Cocktails and cocaine clubs are becoming commonplace in the Square Mile

cocaine abuse At 1pm the swanky bars and restaurants of the City heave with men in immaculate pin-striped suits and women in sharp pencil skirts. It’s feeding time in the heart of London’s Square Mile, when the masters of the universe (or, if you are so minded, the architects of the world’s economic demise) gather to network and refuel. But the frantic pace of the City cannot run on carbohydrates alone; which is why, at some of these establishments, it is as easy to order a gram of cocaine as it is a mozzarella panini – all claimable on company expenses.

In March, a bar manager who ran a members-only ‘cocktail and cocaine club’ for City workers was jailed for three-and-a-half years. Anthony Alexander, 47, sold the Class A drug alongside cocktails in Bar Nine on Christopher Street near Broadgate. When police swooped following a two-month operation, they found £7,500 of cocaine in wraps ready to be handed out with the drinks orders. Undercover officers said the majority of members were professional City people buzzed in via a video entryphone.

At the time, City of London police described the case as ‘remarkable’ and ‘unusual’. However, recovering City drug addicts disagree. Tony, a 39-year-old broker who was addicted to cocaine for 15 years until 18 months ago, spoke of an organised criminal underworld with young drug runners on mopeds dropping off cocaine to City bars. He added: ‘Some bars in the area of Leadenhall Market are a front for coke dealing. A lot of them are owned by some seriously naughty fellows. In every single office there is a group of people doing the stuff. Wherever there is a lot of money there is a lot of coke. In the City there are so many ups and downs and coke feeds that. We can buy it anywhere.’

This view is backed up by Daniel, a fellow client of City Beacon, a drugs counselling service set up at the height of the last financial crash in 2008 to specifically target alcohol and cocaine addiction in the Square Mile. He says: ‘We used to go into bars at lunch that were set up for coke dealing. We put our cards behind the bar and got a gram of coke and a few drinks. They would write down “Lunch with Fred” on the receipt, which would be submitted to the company.’

Cocaine addiction has always been a problem in the City. But City Beacon co-founder Richard Kingdon says that the pressure of the global economic meltdown has caused cocaine use to spiral ‘off the charts’ among City workers. The organisation, based in impressive offices on Lombard Street, just yards from the Bank of England, dealt with 40 clients in its first year. Now its team of specialists has more than 100 traders and bankers on its books. ‘Everyone around here are alpha males and females, 25-40 years old, high flyers, highly pressured, with a lot of money. There has always been a problem with drink and that was in the open and socially acceptable. But the banks don’t want to know about cocaine. No one wants to admit to it and it all stays under the radar. The City can be quite brutal and people can use that sort of damaging information against their rivals,’ he says.

Kingdon, a trained drug therapist and recovering addict, recently took one client away to Egypt for a week to battle his demons. The man was so frightened his bosses would find out that he insisted his absence from the office must look like a holiday. ‘He came back with a tan to trick his colleagues,’ says Kingdon.

There is little statistical evidence on drug abuse specifically in the Square Mile. However, the latest figures suggest cocaine use is on the rise across all sectors of society. According to the British Crime Survey, 300,000 young adults took cocaine last year. A recent study by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction found that the numbers of young people using the drug in this country shot up by 50 per cent over the five years from 2003 to 2008, making Britons the greatest consumers of cocaine per capita in the developed world.

‘The benders could last five days at a time,’ says Daniel. ‘No food, just snorting and drinking. I used to black out for eight hours and wake up in places as far away as Brighton. I’d get a six-figure bonus, spend it all on drink, drugs and prostitutes, and then be £20,000 overdrawn three months later. I had a nice house, a flash sports car, a great girlfriend, but I was miserable. My overriding obsession was the pain of addiction.’

The City of London is the most heavily policed borough in the capital, with 600 officers per square mile. However, little is done to tackle drug taking among the 300,000 individuals who work in the area. A senior City of London police source admitted that prosecuting bankers for cocaine possession is ‘not a priority’ for the force: ‘To be frank, we have to concentrate resources on the crimes that most affect society. Traders and bankers taking cocaine does not affect others’ lives as much as violent crime, burglary and fraud. They are wealthy people who can afford drugs and don’t need to rob to fund their addiction. The only real problems are personal.’

Experts believe one factor contributing to the apparent rise in cocaine use in the Square Mile is a surge in late-night bars and clubs. David MacKintosh, policy adviser at the City-based London Drug and Alcohol Policy Forum, says, ‘Nightlife here has changed a lot. Ten years ago it used to be difficult to get a drink after 9pm. Now we have a proper night-time economy.’ Last December, he oversaw the installation of ‘amnesty bins’ at 12 City nightclubs, which allow clubbers caught with drugs to escape prosecution by voluntarily surrendering their cocaine and Ecstasy before entry. ‘The results of Project Eclipse have been unsurprising,’ he says. ‘Most of what we find is cocaine.’

Daniel says he even contemplated suicide as he walked to work along the Thames: ‘I experienced 19 years of pain and suffering and all I’m left with are deep-seated feelings of paranoia and an overriding sense of shame. Cocaine addiction ruined every relationship I ever had. I wasn’t faithful to any of my girlfriends; the only faithful relationship I had was with drink and drugs. I’ve had threesomes, sex in toilets and blown £20,000 in one weekend doing things in suites at The Dorchester. But it’s all horrible to me now. It’s not titillating, it’s foul. Those women weren’t with me because they wanted to be, they were there because I had drugs or I paid them money.’

Tony managed to save his marriage and his relationship with his children – despite regularly staying out all night at brothels on Edgware Road. He says, ‘At one point I was in the gutter. My wife left and took the kids. She was broken. If she were independently wealthy, she would have left me for good a long time ago and I couldn’t have blamed her.’ He was moved to speak out about the dangers of City drug abuse after his friend Christen Schnor committed suicide following a cocaine-fuelled journey of destruction. Tony points to the story of Schnor as a cautionary warning.

In December 2008, the senior HSBC banker hanged himself in a £500-a-night suite in the Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel on Sloane Street. Initially, as it occurred at the height of the credit crunch, it was thought he had a devastating financial secret. However, it soon emerged that the 49-year-old Dane had a serious drug habit and had spent tens of thousands of pounds on cocaine and prostitutes in the months leading up to his death. His wife Marianne, a friend of the Danish royal family, had often been angered by the millionaire father of four’s erratic and violent behaviour, but she had put it down to the stress of work. She had no idea he had a drug problem until she discovered a £10,000 bill for one night at a Sloane Square hotel.

Days before his death, Schnor, who was HSBC’s head of insurance for the UK, Turkey, the Middle East and Malta, insisted on a weekend away with his wife in their seven-bedroom villa in Cannes. The trip was a disaster. On their first night, burglars broke in and stole their suitcases, passports, wallets and mobile phones. Mrs Schnor believes the job was organised by her husband to pay off drug and gambling debts. Returning from France, Schnor told his wife to ‘leave his life’. Heartbroken and at her wits’ end, she did as she was told. Then, two days later, Schnor made a last phone call to his family. ‘He told Marianne he loved her so much, and that he shared everything with her,’ said a friend. ‘He then spoke to the children for the first time in a long time and said goodbye. That evening he hanged himself.’

For Kingdon at City Beacon, the tale of Christen Schnor is not extraordinary. ‘People are committing suicide by instalments. These guys can go out and buy a Ferrari but they can’t buy a new heart or liver.’ Tony agrees: ‘When you’re in it you don’t want people to know how bad you are. We were trying to help Christen but he was too scared and it was too late. Lots of people don’t know where to turn. I’m speaking out about this to tell people there is a way out.’

The above article by Tom Harper appeared in the Evening Standard Magazine on 4th November 2011

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