ministry of drugs



How I risked my life kicking the drug gangs out of my club,
by Ministry of Sound boss James Palumbo

An entrepreneur with close links to Peter Mandelson today reveals how Class A drugs worth more than £50,000 used to be sold in his London nightclub each weekend.

Writing exclusively in The Mail on Sunday’s Review section, James Palumbo
says that after opening the Ministry of Sound in 1991, he routinely went to work there wearing a bulletproof jacket, and carrying spray gas and a stun gun to defend himself from gun-toting dealers.
Palumbo, a 46-year-old multi-millionaire and the Old Etonian son of property tycoon Lord Palumbo, recounts several close shaves with gangsters, who for a time seized control of the club.

He writes: ‘At the height of its popularity, Ecstasy sold for £15 a pop and some clubbers took two, three or even four pills in one session.
‘The drug profits were astronomical – I estimated they totalled more than £50,000 a weekend. I was trying to run a legitimate business in an atmosphere of lawlessness and intimidation.’ He salvaged the club after tackling the dealers head-on with the help of the police. He later boasted it was the ‘only drug-free club in Britain’.
Palumbo retains a majority stake in the business, which has clubs in London, Egypt and Malaysia and was named Britain’s 406th wealthiest person with a £130million fortune.
In 1996, he gave his friend Lord Mandelson the use of a chauffeur-driven car for the following year’s General Election campaign.
Bouncers turned my club into the Ministry of DRUGS... until I risked my life to drive them out
I was braced for trouble I knew was coming. There I was, an ex-public school City boy, wearing a bulletproof jacket, tooled up with spray gas and a stun device, cagily monitoring the door of the Ministry of Sound, the hugely successful South London club I ran.
Having just fired the club's security staff for drug-dealing, I was waiting for them to retaliate, as street law dictated they must. Colossal drug profits were at stake and the organised crime families who 'run' nightclub doors weren't used to dissent.
We were the first club who had tried to take them on. The police had supplied us with a panic alarm and we were told armed units would respond within minutes at the first sign of trouble.
The biggest threat was a drive-by shooting. This might not even involve one of the old door team but some hothead they put up to it.
Street law rotates around the words 'respect' and 'disrespect'. The 'badder' you are, the more time you spend in prison, the greater the 'respect' due to you. According to this code for morons, the avenger of the 'disrespect' we had shown the door team would gain instant street credibility.
I don't mind admitting I was terrified as I warily eyed passing cars. Funny, I reflected grimly, how a 'security' team could make you feel so insecure.
The Ministry of Sound opened in 1991. I had worked in the City after leaving Eton and put up £500,000 for the venture. I wasn't so interested in the dance-music scene, but it was beginning to take off in Britain and the project seemed a sound commercial proposition.
It proved to be the case. We turned a disused warehouse in London's Elephant and Castle into a superclub, the first of its kind and one of the most famous and successful in the world. In those early days it would make about £40,000 in a weekend from ticket and bar sales.
But this figure was dwarfed by what dealers inside made from drugs. At the height of its popularity, Ecstasy sold for £15 a pop and some clubbers took two, three or even four pills in one session. With more than 2,000 people in the club on a Saturday night, the drug profits were astronomical - I estimated they totalled about £50,000 a weekend.

And there wasn't anything club owners could do about it.
Because Security would kill you.

Drugs in clubs were controlled by Security or the door team, who either worked for themselves under a head doorman or, more likely, for the local crime family controlling drugs in the area.

We had a team of 20: eight on the door, four on 'search' and the rest on the exits and dotted around the club. As with the majority of door teams, most were ex-cons who typically had day jobs as 'debt collectors'.
A lot of them were amateur kickboxers or bodybuilders. They were all heavily built and included both white and black guys.
I wasn't responsible for hiring our lot, and it was never completely clear who was: you didn't get these people from your local recruitment agency. Perhaps your DJ would know a doorman at another club and he would offer to sort out a team for you, or your bar manager would have a mate from Essex who could help out.
Drug-dealing in giant warehouse clubs such as the Ministry of Sound in the Nineties was a complicated business. Since the door team controlled the search it was easy enough to get drugs in. But thereafter the dealing became a sophisticated ballet of carriers, lookouts, enforcers and dealers. Taking £50,000 in cash, mainly in £5, £10 and £20 notes, needed careful management.
The real issue, however, was the door team's total denial of any involvement even in the face of incontrovertible evidence. These protestations of innocence quickly turned into indignation and threats.
On one occasion I spotted a dealer by a fire escape. I ordered one of the doormen called 'the Colonel' - so named because he had apparently once marched all night through a wood to dispose of a corpse - to search the man. The Colonel put him up against a wall and frisked him thoroughly.
'No, Boss, he's clean,' he said. I stretched out an arm and pulled an enormous bag of Ecstasy from the dealer's top breast pocket.
'Oh Boss, my fingers must've brushed past that. On my child's head, it wasn't there,' came the explanation.
On another occasion I called Security to a dealer and carrier I'd busted on the dancefloor. But instead of apprehending the culprits, the head doorman and a henchman bundled me into a small storeroom just off the dancefloor.
'No, Boss,' said the head doorman, 'you're confused. The lights. They play tricks, you know. Nothing's going on.'
The storeroom was maybe 30ft square. The doormen were both 18st and built like trucks. They had closed the door. What was I supposed to do?
Every so often, however, they would hand in a dealer - a minnow, not working for them, who had somehow managed to slip through the net. The token bust. The sacrificial lamb.
There was a shout and the sound of a scuffle one night when I was standing at the club's entrance. It was 3am on a Sunday in mid-winter and freezing cold. Security brought a drug dealer to me.
'We found him in the VIP area, Boss,' said the head of Security, 'with this.' He held up a bag of weed and pills.
The front-door team came over to join in the kill. I looked at the bag. Was he a big or small-time dealer? Small-time, it seemed.
More doormen flooded out of the club. It was the ritual. A dealer's arrest was a spectator sport, like an execution in bygone days. 'Don't call the Fuzz, don't call the Fuzz, don't call the Fuzz,' the dealer pleaded.
By now a dozen Security had formed a loose cordon around him. All eyes were on me. 'Show me,' I said.
The head doorman turned out his pockets and handed me a small cash roll. 'Pathetic,' I thought. 'This guy really is small-time.'
'Boss?' the head doorman asked. 'Don't do it,' the dealer pleaded. 'I've already been nicked. I can't face doing time. Please.'

Nobody spoke, although the collective question 'will he do it?' hung in the air. I nodded. Minutes later the police arrived. The dealer was arrested, he hung his head and disappeared off in the back of a police car.
A few weeks later he was standing on a platform, but he wasn't planning to catch the train. I'm told his death was instantaneous. It was sad but I didn't regret handing him over to the police. People who deal drugs know what they are getting into. It is a nasty business.
Over two years, the number of drugs-related incidents and run-ins with the door staff stacked up. I was trying to run a legitimate business in an atmosphere of lawlessness and intimidation, and it was wearing me down.
The final straw was the theft of the club's takings in 1993 after a particularly busy weekend. Although I could never prove it, I'm certain it went something like this.
The club closed at 6am on Sunday, the cleaners got to work, the takings were being counted in the cash office, the door team locked the front entrance.
Suddenly there were men in the alleyway behind the club donning balaclavas, shotguns in hand. Seconds later, the cash office door was kicked in, the bookkeeper overwhelmed, tied up and the money stolen. They were in and out in minutes.
It was obviously the door team because nobody would have dared trespass on their patch. At least they had the decency to wear balaclavas.
At this point I knew I had to act, for three reasons. First, drug-dealing is wrong and I detest it. Second, it was affecting my business. And finally, I had simply had enough of being kicked around.
My solution was to call in the police, some of whom I'd got to know since starting the club, and over several days they rigged the club with cameras and microphones.
Then, over a single night the following weekend, they struck. Plainclothes police with marked banknotes infiltrated the venue; surveillance and arrest teams waited outside.
As the club swung into life and the dealing started, the drug sales were covertly recorded. The carriers left with the marked notes; dealers were followed home; lookouts and enforcers noted and described. In one swoop the police made a dozen arrests and even identified some of the dealers' sources.
The reckoning with Security was quick. 'I'm shocked,' I told the head doorman and his sidekick. 'This was organised dealing. Obviously it had nothing to do with you. But how could you let this happen? The police are all over us. You've got to go.'
Over the next few weeks the club's front door became a fortress. In keeping with the law of the street, I expected a revenge attack from my former employees every time the club opened.
The problem of finding a new team to 'hold' the door was solved by importing one from Birmingham. No London team would take on the job or could be trusted to do it. So each Friday night, a minibus would arrive from Birmingham with doormen who had no connection with London crime gangs, and they'd go back up the motorway on Sunday morning.
But when trouble eventually came it had nothing to do with the original door team, who probably decided it wasn't worth it.
Hearing of our problems, a young wannabe gangster decided to test our mettle. He managed to get into the courtyard in front of the club and swaggered up to the main doors. Not liking the look of him, I had him pulled to one side. Instantly he pulled back his jacket to reveal a gun in his waistband. 'I'm coming in,' he said.
My stomach loosened and legs turned to jelly. I was certain something hideous was going to happen. And my bulletproof jacket was useless. He was a few feet away and could shoot me in the head.
Everyone froze. 'You can't come in with that,' I said stupidly. Ignoring me, he proceeded to walk into the club. Just as he was through the front doors, I said: 'OK, now you're in.'
He about-turned and said: 'I'm going to my car, then I'll be back.'
And that was it. He sauntered out of the courtyard and disappeared into the night before the police could catch him. But he'd made his point; he'd got over the threshold of the club and was now due 'respect'.
They say the best way to recover from trauma is to share the experience with others. After the drugs dramas at Ministry of Sound, it became one of the cleanest clubs in London but I still felt like the survivor of a bad accident who must unburden himself.
I was also angry. I had risked my life to save my business but most other clubs were turning a blind eye to drug-dealing out of fear and apathy. They also, I think dishonestly, stated that stringent anti-drug measures were in place. This risked bringing ruin on the industry.
A typical example was a club that put up enormous signs saying 'Drug-dealers will be arrested' and 'Say no to drugs'. A local MP visited the place and issued a statement along the lines of: 'I'm satisfied the drugs situation is under control. I saw for myself everything management is doing to combat this menace.'
Yet over the years there were two drug-related deaths at that club. One was of a young man found dead in a fire exit.
The collective hypocrisy of the industry led to a wall of silence and denial. It was obvious to everyone what was going on but club-owners continued to insist that everything was above-board.
And police didn't have powers summarily to shut offending venues. Even after several drugs deaths, clubs would use legal loopholes to defy police attempts to rescind their licences.
It was at this time I met Tom Sackville, the Minister at the Home Office responsible for club licensing. He had been fed a lot of hogwash by the industry, but decided to come down to see me in South London.
I explained to Tom, a clever and courageous politician, what was going on. The resulting legislation gave the police summary powers to close drug-infested venues. Ministry of Sound was cited in the parliamentary debate as the example of best practice.
It will never be possible to stop drug-dealing in clubs. But you can stop organised dealing by the door team. In fact, you have to.
While this was going on, there was no point in keeping the venue clean, doing the stock-take or preparing financial records. The sense of terror each weekend was all-pervading and paralysing. Drugs equals money equals death.
Ministry of Sound is now part of a global multimedia group that has clubs in London, Egypt and Malaysia, offices in London, Sydney, Berlin and New York and a range of lifestyle products. We are the largest independent record company in the world.

I no longer run the business, although I maintain a majority stake in it, and I now visit the club maybe twice a year. My bulletproof jacket-wearing days are over, although the memory is as sharp as the winter's cold on the front door.
I drew on the experience to write my new novel, Tomas, the message of which is that you only live once so you have to be prepared to take a few risks.
Over the years many of our competitors have closed due to poor management or leases ending. There are now countrywide doormen-registration schemes. The dance and Ecstasy craze is over; the new laws have had their effect.

But I suspect that lurking beneath the surface something similar prevails.
And somewhere this weekend someone is being told,
'No, Boss, you're confused, nothing's going on.'
comes across as a proper bell-end, as do all the fudds who respond to daily mail articles.

Do you guys think he is a w/a/n/k/e/r because he tried to clean up his club? (or at least remove a criminal element from its operations). Or is it because you believe this story is not representative of the reality of MoS?
:lol: What the hell is that

I'd be able to make up better stories of crime and corruption than that,

the only people who would take such dribble seriously is the ignoramouses who read the Daily Mail
the only people who believe that tosh in the daily heil are daily heil readers ie people who've never set foot in a proper club in their lives - the types who go on holiday to benidorm armed with tea and baked beans and who complain that nobody speaks English. Does Palumbo seriously expect anyone else to believe all that rubbish? Or is it all PR and establishment hobnobbing with the authorities? hmmm....

a very close friend of mine worked at the ministry back in the 90s golden era when humphries, harvey et al played and she told me it was a wonderful place to work in those days - real team spirit, real love. A lot of that crew are still in touch. Then Palumbo came in and everything changed... the place lost its soul, he turned it into a cash-cow monster, opened it up to the tourists. I can't go into details in public but Palumbo's legal team have also basically shafted her with regards to a story she wanted to write about her experiences

It's very sad really, because the soundsystem is very, very good and sometimes, they still get some very good people in - like quentin harris fairly recently - and the dennis ferrer/kerri chandler back to back session I saw 3 years back was one of the best nights I ever attended.... but I just cannot support that club...morally wrong

the whole issue about drugs is inextricably complicated and in the UK only the Guardian and Independent will ever have a balanced angle on it...
Last edited by a moderator:
I'm very well-versed in the evils of the Daily Mail.

I was just curious about the merits of of this particular story.

I'm sure there's more to it but objectively, on the surface, it is actually a relatively reasonable story... If you strip away the preachy bits of course. Although throwing rival clubs 'under the bus' is a bit arsey.

If it's a misrepresentation then that's a different story.
Not surprised at all by that - in fact I'd be shocked if they didn't!...Even today.

Par for the course, but the bullet proof vest and talk of 'respect' etc is just a nod towards media hysteria in the 'knife-crime' era
I don't think the Hacienda was that different in its hey day though...isn't that why it closed?

The Hac was still like that after it was 'cleaned up'. I saw running battles in there a couple of times in the early nineties.
I think drugs are becoming un-cool in clubbing circles. (Based from what I've seen in the circles I assosciate with.) But I'm really happy about it because I think drugs are a insult to the culture, even tho they've always been a part of it, I think they have always been like the apple of knowledge, taken by Eve. (Metaphorically speaking.)

I think people have alot more respect for club owners who try to keep it clean and I most certainly do and even if it is a PR stunt, things like this certainly help the wider clubbing community. As a culture, if the law makers see it clean up, they won't see it as much of a threat and so things like passing laws that make life easier for clubbers (Ie: Later liquor liscences or zoning laws or things like that) will have more of a chance of getting through the red tape because you won't have as many geriatrics having a cry.

But bare in mind, we all come from different worlds and different parts of the clubbing community... Whats good for my end might be bad for yours. But thats just how I interpret whats been written in the original post.
I saw an awesome documentary about the Hac a few weeks ago at the Curzon DJ Flicks night - Pickering and Jon Da Silva saying how it was all over by 92 - people intimidating the DJs and stuff. Big regret of mine I was too young to go in its heyday

Perhaps others will disagree but from memory the Ministry was never quite as bad as that - Palumbo is probably right in that doors are generally a lot more regulated now than they used to be, but what he's doing with his crusade is throwing out the baby with the bathwater because if he's sincere about stamping out the drugs, all of those lucrative house & trance nights they've brought over from turnmills and the cross will wither - because all those clubbers are somehow gonna wanna stay up all night....
There is so much wrong with Naked Age's statement I can't even be bothered.

My memories a bit hazy though, I seem to remember Ministry not selling alcohol??? What did he think we were all doing???? Were we Health nuts???? :lol::lol::lol:
if he's sincere about stamping out the drugs, all of those lucrative house & trance nights they've brought over from turnmills and the cross will wither - because all those clubbers are somehow gonna wanna stay up all night....
But doesn't Ministry close at 7am? Most clubbers have no problems staying up until that hour without chemical assistance (aside from alcohol and maybe a Red Bull or two).
thing is, the music has been around for long enough for people to get old to now. I think alot of the older people ARE becoming health nuts. I think they DON'T want to stay out all night and get ****ed on drugs and alchohol, they DON'T want to smoke and their priorities have changed. I think alot still want to go out to the music and all that but do it alot more responsibly so as to not have to wake up the next day with a world of issues to saught out.

It'll be all ****ed up for the next while, but I think when these people start having kids and like, theres some dance music playing on a cd as they take those kids to school in the morning and ****, and the kids say "mummy wats this song." I think then you really are going to see a rise in dance music fans, but a drop in the drug intake, possibly to a point where club owners actually see it as more viable to keep them OUT.
I know thats exactly what Im seeing now because they've cottoned onto the damage.

An eccie head will spend $4 on a bottle of water and keep filling it in the toilets all night, whilst an alchoholic will blow his weeks wage at the bar.
Not to mention all the bad media that comes with the overdoses at venues and ****.

People want everything clean now.
But doesn't Ministry close at 7am? Most clubbers have no problems staying up until that hour without chemical assistance (aside from alcohol and maybe a Red Bull or two).


obv, not everyone indulges, I do appreciate that - but that music is custom-designed to appeal to altered minds and I for one get very tired, just drinking... I'd be very interested to see how dance music could adapt to a post-chemical era...

it is true that in New York, body & soul/the shelter are much less drug-dependent - people treat those morning sessions almost like aerobic workouts - but dance culture in the UK and Ibiza is SO linked to drugs, it would take a massive generational change of attitudes and perceptions to change that...