PAUL’S introduction to illegal substances came when he was nine.
He had moved to Hebden Bridge with his family three years earlier and started hanging around with a group of older youths.
A friend suggested he started sniffing solvents and he decided to try it.
Then another friend suggested he tried smoking cannabis, and in just a few years he had moved on to mushrooms and acid.
When he was 15, Paul left home and, with a friend, travelled to Gambia in Africa. That is where they were introduced to crack cocaine and heroin.
“For the equivalent of 50p we could get around two grammes of crack,” he said.
“I was only 15, I didn’t know about heroin.
“We were out there for six months and when we came back, the withdrawal hit me like a ton of bricks.
“It was one of my oldest and best friends who got me clean.”
When Paul came back to Hebden Bridge, he got involved with a dealer and was catapulted into the area’s drug scene. Soon he was a dealer too, selling cocaine, amphetamines and MDMA.
Every day his life revolved around the illegal trade. He said it was a never-ending circle, making sure he had sold enough drugs to pay his suppliers in Greater Manchester, then buying the next batch to start selling again.
All the time, he was living with the threat of being attacked by other dealers or, if he did not have enough money for the Manchester dealers, having his legs broken.
“I was still a kid and I was stepping on other dealers’ toes,” he said.
He said he knew many of the people featured in the recent documentary Shed Your Tears and Walk Away, which highlighted the scale of drink and drug problems in the pretty tourist town.
“I’ve heard there are more drugs sold per square mile in Hebden Bridge than in Manchester,” said Paul.
By the time he was 20, he had a son, daughter and stepson with his girlfriend. But the pair were constantly fighting and he left, hoping that would at least improve the atmosphere in the home for his children.
It was then that Paul’s drug use snowballed. “I nosedived,” he said. “I turned back to heroin and crack.”
He moved to Todmorden and met a woman, also a dealer. But they found themselves again under threat from other dealers and they were run out of town, fleeing to Leeds.
There, his partner gave birth to Paul’s second daughter but because of the couple’s drug use, the little girl was born withdrawing from heroin.
“It was terrible,” he said. “She cried non-stop.”
Doctors discovered the baby also had a growth on her lung that started growing through her back.
Paul said as drug addicts, he and his partner could see they were not being given the same attention as other parents on the same ward.
“They thought we had beaten the baby,” he said.
During one scan the little girl’s heart stopped and doctors had to fight to revive her. Miraculously she survived and is today a beautiful teenager, accomplished in performing arts.
But when she was brought home, her homelife still centred on drugs.
A gang of dealers burst in one day with baseball bats. Even with a baby in the house, they smashed the place up and issued an untimatum: leave or they would be back.
Again, the couple found themselves fleeing. They went to Huddersfield but their drug use made their relationship impossible.
“We were both addicted. Things fell apart.”
l Tomorrow: homeless and hit by a car