Last month, Sam Walker uploaded a video titled "How to get out the UK when [you're] wanted by police." The 34-year-old Liverpudlian – a convicted gangster with more than 100 offences to his name – said he was on the run from Merseyside Police after dodging a court appearance for a driving charge. Because he feared being arrested at the airport, he chartered a private plane to Belgium, flew to Barcelona, caught a 14-hour boat to Morocco and drove a further three days. Why? To deliver an aid container to the slums of Sierra Leone.
Since arriving in the West African country, Walker has amassed an online following after posting videos of himself supplying clean water to the people of Freetown, and meeting with former child soldiers and, bizarrely, the Vice President of Sierra Leone. A Merseyside Police source responded to the newfound interest in Walker by telling the Independent he is in fact wanted by Cheshire Police, not Merseyside Police, and that he would have never been stopped at the border in the first place. Walker, however, insists he will be arrested the moment he returns to the UK.
Last week, I had a chat with him over the phone.
VICE: How does a convicted drug dealer from Liverpool end up in the slums of Sierra Leone?
Sam Walker: My granddad is from Freetown, and my great-great grandfather was one of the first slaves granted his freedom there – hence the name "Freetown". In the slums, people have nothing; they literally build their homes out of rubbish and waste. You see amputees everywhere. During the civil war, rebels troops would attack civilians, and their calling card would be hacking off a limb as a warning to others. [There are] women who have been gang-raped. One former child soldier called Streets told me, when he was seven years old, his village was attacked. The rebels put a gun in his hands and told him, "If you don't kill your mother and sister, we will kill you." He did it. Because of the poverty, these victims now live shoulder-to-shoulder with the people who did it to them. Streets said, "I forgive them for what they did to me, but how do I forgive myself?"
Can you describe the moment you decided you wanted to seriously lend help?
I remember meeting a sick baby girl, her name was Alia. Her eyes were rolling rapidly from side to side. Awful. I'd never seen anything like it. Her mum said the hospital was 30 miles away and she had no money to get there. So I took us. I remember the baby squeezing my finger on the way there and thinking, 'I've got to help these people.' When we reached the hospital, a doctor came out and asked for money for treatment. I gave him what I had, but when he realised I was English he asked for more money. So I gave him my Rolex.
What happened to Alia?
Alia died. I returned the next day and I sat there in the corridor listening to the mum screaming and crying. I promised myself that I would return as soon as I could with an aid container to help others.
How much did all this cost?
I don’t want to give an exact figure. I set myself a target of getting a parcel – clothes and toys, sweets, food, water – to 200 homes. I bought 2,000 water bottles. I wanted to make sure everyone we met was given something. I see The Red Cross in a lot of places, and they are there on the front line, but apart from them I don't see any of the celebrity-backed charities. They don't exist here.
People on social media have said you're using this aid container to smuggle drugs or that you're washing dirty money out there?
I have my own legitimate security business, which is doing well and pays a salary. I have served my time for all previous offences except this outstanding driving one. I’ve seen comments from people saying I'm smuggling drugs, diamonds or washing dirty money. It’s ridiculous. Thousands of people are having their lives changed in a positive way for the first time in years. The long-term goal is creating a completely transparent charity where all receipts are published online and videos show people getting the aid they pay for.
There's a video on your Twitter of you threatening to shoot a port security guy. What happened?
I had paid all my port fees in advance, yet the guy in the video demanded another sum, which I paid. The next day, he wanted more cash. I told him he was breaking the law. He says, "I'm above the law." I lost it. I said, "But you’re not above a bullet, are ya?" I shouldn’t have said it, but I was desperate. It's one thing ripping off the system, but another keeping aid from people in the slums for cash. Even when I met the Vice President of Sierra Leone he said, "I have no say in the ports, I can waive government taxes but the ports have their own ways."
You met the Vice President of Sierra Leone?
I walked up to the President's house and there were armed guards everywhere. I started telling them about the container and how I wanted to rebuild the slums. Obviously that sounds mad, but someone came out of the office and spoke to me. Somehow, the Vice President heard about it and arranged a meeting.
You then fitted a clean water pipe in the slums. How did that feel?
Those people have previously walked four miles just to get clean water. Most wash in dirty water where pigs shit and piss. So when that water pipe turned on, the excitement and the wonder in the faces of people watching it gave me goosebumps. Apart from my son being born, that was the best moment of my life.
When you made your "How To Escape British Police" videos, police here claimed they would never have stopped you at the border for a driving offence. Is that true?
That’s not true. They sent armed police to arrest me last year when I tried to leave the country. Why would it be different this time?
How do Sierra Leone police compare to UK police?
It’s standard that Sierra Leone police expect bribes. They expect something just for pulling you over. They’re up for a bit of corruption – which, as long as normal working people don't get ripped off, is fine by me. Paying a prison officer £1,000 to smuggle in a phone or to get off a driving offence? All good.
You have over 100 offences, including counterfeiting cash, being part of a £12 million drugs rings and armed robbery. How did your criminal life start?
I spent 13 years of my life in prison. I think about that sometimes and I feel sick. I came from a good family, but I was robbing sweets for my mates aged seven. I started robbing cars and then robbing security vans in my late teens. I soon realised selling drugs was more lucrative, so I switched up to that. When we got caught I only escaped a longer term because of a mistake by the prosecution. I know I was very lucky to only get five years.
Have you given up crime for good now?
You can't change overnight. You have to unlearn bad behaviour. But what's happened in Africa has accelerated my progression. For the first time in my life, my mum and my son told me they’re proud of me. It’s given me a new sense of purpose to make a change and do something positive.
You predict police will be waiting for you when you get back to the UK. Will you be a bit disappointed if they’re not?
No, I would love to come home and just walk out of the airport. But I've skipped a court date and, added to the fact I only got five years for the drugs stuff, I think every judge will want to hit me with the worst sentence.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.