ireland, although they feature out of necessity. We feel that from the outset it is worthwhile to set out a background to the events and locations of this book and a brief history of the Troubles in that part of Northern Ireland. Whilst this book tells the amazing story of possibly the most audacious undercover sting in the world, we also acknowledge the grief suffered by so many on both sides of the sectarian divide in that part of the United Kingdom. In writing this book, we can assure you we also felt the pain endured by so many innocent people.
William James Fulton and Muriel Gibson were from Portadown, a small town in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Sadly, it is better known as the scene of the Drumcree conflict rather than the birthplace of notable people like Lady Mary Peters (Olympic athlete), Gloria Hunniford (TV personality) and Martin O’ Neill (football manager). It is located about twenty-five miles southwest of Belfast. In the 1980s and 1990s its population was made up of about seventy percent Protestants and almost thirty percent Catholics. Garvaghy Road is in the middle of an area of housing that is largely populated by Catholics. Lurgan is a short drive away; about six miles separates it from Portadown. Lurgan was the location of Rosemary Nelson’s law practice.
The Drumcree conflict is a dispute over the right of Protestants and loyalists to hold parades mainly to commemorate the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688. The occasion is known by many as ‘The Twelfth.’ It was first held in the late 18th century in Ulster and it celebrates the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, which began the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. Residents of Garvaghy Road and the surrounding Catholic district object to what they view as “triumphalist” Orange marches through their area. Rosemary Nelson, a Catholic solicitor, was the figurehead and spokesperson for the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition as well as representing the coalition in legal matters until she was assassinated on 15 March 1999. Sam Kinkaid, the RUC officer who played a leading role in the investigation of Rosemary Nelson’s murder, described the area (Portadown) as “second only to North Belfast in terms of sectarianism.”
The sophisticated bomb device that blew up Rosemary Nelson’s car and killed her is where our story begins. A loyalist paramilitary splinter group naming themselves the Red Hand Defenders claimed responsibility for the killing. At that time, William James Fulton and Muriel Landry née Gibson (referred to as Gibson throughout the remainder of this book) were members of the Loyalist Volunteer Force – the LVF. Soon after the bombing, Fulton fled to the United States and Gibson relocated to England. In this story of Operation George, all the names of the undercover police officers (UCOs) used are pseudonyms. Some are the same aliases as used in evidential transcripts and sanctioned by the judge to preserve their anonymity whilst giving evidence at the trials of William James Fulton and Muriel Gibson at Belfast Crown Court. The names or nicknames of other UCOs and Cover Officers are fabricated aliases to protect their anonymity and thus prevent any kind of criminal retribution against them or their families. In the same vein, the authors are sparing in using details of any undercover officer such as physical descriptions, accents, backgrounds, and the like to preserve anonymity. (UCOs) used are pseudonyms.