Travel to exotic places was always a subject for Smiles and one he enjoyed. He appeared to have a fascination with India. He opened up about other things. He told me that when working in London he was often tooled up – carrying a gun. He also added that he used to keep a gun upstairs at his home, Y Glyn. Shortly after the New Year, Smiles was absent from the village for a while. Mary, his wife, told me he would soon be back.
Before our return to Wales, we had a full day in the squad office at Devizes. Tension was running high. It was all too plain that the pressure on Lee to wrap up was intense. For my part, I was becoming angry at this pressure. It felt like a waste of time if the plug was pulled too early. We had not achieved our goals of taking out the whole manufacturing process, not to mention the higher echelons of the distribution network.
I had returned to Wales refreshed after a fashion after the break. But I was beginning to realise the work was taking its toll on my wellbeing. The excess drinking and smoking of cannabis were harming me both in body and mind. That, combined with the stresses of the role, resulted in side effects. I had become irritable and snappy. More to the point, I was keen to remain in my alter ego persona. I was more comfortable in the skin of Steve Jackson than that of Steve Bentley.
The Christmas period also allowed me to reflect on my private social life since working undercover. It no longer existed. I could not socialise for fear of being asked too many questions by friends, acquaintances and family. I saw my parents and sister once only during the whole time undercover. My mother appeared shocked on seeing my long hair and beard. I think she was even more shocked on seeing my dirty jeans - “No, Mum. I don’t want you to wash them.” She had difficulty understanding my new persona.
I had to be stern with my sister, who is six years younger than me. She showed too much curiosity. I could not be sure she wouldn’t gob off to her friends. So I told her to keep her mouth shut unless she wanted to see me lying dead in a ditch one day. My sister still reminds me of that. I saw my brother twice during my time undercover. He is one person I would move heaven and earth for if it became necessary. [It’s still difficult for me to use the past tense. He died suddenly in 2002] Once, I saw him at Devizes when we had a curry together. The second time was a few weeks later in Bournemouth when I met a few of his fellow chef pals. Before I agreed to meet him and his pals I sought a reassurance that they too would keep quiet about my new role. One of my brother’s chef pals, Ricky Abbotts, is still a friend today. He continues to remind me of how I looked back then and how I refused to answer questions about what I was doing.
My cricketing and footballing activities had been suspended. I did not want colleagues and teammates asking questions. On the occasions I did spend at home, I stayed indoors. No wonder I felt more comfortable in the skin of Steve Jackson. He was a free bird. The real me was caged.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish