Britain's Drugs Crisis: The dealer: Profits get blown away in cloud of crack smoke

MICHAEL led a charmed life. He made thousands from selling crack cocaine without being killed, ripped off or arrested. He had a sports car, a gold Rolex, thousands in cash. He blew it all in a cloud of crack smoke.

Only a few months ago Michael (not his real name) was a force in the dealing world. He could pick up an ounce (28 grams) of crack for pounds 1,050, a pounds 200 discount on the standard price. He sold this to street dealers, who sold it on in turn. On a good day he could shift two or three ounces at a profit of pounds 2,000 an ounce.

A good-looking black man, casually but expensively dressed, he said little yesterday at his smart council flat in London's East End.

Karen, his girlfriend, frequently spoke for both of them. At one time she was a major player in the local cannabis market. Customers queued out of the kitchen and down the hall. Then the police raided the place, and she was put on probation.

She scaled down her activities. Michael, meanwhile, built up a business worth an estimated pounds 80,000. Calls came on his mobile phone day and night. 'I would go out and deal with them. It's not like a 9 to 5 job.' If the phone was switched off, people would come banging on the door.

Sometimes he would go to illegal gambling houses - squatted council flats containing a few tables and chairs for card games - to do business.

He concentrated on business as other dealers taunted users. One placed a crack 'rock' on the end of his penis and offered to let a woman keep it if she sucked it off. She did while others looked on and roared.

Michael was well known on the scene, and had no fear of being robbed: 'You never sell to people you don't know, you only buy from people you trust.' Just in case, though, he carried a gun.

At the height of his career, he sported pounds 5,000 of jewellery. The couple had two child minders and a cleaner. They dined out regularly. His sports car was parked next to her executive saloon.

Then it all went wrong. Michael smoked more and more of his stock. First his profits, then his deals, the gold, and the car all disappeared in spliffs loaded with up to pounds 100- worth of rocks. 'He must have lost 80 grand in a year,' Karen said. 'It took him three years to build. He would stay up all night smoking for four and five days at a time.'

He became paranoid as things got worse. The couple fought. His car was sold, he smashed hers up. The money ran out, then he got into debt, and now he cannot even borrow enough to buy a few rocks for personal consumption.

His mobile phone was cut off. His old friends passed their time smoking crack he could no longer afford. 'I've got nothing. My old spars (mates) ain't gonna sit there giving to me all day when they can't get nothing back.'

Karen hates what crack has done to their lives: 'The only reason I even got into this was so my kids can have more than bread and jam when they come home.'

But she added: 'He'll bounce back. In a way this is like an experience for him, like a lesson. He's so good at making money, he'll always make more.'