“Day-to-day activity was waking up in a crack den, covered in dry blood from the night before trying to find a vein, then I’d have to go out and steal from shops and department stores, around £500 every day, just to fund my habit.”

That’s the reality of being involved in drugs and county lines according to a former gang member, who now speaks to 70,000 children a year about the dangers of the trade.

Paul Hannaford injected himself with heroin up to 50 times a day, sharing needles and eventually contracting an infection so bad that his leg needed to be amputated.

The doctors used hundreds of live maggots to eat away the infected tissue, which saved his leg.

“I’d overdosed and went to hospital. I had a blood test and the doctors gave me three days to live.

“At that point I had a choice, give myself up to the police who I was wanted by, or go and die in some drug den somewhere.

“So I plucked the courage up, went to my local police station and gave myself up, which saved my life. It was either that or die wasn’t it?”

Since his near-death experience, Paul has decided to turn his life around, working with the police and schools to teach people about the dangers of drugs and gangs.

He spoke to the Gazette in the week that three people appeared at Winchester Crown Court in connection with the murder of Taylor Williams in August.

It is widely believed that the incident was county lines-related, with two of the defendants being from London.

County lines is where drug dealers from London come to smaller towns and attempt to set up their business there.

“Basingstoke is not London. There might not be many gangs there, but there’s definitely lots of drug addicts - every town centre has got drug addicts,” Paul says.

“County lines will come out of places like London. Gang members are pretty well known in London, but they’re not in Basingstoke, so they’re under the radar - the police don’t know who they are.”

“They’ll just flood the town centre with drugs. They’ll find young people to sell the drugs for them or they’ll go to find some local drug addict who’s got a flat and they’ll put up in his place and let all users in the town come to his place to use drugs.”

This is known as cuckooing, where dealers use vulnerable people to set up a base of operations.

“People think this is is all new but it’s not, it’s been going on for a long time. They’re not just targeting kids they’re targeting local drug addicts as well,” Paul continued.

“(Young people) get buttered up by the gang members. They give them money, mobile phones, new trainers, some of these kids are coming from broken homes and have nothing, so all of a sudden when these gang members turn up and show them a bit of time and give them money, these young people get sucked into it, not realising in the long run there will be violence and drugs.

“All this violence is drug-related. We need to stabilise the situations in our community with hard-hitting, early intervention education. We need to ask headteachers what’s more important, maths and English or drug awareness?”

According to Paul, whilst things might be good for young people involved in drugs at the moment, there will be repercussions.

“This county lines gangs thing won’t last long, and there will be a few consequences - they’ll either be arrested and put in jail for drugs, it’ll end in violence and they’ll either be stabbed or stab someone - they can’t live the rest of their lives doing that. There will be a consequence eventually.

“They’re kids, they belong to somebody.”

Paul is calling for all schools to educate children by arranging talks with people who have ‘real life’ experience.

“Look at the people at the top, the government, if they were serious about knife crime, they’d make it law that every school has to get someone in to talk about knife crime.

“I’m telling you now, 90% of kids aren’t getting it. And the other 10% who are getting it, they’re getting it from someone who’s probably a school teacher, who hasn’t got a clue what they’re talking about.

“If someone invited me to a school to talk about maths or English, I wouldn’t have a clue, they’d laugh me out of the door.

“I speak to 70,000 children a year, some as young as seven, I go to schools all over the country. I’m educating doctors, I educate headteachers, police, I just talk about my life experiences of drugs, gangs, knife crime, alcohol, self-harm, mental health.

“Why let 23 years of street knowledge and experience go to waste in today’s society? I’ve still got my injuries, I still dress my leg, so I told the kids of my horrific scars from injecting heroin and just go to as many places as possible.”

Paul says that by being brutally honest about his experiences of a life of drugs and gangs, he can persuade young people to stay away from it themselves.

“What’s going on in the world? Are we just going to ignore this and brush it under the carpet and pretend that it’s not going on?

“Or are we just going to put the news on every day and see there’s been a fatal stabbing?

“If every school did do it from a very young age, primary age right up until secondary, and give it to them quite often, then I promise you now there’d be less knives on the streets.”

You can find out more about Paul’s story by going to @PaulHannaford on Twitter and Instagram, or www.paulhannaford.com.