Confessions of a naive drug smuggler

A British diplomat in Jamaica claimed last week that one in 10 passengers flying from the island to the UK is smuggling cocaine. So what made Sissy Gascoigne agree to carry a bag home for a friend?
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My fellow passenger swung her T-shirt above her head, while her stupendous bosom hung bare. "I've been tryin' to escape this raas claat country for days," she yelled, sending trolleys and cordons clattering to the floor. Seventy of us at Heathrow had been told that we would have to wait until the next day for our flight to Jamaica, and this news was not being received well. In the queue to collect our compensation money for the delay, a lady was cautioned by the police for punching an air hostess, and others for smoking spliffs.

It had been a long-held dream of mine to go to the land of reggae. When I eventually arrived this July, I was met by my hostess and her new companion – a dog. She had bought the half-Doberman, half-Rotweiler that day to protect herself from a stalker who, at 6am, naked, had thrown himself on to her as she slept. Although he had armed himself with one of her kitchen knives, she had managed to push him away with scratches and screams. "I was not going to be raped in my own bed," she said. She then contacted the local mafia, rather than the mistrusted police force, to deal with him.

To encourage the dog to be macho, we christened him Conch. Conch soup is one of many potions thought by Jamaicans to improve sexual prowess. Another, Magnum, is advertised on television with an entwined couple and a gravelly voice-over saying, "Magnum: make sure when you drink it that your man is near."

I did not fall for the sexual hype, but I managed to be much more stupid: I agreed to carry some records back to London for a Jamaican acquaintance. I had met Mr DJ, as I will call him, some months back. Once he had stopped asking me if I'd ever been with a Jamaican, and did I know what I was missing, we struck up a friendship based on our mutual love of roots reggae music. He set the house on fire with his music when he played at my parties, and I'd stayed up all night dancing at his gigs. We swapped records and talked about music. In short, even though I only understood half of what he said and found him a little rough at the edges, I thought we had surmounted cultural barriers and made friends.

I had wondered how he funded his frequent trips to Jamaica, and his giant record collection, replete with dubplates (exclusive cuts made especially by an artist for the DJ, with modified lyrics), but I didn't think it was my business, and he always finished phone calls saying, "one love" instead of "goodbye", which I thought was dead exotic.

At Mr DJ's request, I went to Kingston to meet his friend "Big Al" (all of 5ft tall), who gave me some beaten-up old seven-inches in a slick black bag. Because I collect even the most scratched of records, I didn't question why an up-to-date DJ wanted these 45s so much; nor was I at all suspicious of the shiny black bag.

The next morning my pal Micky ran his fingers over the lining and said, "This has too much weight for an empty bag." It was the first time it had entered my head that there was anything suspicious about it. Neither of us searched the lining, being loathe to ruin a handsome bag, but we decided, even though I was convinced that Mr DJ would never do such a thing to me, that I should accidentally-on-purpose leave it behind. I gave it to a very pleased Micky, who planned to go and impress the bank manager with it, using it as a fashion accessory rather than an accessory to crime, in order to get a loan for a wild business plan involving shellfish and roller skates.

Micky was clutching the bag when I said goodbye to him and Ralph the taxi driver at Montego Bay airport the next day. We had stopped at a couple of bars on the way, where Ralph the driver ("Reliable and Defensive Driving, Nobody Beat my Price") had bought me my last Red Stripe beers before I checked in my luggage, heavy with vinyl that I had bought fresh off the Jamaican presses.

As Jamaicans don't require visas to enter Britain, a crowd of security guards meets every flight from Jamaica in an attempt to catch a percentage of the mules carrying drugs into the country. They estimate that they catch only 30 per cent. As a lone white female I had my passport checked more than once, and was searched thoroughly.

"Are you carrying any bags for anybody?"

"No," I replied automatically.

As soon as I had switched on my phone back in London, Mr DJ rang and said that he wanted to meet up immediately to collect the records because he was playing that night. I resisted, as I wanted to have an uninterrupted dinner with my boyfriend, but Mr DJ had an urgency in his voice and I agreed that he could come to the restaurant where we were eating.

Outside the restaurant, a shiny silver Volkswagen pulled up on to the curb. Out jumped Mr DJ. I gave him the shabby plastic bag of mine that contained his records. His smile suddenly vanished. "Where de bag?" he squealed.

"The bag? Oh, yes, gosh, silly me, I'm so sorry, I completely forgot it," I said as casually as I could. "Don't worry, I know where it is and who has it, it can be sent over by DHL or FedEx."

My bright suggestions withered in his scowling silence. "Where de bag?" The voice came from the car: a caricature Yardie now emerged, complete with trainers encrusted with glitter, a string vest, and even a prominent scar running down his cheek. He was fingering a wedge of twenties. Without looking up he repeated, "Where de fuckin' bag?"

"I forgot it," I stammered. "I'm sorry, confusion with the packing, I left it sitting in the house..."

"You thought there was something in dat bag, didn't you?" he interrupted. "You didn't forget nothing. You thought there was drugs in it, that's why you left it. How we going to get it back?" he said, ignoring the fact that there was no "we" about it.

"I know where it is."


"With a friend."

"Ring him now."

"I don't have the number on me, I'll get it after dinner."

"No, you will ring him now, get in the car, we'll go and get the number."

"I'm not going anywhere with you."

"Get in the car, girl."

By now I was furious: my immediate reaction was revulsion at their rudeness, rather than any realisation of the danger to which they had attempted to expose me. I didn't want to believe that I'd been framed, I wanted to believe the story of Mr DJ – who was now shaking with fear – that the bag was a wedding present for Scarface's girlfriend, a truculent black babe sitting in the back of the Volkswagen.

I stormed back into the restaurant and stuttered out the story to my boyfriend. Mr DJ followed me and crouched down by the table, full of pleas. He was terrified of Scarface, but I was frightened and I knew that you didn't go in cars with strangers, especially angry ones. Mr DJ said that they would wait outside until we had finished dinner. My boyfriend and I calculated that the bag could have held about 500g of cocaine, which would retail at about £25,000, or a third less if it was crack. No wonder the silver Volkswagen posse was jumpy. I suddenly remembered that I did have Micky's number in Jamaica with me. I rang and told him that someone was coming to collect the bag. Outside, Scarface was sitting in the back seat. I handed him the phone. He spoke to Micky, and then made another call to Kingston and sent someone on the two-hour journey across Jamaica to pick up the bag. Next day, Micky would tell me that Big Al had appeared and closely inspected the bag before leaving, spitting threats. Now, in London, the silver Volkswagen disappeared in a cloud of bad vibes.

This attempted stitch-up was more dangerous to me than anything I had experienced in Jamaica, the country with the third-highest murder rate in the world. According to the latest estimates from the British High Commission, more than half of the ganja and cocaine intercepted at international airports in Britain is found on travellers from Jamaica. If I had carried the bag and been caught, which I almost certainly would have been, and presuming that the drug was cocaine, I would now be serving a mandatory prison service of about two years and be banned from travelling to Jamaica and the US for the rest of my life.

A family friend to whom I told the story said that if I had been caught with drugs, she would always wonder if it was possible that I didn't know what I was carrying in that bag. The fact was, I didn't.