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Breaking Bad 1960s style: How police raided UK's first major acid lab in New North Road

PUBLISHED: 11:17 23 November 2019 | UPDATED: 11:17 23 November 2019

Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, London, became a smoker's paradise when London's flower children converged to take part in the Happening. The crowd gathered to support a campaign to legalise hashish and marijuana. Picture: PA

Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, London, became a smoker's paradise when London's flower children converged to take part in the Happening. The crowd gathered to support a campaign to legalise hashish and marijuana. Picture: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

The first trial for LSD manufacture was held 50 years ago, after a small pharmacy in New North Road was raided by the police. Christy Lawrance, the former editor of the Journal of the Islington Archaeology and History Society, follows the case

A view north along the New North Road from the top floor of a bus. Picture: Ewan Munro on Flickr Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)A view north along the New North Road from the top floor of a bus. Picture: Ewan Munro on Flickr Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The UK's first major LSD manufacturing enterprise was brought to a sudden end in 1958, after a year-long investigation by police.

Police had traced the acid-making business to a laboratory in "the back room of a little pharmacy" in New North Road, according to Associated Press.

The press agency's report, headed "Scotland Yard smashes LSD ring in London", said the operation was intended to flood the US with LSD "worth more than $38 million on the black market".

Acting on a tip from the FBI, 30 detectives had spent a year investigating the case. It was believed to be the first major LSD laboratory in the UK.

From The Summer of Love exhibition. Picture: Flickr torbakhopper Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)From The Summer of Love exhibition. Picture: Flickr torbakhopper Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Chemist Victor James Kapur was sentenced to nine years in prison for manufacturing the illegal drug in the back room of his pharmacy and from a large LSD laboratory in a rented garage in Crouch End.

Kapur, aged 38, wept when he was sentenced.

People started to experiment with LSD for pleasure in the early 1960s. Popular in the hippy culture, the hallucinogen was thought to provide a deeply spiritual experience, and a way for individuals to get closer to the environment, other people and their own selves.

Kapur's LSD was said to be of a high quality - pure and potent.

He first bought ergotoxine - the raw material - in September 1966, ordering 6.3kg of the chemical, from which he made around 3kg of LSD - about 15 million hits.

To cover his tracks, he bought the ergotoxine on numerous trips to West Germany. First, he purchased it from a British company and claimed it was for sale to a business on the continent so he would collect it there.

Importing chemicals in this way meant transaction records could not be traced back to Great Britain.

Thanks to Kapur's industry, greater amounts of LSD became available in London during the spring and summer of 1967.

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The police were aware of this but had no idea where it came from.

In August, they heard large amounts were being made in north London.

They got a breakthrough in September. At Heathrow airport drug squad officers and customs officials arrested a man carrying LSD worth £10,000 that he was planning to take to the US.

The LSD had come from Kapur's laboratory.

Kapur was followed by drug squad officers and within weeks they had the details of his contacts.

In November police heard a large amount of LSD was about to be distributed. Surveillance was stepped up on Kapur and the people he mixed with.

Intelligence sources suggested the drugs would be handed over in a hotel in Leicester Square.

Police officers were sent there to watch.

The police were very confident they would be successful, and had secured warrants for various premises beforehand.

At 12.15pm on 12 November, Harry Nathan, an antiques dealer of Chelsea, was seen going into the Samuel Whitbread pub in Leicester Square; Kapur soon followed. Three officers saw Kapur hand something to Nathan. The two men were arrested when they left the pub.

The package contained a condom containing 19 grams of LSD powder - enough for 96,000 doses. LSD was also found under a seat in Kapur's car. Other addresses were searched at the same time and 10 people were arrested. The two laboratories in the back of Kapur's pharmacy and in the garage were searched; the equipment they contained was found to have traces of LSD.

When police searched the garage laboratory, they found numerous photographic negatives showing Kapur in sexual activity with several women, including a prostitute who turned out to be central to the case. Kapur was believed to have been her client and it is thought she persuaded him to start making LSD.

Otherwise Kapur's original motives to start his illegal drug enterprise remain unclear. It may have seemed an easy way to make a lot of money. He was released in 1973. He was restored to the register of pharmacists in 1976 and worked as a locum pharmacist.

Kapur is believed to have left the register of pharmacists in 2006 and died in March 2017.

This story was first published by Christy Lawrance in the Journal of the Islington Archaeology and History Society that she used to edit. See islingtonhistory.org.uk for more of their work.

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