Ex-East End hard men bring hope to young NI offenders

Ian McDowall, left, and Arthur White, right, put on a show of strength at Dromore Elim Church on Sunday
Ian McDowall, left, and Arthur White, right, put on a show of strength at Dromore Elim Church on Sunday

Reformed hard men from the East End of London have dropped in to weight train with young offenders in Bangor and to share the hard-won life lessons they have learned.

Arthur White, now 65, was at one time a world champion powerlifter – managing 250 men through his business – and a happy family man.

A working-class grafter, Mr White built up his own business in the 1980s until he was “turning over a few million” a year, driving a top-of-the-range Jaguar and owned a big house and a villa in Spain.

In addition, he had become a world-class athlete, earning nine British powerlifting titles as well as six European and four world titles.

His record deadlift of 380kg (838 pounds) in the 110kg open category in 1982 remains unbeaten today.

His other personal bests were 220kg (484 pounds) in the bench press and 355kg (781 pounds) in the squat.

However, then came the “four years of madness” from 1989 to 1993.

“Anabolic steroids opened the door to everything,” including cocaine and speed, said Mr White, who also visited Dromore Elim Church.

“I went from a relatively normal man to having an adulterous affair, leaving my wife and kids.”

His business also nose-dived and he began to work as an illegal debt collector and nightclub doorman to survive.

“I was now living a violent life fuelled by drugs. I was living a life permanently full of fear - people were coming after me. I had very bad depression and, in the end, tried to take my own life.”

One day in the early hours of the morning Mr White had just finished two brawls in the largest fruit and vegetable market in London while collecting debts.

“It was the lowest point in my life,” he said.

Bloodied and bowed, the man who knew nothing about church or religion stood in a car park and “cried out to God”.

“I had a road to Damascus experience. I felt all the fear and paranoia leave me.”

He threw his knife and knuckle duster in a skip and smashed up his Beretta.

It took painful months and years for his life to come back together, including a reconciliation with his wife.

“A lot of my former associates thought I had lost the plot. I bumped into a few enemies and they were even more frightened of me than before. I said sorry and asked for forgiveness. Some of them ran off petrified.”

Mr White lost his entire fortune but is grateful for his family – and a second chance at life.