It’s broad daylight, about two in the afternoon. As masses of youngsters clutching cans of cider pass the car, the man sitting next to me dressed as a security guard casually shoves a 500g ball of wrapped cocaine into his pocket.
“So you haven’t even tried to stash it?” I asked, shocked.
“Why should I stash it? Nobody searches me. I search the people coming in,” he replied.
As the number of festival-goers falling victim to super-strength drugs rises, I set out to investigate the dealers who target them.
Hundreds of festivals cater for every music taste throughout the country – from one-band events to 210,000-capacity Glastonbury.
Livvy Haydock with some of the gang members who can earn up to £10k at one event
Most festival-goers have the time of their lives but tragically – criminally – attending can also mean the end of lives.
I went to a festival in London, filming undercover, and it didn’t take long before I was approached by a man asking if I wanted MDMA pills. I agreed to buy a pill so I could send it for testing.
I was sold an orange Superman pill. Many of them have been found to contain PMMA, a substance that can be lethal.
It has a similar hallucinogenic effect to MDMA but is toxic at lower doses. Four people died as a result of taking these pills four years ago.
This time, it turned out to be average-strength MDMA.
I wanted to speak to the criminals exploiting weaknesses in the security systems and to challenge them about the potentially fatal result of their actions.
During the spring, I managed to make contact with an active gang member who called himself “The General”.
He told me he’s earned up to £10,000 selling drugs inside one event. For him and his gang the festival season is like Christmas.
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He took me to a house the gang were using to prepare drugs. “It’s ‘Molly’ a lot of people are going nuts for now, the MD,” one of the other members said, referring to MDMA, also known as ecstasy.
“Everyone goes crazy for it. Literally, that’s one of the best sellers that we do.”
More frequently, super-strength MDMA is being found at festivals.
The gang revealed they intended to send up to 20 gang members into each targeted event, carrying up to 40 wraps of MDMA each.
With under a week until the gang aimed to flood a festival with drugs, The General and his right-hand man told me to meet them in a park. They wanted to show me how they might stash weapons on festival sites.
While I watched the pair push knives into the ground behind bushes and beside fences I asked: “How many would you put down?”
“At least six, yeah,” came the reply.
In the last year, there were more than 40,000 knife offences in the UK and there were fears the festival drug market would become this summer’s battleground.
“Everyone wants to stab each other,” said The General. “So if we’re doing our thing then we’ve gotta be protected out here.”
The night before a different festival, I interviewed another dealer, who called himself “Jacket” and had been in the business since he was 15, as he cooked drugs to sell. His two main ingredients were MDMA and mephedrone, a powerful psychoactive substance that hit the UK in 2009.
Even he was unsure what the MDMA contained, adding “that’s a bit technical”.
‘Jacket’ cooking drugs in the kitchen
This summer, the National Crime Agency released a warning about a potentially lethal substance mimicking MDMA that was arriving in Britain.
Jacket added baking soda into a pan that fizzed with MDMA and mephedrone before he revealed his cutting agent – rat poison.
I challenged him it could potentially kill people and asked if he thought his customers would take it if they knew. He said he didn’t think they’d care.
The next day Jacket smuggled his product hidden inside his rectum into a festival and made sales.
Over the summer, I visited festivals – and at most events, despite tough security measures including sniffer dogs, drugs were visible.
Every festival I attended said it had a strict drug policy in place. But at a festival in the north of England a girl described to me how she sprayed her stash with perfume to get past the dogs before grinding up a pill and putting it in her drink.
Later that day, the organisers of the event released a warning that extra-strong ecstasy was in circulation. Just one hour after I left, a 19-year-old man fell ill at the festival and later died.
It all suggests that security at festivals isn’t very effective at all.
One security contact said if his team confiscate large quantities of drugs it could be held against them as highlighting “a drug problem”.
A security guard who works on behalf of the gang
He said: “Licencing goes, ‘Oh, there’s a drug problem, it must be the security company’s fault, change the security company’. You can do everything by the book but if you hand everything in, you can get sacked.”
He desribed an overstretched security system that relied too heavily on subcontractors to meet staff needs.
My contact told me that “social media is awash during festival season with people advertising for staff for festivals. The closer to the festival you get, you could get a job quite easily for a festival this weekend; very little checks”.
The Security Industry Authority (SIA) has prosecuted more than 30 people or security businesses in the past year, and there have been examples of subcontracted security firms prosecuted for supplying unlicensed guards.
Then there are the security operatives who work for the drug dealers – like the guy who didn’t bother to hide his stash.
He admitted he was working on behalf of gangs using his security knowledge to smuggle in large quantities of drugs. He called himself “The Transporter” and uses a counterfeit SIA licence bought for £300 on the black market.
The Transporter met with me on the day he was tasked with taking in that 500g of cocaine, along with MDMA and ketamine, which made him £1000.
In the past two years, there have been 12 drug-related deaths at festivals – but where there’s a party, there’s an opportunity.
The festival market continues to rise. Business for the dealers is booming.
● Festival Drugs: Meet The Dealers is available on BBC3.