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Life in a Bangkok dungeon: The Paul Hayward story

The story of former Newtown player Paul Hayward is often brought up when modern-day rugby league players get in trouble off the field. Four decades after he was arrested for possessing heroin in Thailand, his story is more than a cautionary tale for NRL players.

It is one of sadness, regret, unfulfilled potential and ultimately, tragedy.

In the first of a series of features that will be publishing from the Rugby League Week archives, here is the original story from 1985 of Hayward's fall from grace, written by experienced rugby league journalist Neil Cadigan, who these days is a reporter for after a lengthy career at various publications including Rugby League Week and Big League magazines. Click here to read the story behind the story.


Titled "Life in a Bangkok Dungeon", this story first appeared in Rugby League Week on April 18, 1985, written by Neil Cadigan.

Paul Hayward was a tough, pugnacious five-eighth from Newtown, a scrapper in the old Bluebag tradition — who mixed professional boxing with his rugby league career.

In teeming Bangkok, in October, 1978, he was arrested on a charge of possessing 8.4kg of heroin, charged, and subsequently sentenced to 20 years in jail.

He remained in Bangkok's notorious prisons since the day he was arrested.

Inside the walls of Bang Kwang, Cadigan and Hayward sat for three hours and talked of family ... of football ... of regrets.

So this was notorious Bang Kwang prison — Bangkok's top-security jail, "home" for 6000 inmates.

Paul Hayward and the Newtown Jets.
Paul Hayward and the Newtown Jets. ©Rugby League Week/NRL Photos

It was a 45-minute drive from the city. Like everything in Bangkok, the taxi fare had to be bartered for. He wanted 400 baht ($21). No! 250 baht, or I go elsewhere. No further argument. The heat was stifling as I walked nervously through the big iron gate on the outside perimeter: the grand entrance to Thailand's hell hole.

The guards, dressed in sandy, very military uniforms, searched my bag. They spoke no English but their sign language assured me no cameras, strictly no cameras. I must leave it with them.

Through another iron gate and you confront a driveway, about 100 metres long, flanked on both sides by beautifully manicured gardens, which led to the inner wall. On the right were the visitors' cages. There, separated by thick mesh on either side of a metre's void, hundreds of Thais crowded onto wooden stools to visit prisoners who stood in a dingy, dark alleyway on the other side. As the many Thais gabbled away, shouting to be heard through the mesh and above each other, it seemed more like a chook pen — and about as inviting.

I walked into the office — well, there were a couple of old desks on a cement floor — and handed over my letter of introduction from the Australian Embassy. It was my passport to Bang Kwang, and a sitting with Paul Hayward.

  • Coming Friday on Reflecting on Paul Hayward's tragic tale

A young guard signalled to me to wait in a room on the other side of the giant gate, beneath the main watch tower that separated the free from the interned.

Embassy officials told me to expect all three Australians in Bang Kwang — Hayward, associate Warren Fellows and Melbourne man Bruce Allen — to rush out. A messenger would go to the cells and simply say: "Paul Hayward — embassy here."

It was a nerve-racking wait. What to say to the once athletic, tough little footballer I had last seen in a Newtown game at Henson back in '78?

"How are you? How ya going?"

What a stupid way to greet him. How would you be in this stinking place, where 25-35 men are jammed into a cell eight metres by four metres, sleeping on straw mats atop a cement floor, shoulder to shoulder with each other and a can of water which is their toilet. A place where your days are shared with vermin, mosquitoes, stinking heat, the crazy, the heroin addicts.

The waiting went on and on. Half an hour and still no Paul Hayward. The embassy officials had said when they last went out there a week earlier Hayward refused to leave his cell. Oh no, what's happening, I thought.

Sitting there, I could see through to the inner area.

Surprisingly the scene was dominated by pretty gardens, trees and lawns. Was this sad place better than legend had it? Or were the Thais careful to make the only area that outsiders could see look much more attractive than the rest of the prison?

What I could see was a panorama of prisoners wandering aimlessly ... sweating on getting a call to the visiting area. Other than the guards there were the "trustees" - trusted prisoners who were identi­fied by blue uniforms and who carry batons. They were the "middle class" of the prison system, the civilian overseers of Bang Kwang's criminals.

Still I waited. A Frenchman came out and informed me in broken English that Paul could not be found. He was not in building number five - his home.

It was over an hour before a suntanned, but pathetically thin man with almost crew-cut length hair ran urgently into the cage. "Are you from Rugby League Week?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said.

"Paul's coming, hold on."

"Are you Warren?"

Paul Hayward playing for the Jets.
Paul Hayward playing for the Jets. ©Rugby League Week/NRL Photos

There was a nod of the head - and he was gone.

Seconds later I saw a man marching down the pathway past the gardens. Ginger beard and longish sandy-reddish hair, dressed in light blue Indian shirt and red shorts. "Gee, he looks well."

That was my first impression of Paul Hayward.

He entered the cage in a rush, nervous, the adrenalin obviously pumping at the thought of seeing someone from home. I later found out I was only the third visitor, other than the embassy guys and the missionary groups, for three years.

I sat at a long table in a room put aside for special visitors.

There was no one-metre gap and only a wall of mesh. We could almost touch.

"Neil Cadigan?" he inquired. "You look just like your photo."

The embassy had passed on some copies of RLW we had posted during the weeks before when organising the visit.

"You wrote some stories on me once, in The Mirror."

Fellows, so thin, so sad-looking, sat beside him. But Hayward, freshly grown beard suiting him, looked quite well ... and so damned happy to see someone.

"Yeah, I'm the same weight as when I first made grade at Newtown," he went on. "Yeah, 65kg (10 stone 41b). Two years and six months ago I was up to 79kg when I was really doing the weights. We haven't been eating much lately, you need money in here."

We spoke for two and a half hours this day. The visit was interrupted by a 90-minute break for lunch. It was a worldly experience for us both.

Paul Hayward, a footballer with the heart of a lion, has now spent more than one fifth of his life in this foreign, disgusting place. Busted for heroin trafficking, now busting to get home and start again. For six and a half years he has been behind bars, cut off from the simplest western luxuries.

"How could you keep sane?" - the thought came to me time and again as we talked.

Hayward explained it that day. He bowed his head, brought his fingers to his temples and said: "I often think I'm going mad.

"But when I get really depressed I tell myself 'don't crack up, you can do it, there's others worse off than you'. I think 'God, at least I'm still healthy'. The thing that keeps me going is the hope that one day I'll get out and see my wife and kids again and be able to start all over. I really believe something is going to happen eventually."

©Rugby League Week/NRL Photos

His hope is a King's pardon or of Australia joining a prisoners exchange scheme which would enable him to serve his time back home.

I brought from home a press clipping. Incredibly, the day I left Sydney a story appeared in The Sun telling of how his de facto wife Gail had again asked the King for a pardon. Hayward's last request, in 1983, was turned down and you must wait two years for another request.

"If this attempt fails I'll wait another two years and try again.

"You see, on the Thai calendar it is the year 2528. In three years the King will have been on the throne for, I think, 40 years.

"Anyhow, there will be a big celebration and there's going to be a big amnesty. That's my other big hope of getting out."

There have been five Australians freed through pardons since Hayward and Fellows's arrival: Richard Montgomery, Benjamin O'Brien, Norman John Walker, George Bullock and Don Worcester. Another, Tony Lette, served his full term of six years.

I blame myself, I got myself into this. And I’ve got to keep fighting through it.

Paul Hayward

It gives Hayward and Fellows the element of hope they need. But their most immediate hope is of getting a transfer to the lighter-security Kom Prem prison. The embassy has told them they have a "reasonable" chance. They'll know the answer to their application within eight weeks.

"They've got a foreigners' building in Kom Prem and there's only about eight to 10 guys in a room.

"Here the foreigners must mix with the Thais and there are 27 in our cell - it' smaller than this room," he added, pointing to the room in which I sat, no bigger than 40 square metres.

"Twelve sleep along one wall, 13 on another and two guys in the middle. And then there's the can of water - it's the toilet. You wake up at 5am busting for a leak and you can't go because the bloody thing's full. Man, it's pretty bad."

Hayward spoke of many things. How he got into this mess, his family - mostly his family - religion, William Sinclair's book, life in Bang Kwang, football, the past, the present, the future. He wanted no sympathy. After the initial small talk about football and mutual acquaintances, his face became solemn and he said: "I blame myself, I got myself into this. And I've got to keep fighting through it."

The only sympathy was for Gail and his three children. Bradley, 12, Kellie, nine, and Belinda, the daughter he has never seen, born months after his arrest.

"Most of all I feel sorry for my wife and kids - what they have to go through," he said.

"Gail has stuck by me, she's been great. She still writes and sends photos. I miss my family so much - and the football.

"It hurts not being able to see the kids grow up. Bradley's been playing a lot of sport, football on the weekends and Aussie Rules at school. Aussie Rules? I don't even know how to play the game.

"I reckon I could have still been playing football, first grade until I was 30. It's good to get the Rugby League Weeks, but I get a little depressed, you know, thinking I might have still been playing like some of these guys."

But he knew it was the penalty he must pay for his sins. If he gets no pardon, or is not exchanged back to Australia, he will be paying until January, 2001. Then it would be 22 years and three months since the day a police officer burst into his hotel room in Bangkok and pointed a .38 calibre pistol at his head. A suitcase containing 8.4kg of heroin was sitting neatly on the floor nearby.

At least Hayward is better off than the unhappy lot I saw while waiting for him to come out after lunch.

From cell block number one came a line of the saddest-looking human beings I had ever seen. Ankles chained, they walked like a bullock team through the alleyway to see visitors.

Hayward later explained they were from death row. The prisoners sentenced to execution. They stay here sometimes for years, always in chains, rarely let out of their cells, with their ultimate end by firing squad.

The thing that keeps me going is the hope that one day I’ll get out and see my wife and kids again.

Paul Hayward

Hayward told me much of what happened during that fateful trip to Bangkok in 1978 and the role he played. He said emphatically: "I have never sold a drug in my life."

His original sentence was 20 years but he and Fellows were convicted of possessing heroin in jail in late 1983, and had another two years each added to their "stay".

Fellows and Hayward claimed the heroin incident in jail was a set-up.

"We had an argument with a guard who wanted money. He then grabbed at our clothes, stuck out his hands and said 'heroin, heroin'. It was a frame," Fellows insisted.

The book released under the name of William Sinclair, the alleged Bangkok connection of the heroin trafficking business, told of the corruption within Bang Kwang and how the place was riddled with heroin.

Sinclair, originally sentenced to 33 years eight months like Fellows, won an appeal and hastened out of Thailand, on bail. A subsequent appeal by the prosecution also went his way and he now is in Melbourne a free man.

But talk of Sinclair's book, which went to great lengths to make him a cleanskin, an innocent bystander, won little approval from Hayward and Fellows. A copy had found its way to Bang Kwang. "Sinclair's book?" Hayward said, eyebrows raised. "Let's say it was pretty far-fetched."

"He really had to put us down to push his own barrow, to try to prove his innocence," said Fellows, whom Sinclair had painted as a hopeless jail heroin addict.

"His talk about the conditions here and the corruption was pretty right, though," said Hayward.

The secret of what really happened way back in 1978 is something Hayward and Fellows keep with them in Bang Kwang. They say little about Sinclair, the man who got out, and others.

It hurts them to be "inside", powerless to answer the rumours, the exaggerated claims, knowing they have taken the "rap" while others remain free. But no, they can't speak, or mention names. The conversation came back to the present day: how they were surviving.

"You've got to have money," Hayward said.

"We can't 'bag' this place, it would be self-defeating. But it's really bad - the food, it's rice rolled like oats, you can't eat it.

"It costs about $200 a month extra to live reasonably. There's a tea lady. You can get coffee, corn­flakes, fruit, jam, bread and Ovaltine from the coffee shop.

"But I'm out of money. You know, Gail's doing it really tough, she's on social security and can't afford to send me much.

"I've got three sisters and a brother who send $25 a month each when they can. There hasn't been much lately. So we just don't eat much."

©Rugby League Week/NRL Photos

Money talks loudly in Bang Kwang.

"You know, there's one American here who has a video set up - and gets all these movies. There's another guy, a Canadian who was John Walker's case partner, he's got a hut built and has Thais who carry water for him, act as servants.

"These guys must be spending $20,000 a month for comfort."

There is an electronics workshop and a workshop for making soft toys and another for furniture. But Hayward and Fellows don't work, they drift through the days.

Hayward gets involved in whatever sport can be organised inside. There are about 20 Americans, and basketball, volleyball and gridiron games are played occasionally. Sport is one thing he gets involved in enthusiastically and sometimes prisoners are allowed onto an oval inside the prison walls to play baseball. They have not been allowed onto the oval for some weeks. He would not say why.

"I've tried to get some league played in here but I can't get enough starters," he said. "The Yanks are always throwing the ball forward, torpedo throws like in gridiron." A smile. "They reckon I'm not bad at basketball for a little guy, though."

There was talk, particularly early, about friends from his football days. How's Frank Farrington and John Singleton, what about Les Motto, what's he up to?

Former Parramatta player Graham Murray visited in October. He told him about the death of former Wests player Buddy Cain, a good mate of Hayward.

"That's right about Buddy Cain, eh?" Hayward asked. "We were great mates, we played together for years at Zetland. Remember the day he stood up Mick Cronin? We used to practise that step all the time when we were kids."

Hayward received a letter from Australia while I was there. It was from a woman from a Christian group.

"I get these letters, they read a story which was in the paper over there about me being a born-again Christian," he said. "I read the Bible. I believe. You get so much time in here and you read a lot. I get visits all the time from this missionary woman. She's great, you know, she's been through Vietnam and all that.

"I pray every night since my mother died. Both my parents have died since I've been in here. Every night I sit up and pray for myself and my family. I used to pray for my daughter.

"Kellie was very ill. They thought she had Down's syndrome at first but it was something to do with her hearing and she had an operation the November before last. I kept thinking her sickness was punishment for me, you know. I prayed and prayed.

"God, I can't wait to get out of here and see them. To start again. I know I've done wrong, I know it. But it's not fair on my family."

The hands were fidgety, the mood moved from chirpy to almost teary during our long talk. He was happiest when he spoke of his footballing days.

"Physically I feel good. But everything gets me down. One thing I've learned here is to be patient. You're always waiting, at first it was for the court appearances, now it's for any sport that might be played."

His only motivation is the thought of seeing Gail, Bradley, Kellie and Belinda. For six and a half years he has kept going. He must have the strength to go on some more.

The strength? Where does he get it?

From what I'd read of Bang Kwang and then seen for myself, surely I'd hang myself before too long in there. Or surely I'd go mad.

Where was the Paul Hayward I'd expected to see? Aged 32 but surely looking 42 after six and a half years in this place.

Short-thinning hair, thin, depressed, bitter, nothing to smile about. A shattered shell of a man - once a fine footballer. That was the mental picture I'd built up.

Paul Hayward in 1977.
Paul Hayward in 1977. ©Rugby League Week/NRL Photos

It finally hit home just how amazed I was. If there was such a man, he was using his courage to hide it. And he looked so different with the beard. And so eager to talk - about anything. But mostly the good things, the football days, they were the last happy days he could remember; and the dream of returning to Sydney, they were the only happy thoughts of the future.

He has steeled himself to think mainly the positive, lifting himself from the natural depression that pervades Bang Kwang. Time was up. It was 3pm. All visitors must go.

What do you say in parting to a man sentenced to the ultimate misery? When it sinks in that you are returning to a luxury hotel and then home to your family ... and he will return to an overcrowded, stinking cell.

"Mate, thanks for coming," Paul said. "Really, it's given me a lift."

All I could say in parting was that there were many league fans back home who still remember Paul Hayward. He may be exiled in this incredible faraway place but some hadn't locked him out of their memories and thrown away the key.

OK, he is branded a drug runner, a criminal. Some may say "let him rot in hell".

But he is paying dearly. He is repentant. He knows he did wrong. And for Christ's sake, he's a human being and was once a good, gutsy footballer.

"I hope we can have a beer one day," he said. "How I'd love a nice cold beer."

The dream that keeps him alive. Freedom ... some day. Footnote: In April 1989, Hayward received a pardon for his good behavior by the king of Thailand as part of his 60th birthday celebrations. Earlier it had been reported Hayward had tested HIV positive due to using a contaminated heroin syringe while in jail.

In May 1992, Gail's fears had come true. Struggling emotionally and unable to assimilate back into Sydney life and reconnect with friends, Paul had overdosed from heroin in the family bathroom and was dead at age 38.

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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