Liverpool Narcos Episode 2 - 'I was making so much money selling ecstasy I didn't know what to do with it' - The Guide Liverpool

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Liverpool Narcos Episode 2 – ‘I was making so much money selling ecstasy I didn’t know what to do with it’

08/06/2021

As a teenager growing up on a council estate in Vauxhall in the ‘80s, drug dealing for John Burton meant selling weed with his mates from a garden shed – then smoking the profits.

“We were only 15 or 16 and making small amounts of money on weed so it was more to get our own smoke out of it and lots of munchies.

“When you smoke weed you don’t want to do anything other than be stoned and sit and listen to some decent music, you can’t be bothered to get up, and don’t forget at that time people were still dancing around their handbags and doing slow dances in clubs at 1.40am.”

But all that changed the first night he went to Quadrant Park and took an E. 

“The rave scene was taking off so no more slow dances were on and fights stopped in most clubs because people weren’t drunk, they would be drinking water and they’d be high on Ecstasy and hugging everyone. 

“It was like love was in the air, it was mad to see at first until you had your first E then you understood what it was like.

“On our first night at the Quad we saw what this drug was doing to people. They just wanted to buy more and, I don’t know why, but everyone kept asking me for them.

“The week after I bought some and sold them by midnight, made a good few quid and had the night of my life.”

John’s progression from selling the odd fiver’s worth of weed to kids his own age, to making a small fortune from ecstasy in Liverpool clubs, is the central story of episode 2 of Sky Documentaries’ Liverpool Narcos.

The episode focuses on the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when club culture changed the face of drugs in the city. Ecstasy took over from heroin and, with demand far outstripping supply, the opportunity to make money exploded.

“The day after that first time at the Quad I thought, there’s money to be made here – all of these young people, you could sell hundreds in there,” says John. “So the second time I went, that’s when I went with a bag of pills. We took 150 between three of us, selling for £20 each, and we’d probably only paid about £12 for them.

“It was a lot easier and a lot more profitable than selling pot and one of the main reasons we did it was that we didn’t have jobs, or money, and we wanted to go out and party on a Saturday night. For me and a lot of my mates, that was the only way we could do it.

“In the early days there’d be 10 of us, we’d all have 200 tablets each and then we’d watch over while they were sold.

“By the time I was 23 or 24 we were f***ing smashing it. A group of us used to put our money in and buy 10,000, 20,000, or 30,000 of them – it was big money – and what does money bring? It brings coats, clothes, footwear, cars, nice furniture in your house. By the time I was 24 I was earning that much money I didn’t know what to do with it.”

What had started as a way to pay for a night out and the trainers to go with it became a massive business for John and other dealers like him.

But as the stakes got higher, so did the violence. “It was chaos, everything in the club scene changed,” says John. “I’ve got some amazing memories that’ll never go from me but I’ve got some terrible memories that’ll stick with me for the rest of my life. I’ve seen people getting stabbed, getting shot, guns were out all the time.”

John ended up serving a 16-year prison sentence for drug supply, money laundering and cigarette smuggling.

When we came out in 2017 he was determined not only to turn his own life around, but to find a way to help others who he’d seen in the prison system, going through the spiral of reoffending.

After working on an idea while he was still in jail, when he was released John set up the social enterprise Inside Connections.

It offers support to people in prison and coming out of prison, helping hundreds of ex-offenders get back into work.

“Since 2020 we’ve managed to put 149 people into employment and many more onto courses. We have our 16-18 provision open in Liverpool for people who are in care or have taken the wrong route in life and want to change and we’re getting recognised around the country by different organisations,” he explains.

“We’ve now also partnered up with a massive organisation in London called The Skills Centre, who believed in me and gave me my opportunity.   I want to bring their way of training and employment up to Liverpool.

“And we are partnering with LCC, New Futures Network and HMP Liverpool on the Leaving Prison Project to create more opportunities, with better support for employment and housing.

“Working with the councils and the prisons means we must be doing something right, but we just want to get better because if you work with the best, you become the best.”

Liverpool Narcos episode 2 is on Sky Documentaries and streaming service NOW on Thursday June 10 at 9pm.

Get all of the latest news for Liverpool and beyond here.

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