A former Reading University student who found himself at the centre of one of the world’s biggest LSD busts in the 1970s has spoken about his experience and how he rebuilt his life.
Nigel Fielding arrived in Reading in the 1960s to study philosophy.
At the end of his first year, while living in a flat on the site of Asda in Lower Earley, he tried LSD, a hallucinogenic drug also known as acid, for the first time – it changed his life.
He changed his name to Leaf, travelled the world, opened Reading Wholefoods in London Road and then became an integral part of the illicit operation which sold huge quantities of the drug to all corners of the world from a base in Binfield Heath.
Police learned about the business, which was manufacturing millions of doses of LSD, and matters came to a head in 1977 when an police investigation, codenamed Operation Julie, swooped on Mr Fielding’s gang.
The operation, which involved around 800 officers, resulted in more than 100 arrests including that of Mr Fielding and led to him spending five years in jail and the seizure of six million trips worth of acid.
Now he has written a book about his rollercoaster life and spoke to the Reading Post ahead of the launch today.
He said: “I was a first year and drugs were new to Reading at the time. The hippy movement had started in San Francisco and had made its way over to London but Reading was still largely in ignorance.
“We knew the people living upstairs from us were doing something and we went up there to ask if they knew where we could get some cannabis.
“They said, ‘No, but we have some LSD’ and I tried it then – that was my first experience of it.
“It changed my life totally from that moment. I dropped out of university – at that point it seemed irrelevant because I thought I’d discovered the meaning of life.”
Mr Fielding and his friends managed to get hold of a bottle of liquid LSD and distributed it among their friends on sugar cubes – “spreading the word,” he said.
When the bottle ran out Mr Fielding went travelling, exploring Europe and other parts of the world and occasionally doing acid along the way.
He would come back to Reading periodically to work in places like Heelas, now John Lewis, and earn money for further travels.
In 1972 he came back and met up with some of his friends who he first tried LSD with and they had a contact who was manufacturing the drug and they were selling it.
Around the same time Mr Fielding set up Reading Wholefoods which was in a shop near what is now The Turks pub in London Road.
Eventually the relationship the group had with the person producing the LSD broke down but they decided they just had to bring on board a chemist who could help them manufacture the drug to continue – which they did.
Labs in Cambridge and Wales produced the LSD while Mr Fielding and the rest of the group coordinated sales all over the world from bases in Farley Hill and then Binfield Heath, transporting vast quantities of the odourless drug through customs in cereal boxes and dog biscuit containers,
Mr Fielding said: “We were distributing a lot of the world’s LSD. When I look back on it, the world was changing and we had a lot to do with it.
“Even in Reading, when I arrived it was quite a grey place but there was a visual transformation over the time – Reading suddenly went technicolor!”
The group were busted in March 1977 and Mr Fielding spent five years in jail which he said changed his life again. His marriage broke down and the world was a different place when he came out.
He was released in 1982 and went travelling in India. It was during those travels he decided to start writing down some of his experiences.
Since his release, Mr Fielding has stayed away from drugs and worked as an English teacher in Spain and France for many years.
He also works closely with charities and has helped to build a hostel for orphans in Malawi – something he says he is immensely happy to have done.
He said: “I wouldn’t say I’m proud of my past but I’m not ashamed. At the time we were young but we really thought we were changing the world.
“Our expectations were unrealistic but our intentions were good.”
Since Operation Julie put an end to Mr Fielding’s drug business tales of a hidden LSD stash somewhere in Reading have persisted – rumours that Mr Fielding is quick to scotch.
“It’s an urban myth,” he said. “The thing is, LSD is a very unstable compound so even if there was it would have completely deteriorated by now anyway.”
To Live Outside The Law by Leaf Fielding comes out today and will be available from bookshops priced at £12.99.
By Mike Pyle
July 07, 2011