Nigel ‘Leaf’ Fielding was one of the drug-dealers jailed as a result of 1977’s famous Operation Julie, celebrated by The Clash in 'Julie's Been Working For the Drug Squad'. Leaf was sentenced to eight years for conspiracy to deal LSD and the story of how he ended up in such a predicament is a genuine page-turner. Now a completely redeemed character, Leaf has thirty years’ perspective on events, allowing him to tell - in To Live Outside the Law - the untold story of the LSD dealers brought down in the operation, which is reckoned to have reduced the amount of LSD in the UK by more than 80%.
But there’s much more to the story than the drugs. In parallel to the account of the arrest, trial and imprisonment, Leaf tells us of his childhood – blighted by tragedy and emotional neglect – and of the decision to ‘drop out’ in the late 60s, which inexorably led to his involvement with his co-conspirators.
Leaf’s story allows us to take a look at a world and a way of life that has disappeared forever. The life of the young, traveling hippie may have been lived forty years ago, but it might as well be a hundred, when you consider how much the world has changed since then. It provides a fascinating record of a precious, distant time.
The book doesn’t seek to make excuses – or indeed to apologise – instead it aims to explain and entertain. The title is from a Bob Dylan song – the full quotation is ‘To live outside the law you must be honest’ and honesty is at the heart of this extraordinary book. Leaf knows how foolish and reckless he was. But twenty-eight years after his release from prison he has been a teacher in Spain and a philanthropist, setting up a home for orphans in Malawi. He now sells organic produce in the region of the south of France where he lives. He regrets nothing, because, as he says, if things had happened differently he wouldn’t be where he is today.
This is a compelling personal story, but one which offers remarkable insights into a time, a mindset, a generation and a major chapter in British criminal history. It’s also an absolutely thrilling read. Serpent's Tail published in the summer of 2011.