FEATURE: Ex-addict Paul Hannaford, from Havering, pushing anti-drugs message

Paul Hannaford with West Ham's Kevin Nolan and James Tomkins at Reading Vs West Ham

Paul Hannaford with West Ham's Kevin Nolan and James Tomkins at Reading Vs West Ham - Credit: Archant

Less than a decade ago he was feeding a £1,000 a week herion habit, but in the past three years he has educated 150,000 people about the dangers of drugs. Ian Weinfass spoke to reformed addict Paul Hannaford.

“If you could get a qualification for knowing about gangs or drugs, I’d probably have a first-class degree,” Paul said, and he’s not exaggerating.

Growing up in Hornchurch in the 1980s, Paul was a “dysfunctional kid” who regularly bunked off school and took cannabis and amphetamines.

An offer of heroin from a friend when he was 19 led to a fully fledged addiction to both that drug and crack cocaine.

In order to afford the expensive narcotics, Paul turned to crime, and was in and out of prison 15 times.

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“Most of the people I was hanging around with at the time are either dead or have mental health problems,” he said.

Today, nine years after a successful spell in rehab helped him beat his addictions, Paul still has needles embedded in his legs, plus extensive scarring and other health effects from that time.

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He is on a mission to dissuade other people from following his path. He said: “There will always be drugs, but the more schools educate about the dangers, the more they can reduce the flow of kids towards them.”

His community work started in 2009, when he began speaking to children in Havering schools, and in three years he estimates he has addressed 150,000 people across the country.

He has spoken at almost every secondary school in the borough, and still gives hard-hitting talks, free of charge, which spare no details of his brutal experience, but he now also works with Premier League football clubs and the London Fire Brigade.

“Kids need education early. It’s no good waiting until they’re in the sixth form to tell them. They need to know when they’re in Year 6 or 7 so that when they get offered drugs in Year 9, they know all about them,” he said, adding: “I’d love five minutes with a government minister on TV.”

The transformation from gang member to respected speaker has been rapid and stark. “I was homeless not that long ago; now I’ve been invited to some of the biggest football grounds in the country and even Lord’s cricket ground.”

He was invited to Lord’s for an awards ceremony for a charity initiative organised by Barclays and has worked with Arsenal, Queens Park Rangers, West Ham United and many other football clubs.

Paul’s story has even attracted interest from television documentary crews and agents offering to help him sell his autobiography.

In 2013, he said, he plans to put pressure on schools which are still failing to educate their pupils properly about the dangers of illegal drugs.

“I get comments all the time from children on my Facebook page and you wouldn’t believe what I get in my inbox as well – kids telling me about drugs being taken in their school fields and teachers don’t want to know about it.

“It’s a massive problem and I’m just one man, but I know the more people I give my talks to, the less want to try drugs in the first place.”

n To find out more about Paul’s work visit www.paulhannaford.com.

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