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Eight years Paul Walmsley became Britain’s Most Wanted Man after getting involved in a plot to smuggle drugs worth £3.5m into the UK.
Today, as a coach and mentor he is wanted for different reasons: to use his experiences to help kids stay on the straight and narrow or turn back from the brink of crime.
“I can tell young people that crime and the drugs game will eventually bite you back later on in life,” he says. “I can tell them that very, very few manage to make a successful, long-term living from crime.
“And I can be a working role model to show that you can change.”
Paul, 50, is the youngest of nine children from Norris Green. He had a great childhood, but grew up watching crime all around him: “I’d see joy riders tear down the East Lancs and around Sparrow Hall.”
It wasn’t destined he should join them. A straight ‘A’ student and a good football player he was predicted to do well, but the death of his dad when he was 14 had a devastating effect.
“My dad was old-fashioned, a hard – but fair – docker. He simply wouldn’t have allowed me to go down a criminal path,” admits Paul. “But with him no longer around, I did.
“I wanted to fit in, to be one of the lads so I started minding things for people and they brought me into their circle and I became part of what they were doing.
“It was 1989, right after Hillsborough, when the rave culture exploded and I started taking drugs and I was involved in drug crime. By 1995 I was immersed so deeply that not even a team of scuba divers were going to get me out.
“I was part of an organised drugs group, I started at the bottom and worked my way up, bringing drugs in and selling them. Between 1992 and 1995 I lived half the year in the UK and half the year abroad, sourcing drugs and networking. Drugs is about greed and always wanting more; you become addicted.
“But you risk your life and the lives of other vulnerable people. You risk your liberty and freedom. In effect, you risk everything else you value,” adds Paul, who has four children and a step son.
His business wasn’t only drugs: Paul ran bands, set up two record labels and went on two world tours…
“You try to think about doing something else, to pull yourself out of a situation, but the bills and the money drag you back,” says Paul. “Or they did then.”
It was September 11, 2006, when everything came crashing down around him. In Europe to watch Liverpool play PSV Eindhoven, Paul got a phone call to say his home had been raided.
“I flung the phone to the floor and jumped up and down on it, out of anger, frustration – and fear. It was like being in a car crash when everything goes into slow motion. I went into hiding, leaving behind my family, living in lofts, and being so afraid to go out and be seen, friends would put food through the letter box.
“About three months into it I went into an Internet Café and Googled my name to discover I was Britain’s Most Wanted Criminal, I guess because they’d got the rest of the gang and I was the only one left out there. I was even on Crimewatch.”
Paul spent five years on the run but, as the risk built and it became only a matter of time before he was caught, he decided to hand himself in.
“I was sentenced to 10 years, serving five (I’m on licence until March 2020).
“In prison you realise you are helpless, you have no control over anything, but you do have hope and optimism. Hope is the last thing to die.”
Paul started reading and writing, trying to find out who he was through self-development.
It was writing a letter of apology to his mum that he learned the most: “I started writing to her to say sorry – and six months later I was still writing! I wrote 180,000 words – and that became my book,” says Paul who adds that he is in talks for Just An Ordinary Decent Criminal to be turned into a film. Who would play him? “People say there’s only one person – Stephen Graham.”
Paul used the time inside to train as a neuro-linguistic practitioner, therapist and counsellor, which has helped shape his life now.
“When I was in custody you are allowed out to work in the community as preparation for your release and I went to work in the Brunswick Youth and Community Centre which is where the Jamie Carragher Sports & Learning Academy was. One day a teacher wasn’t there, and I was asked to take the lesson and the kids seemed to like it.
“I carried on working there, helping young people go to university. I used to say ‘I can’t make you better coaches or footballers, but I can make you a better person’.
“I worked for the Academy for three years, two while in custody and a year outside, before joining the people referral unit. It offers provision for those young people expelled from school, when no-one else will take them.
“I assess whether they have the ability to go back to school, or whether they need to be treated, or taught, differently.
“The world’s changed but we – and the education system – haven’t changed with it. My eventual goal is to encourage changes in the education system and even have my own facility to teach differently, and carry out research regarding young people in deprived areas.
Paul, an honorary fellow of the University of Liverpool where he has an office in the Children’s Rights and Law department and who is currently studying for a degree in psychology, says he has always had an altruistic nature and he is now is a position to be able to spot and support people at a turning point in their lives.
“It’s a no-brainer for me,” he says. “If you want your house painting, you get a decorator; if you want some building work done, you get a builder. If someone is at a crossroads and thinking of going down a criminal path – give me a shot!
“I speak their language.
“Going down the right path, for me, means having my family back, being respected by my family and earning respect from those I meet.
“I regret what I did but, had I not done it, I wouldn’t be where I am now, and able to help young people the way I can. When I was at the Academy, some kids found out I was ‘Britain’s Most Wanted’ and challenged it. They said they didn’t believe I was that person.
“But I told them I was, I’m not now.”
By Jan Tansley, Copy Media
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