A tale of two lives: From the drug world of the 1970s to academia for Greg Newbold
Greg Newbold’s life is split into two distinct parts – one as a drug-using dealer and one as a university academic. Lee Kenny talks to the newly retired criminologist.
Within hours of his release from jail, Greg Newbold was shooting up in a pub toilet.
It was November 1980 and having served 5½ years for dealing heroin, he caught the prison transfer bus to central Auckland and entered the Queen’s Ferry pub.
He was 29, handsome and charismatic, and it was not long before he struck up a conversation with an attractive woman.
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By chance, they had a mutual friend and after chatting she offered him “a taste” – handing him a syringe and a bag of heroin.
“Within 10 minutes of arriving I was in the toilet with a needle in my arm,” he says.
Newbold started selling cannabis when he was at university in 1972.
But it was when he began dealing in heroin that he gained the attention of Terry Clark – the New Zealander who ran the notorious Mr Asia drug syndicate.
Now aged 69, Newbold has just retired as one of the country’s best-known criminologists and he says his firsthand knowledge of the underworld helped him make the transition from inmate to academic.
He was brought up in Auckland’s Northcote, with two brothers and a sister, in what he describes as a lower middle class household.
His mother was an alcoholic and his parents broke up when he was 11.
“Dad left Mum and got married to someone else. We stayed with Mum.”
He attended Rangitoto College, in Mairangi Bay, where he was a “middle-of-the-range” student.
In the sixth form he was suspended for “immoral behaviour”, when teachers discovered he was in a sexual relationship with a woman.
“It was the 1960s and I was having my first love affair with an 18-year-old girl, who was two years older than me. They suspended me and made me dump the girl.”
A year later he left the school because he refused to cut his hair.
By 1969, he says, there was a sense that times were changing in New Zealand.
“The hippie movement started in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco. We were into that, wearing flowers and looking for marijuana to smoke.”
At the time cannabis was homegrown and was difficult to get hold of, he says.
After a stint as a deer culler and a firefighter, he was accepted to study anthropology and sociology at Auckland University.
It was then he took his first acid trip but, at $10 a time, it was too expensive to do regularly.
“We were getting really good, high-quality LSD.
“I had a budget of 20 bucks a week, so 10 bucks was a considerable hole in my budget. That is why eventually I started selling marijuana.”
By the early 1970s, large quantities of cannabis were being smuggled into New Zealand, including high-potency Buddha Sticks, which sold for $10.
Newbold started buying 10 sticks at a time, before progressing to 1000.
“I would buy 1000 for $850 and make a profit of $150.”
It was one of his cannabis customers who first offered him heroin.
Newbold started dealing heroin because there was a “higher profit margin”, buying it from a middleman who was supplied by Terry Clark.
He says there was a huge demand for heroin in Auckland in the early 1970s.
In his early 20s he had made enough money to buy a Bonneville motorbike for cash.
“It cost a thousand bucks, which was a hell of a lot of money in those days.
“I was starting to live the high life. I was the cat’s whiskers with my silk scarf, my velvet bell-bottom jeans and my bag of smack in my pocket.”
He says fellow students and local junkies came to him as he had a reputation for being an honest dealer.
“I never ripped them off. I never sold them any crap and I never mixed any smack with glucose or talcum powder or anything else. I always sold my shit pure.”
And it was his reputation for being “reliable” that caught the eye of Terry Clark, who considered offering him a place on his crew.
“Terry was watching me and thought I would be a good guy to have on his team.”
But as well as dealing heroin, Newbold was also regularly using.
“It started off twice a week, then it was three times a week. I could not feel good without it.
“I did not have a physical habit but I was going down that track when I got busted.”
Newbold was arrested in July 1975.
He was contacted by one of his regular customers who wanted an ounce of heroin
“I bought it for $900 and sold it for $1000, all I got was 100 bucks, I was doing it for a favour.”
He travelled to an address in Ponsonby but the deal had been set up by a “narc” and plain-clothes police were waiting to spring the trap.
“There were coppers everywhere, in vans, pretending to paint houses. The whole street was staked out.
“They were waiting for me to turn up. Suddenly coppers all hit the house at once. They bashed the doors down and the dogs came flying in, there were guns going off.”
Newbold was questioned at Mt Eden Prison but, despite police pressure, he refused to say where he got the heroin from.
“They said: When the shit hits the fan, you are going to be covered in it. But I did not say anything.”
He was sentenced to 7½ years in prison but, looking back, it was the best thing to happen to him, he says.
“It saved me from becoming a junkie. It caught me right at the time when I was beginning to lose it.
“If I had not been busted, I would have been approached by Terry Clark and been part of the Mr Asia gang which got a massive lagging [prison sentence] over in England.”
During his time in prison, Newbold completed a master’s degree in anthropology, gaining first class honours for his research into the social organisation of a maximum security prison.
He was sent books and journal articles by Auckland University library staff and was supported by the guards and other inmates, who respected that he was “making a go of it”.
Also while in jail, he became a keen long-distance runner, led the prison debating team and made lifelong friends with other inmates.
“It was a real community of people who cared about each other,” he says.
“The code was broken from time to time but there was almost no tea-leafing. There were no kingpins, there was none of this top dog stuff.”
He says it is “vastly different” today, as “gangs have taken over” New Zealand’s prisons, which are less about rehabilitation.
“They are really authoritarian now and there is no communion between staff and inmates.”
He says people still obtain qualifications in prison but “nowadays, it is much harder to do what I did”.
However, Newbold maintained his drug habit, with heroin readily available inside.
“We were using all the time. We used to smuggle it in, through the visits and people on work parole.
“We all used the same syringe, we all got hepatitis C.
“It was the A-Block syringe, we used to wash it out with cold water. It was hidden in an old sandshoe.”
Newbold was released on parole in November 1980 but resumed his hedonistic lifestyle, his celebrity status attracting no end of admirers.
“Getting out was fantastic, I loved it.
“I just went mad with the women. I was well known by that time in the criminal community and the university. All the girls wanted to be the first.”
The qualification he obtained in prison led to a job as a researcher at the Auckland University law school, under the Government’s Project Employment Programme (PEP).
It was there he met law academic Bill Hodge, who was also a keen runner, and they arranged to do a 15-mile run together. The following week they ran 20 miles.
Newbold was still using drugs and one Friday night he was offered a speedball, a mixture of morphine and cocaine.
“You get the real rev of the coke and then the morphine takes over,” he says.
“I really wanted it but I thought: I have got to be at Bill’s place in the morning.”
He turned it down and as he took up marathon running and boxing, heroin was no longer compatible with his lifestyle.
“I still used it on and off but my life was on a different path. I eventually stopped and I have not used in 30 years.”
Newbold went on to obtain a PhD and in 1988 he joined University of Canterbury (UC), where he taught criminal justice and social history.
He says students would often be shocked when they discovered his background but his lectures were always popular.
“I would talk about the literature but I would always illustrate it with my own experiences. I have kept in contact with prisoners all my life and seen how prisons have changed.”
He became a professor in 2009, and has written numerous books on crime, law and social justice, but he says his proudest professional achievement was co-founding UC’s bachelor of criminal justice programme.
The course has “exploded in popularity”, with one class growing from 25 students to 180 in recent years.
However, he says his fame as an academic did him “more harm than good” and in July 2016 he courted controversy when he discussed the impact of the feminist movement on rape laws.
His comments led to an internal investigation, which found the lecture displayed “academic rigour and appropriateness” but his remarks were sexist and objectified women.
Following the complaint, he claims UC’s Feminist Society (FemSoc) launched a smear campaign against him, destroying copies of his books in the library and branding him a sexist and a racist.
“It was relentless for about three years,” he says.
Speaking at the time, UC FemSoc said there was no evidence any of its members were part of a campaign against Newbold.
Then in 2018, someone filmed his lectures and edited a “critique”, which claimed his classes “decontextualised information about non-Western peoples” and had “harmful stereotypes about women”.
Elizabeth Stanley, who works at the Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington, was critical at the time of what and how Newbold taught.
On the Criminology Collective blog she wrote about the video: “The Professor does not seem to have received the memo about the changed thinking around gender or sexuality over the last half-century, let alone the #metoo movement.”
That is not how Newbold sees it.
“They surreptitiously videoed, one year, all my lectures and put together a 20-minute clip making me look like an idiot, and they put that up on the internet. They did a proper job on me.”
Newbold says there is a need to shock and surprise students as part of their university learning.
“If you are frightened of being criticised, then you will never say anything controversial and you will never make students think.
“The idea of a lecture is to be provocative. If you just teach people what they want to hear, they are not going to learn anything.
“I was just interested in confronting students with a defensible truth.”
He claims the complaints were not justified.
“Some women, for reasons best known to themselves, make false rape complaints and I have got plenty of examples; I gave them in my book.
“I said we need to maintain vigilance and treat rape complaints the same way we treat any other criminal complaint because the onus of proof lies with the Crown and a defendant is entitled to be considered guilty until proven innocent, that is all I said.”
But Stanley wrote in the blog post: “The excerpts are hard to watch. There is a ‘joke’ about an assault, a clarification on a sex worker’s attractiveness, grisly accounts of a woman’s murder, images of ‘sluts’, and a focus on false rape complaints.
“About the latter, criminologist Jan Jordan has relentlessly exposed the myth of false complaints – most women do not report sexual assault and false complaints are minimal.”
In retirement, Newbold says he will miss the “interaction with young minds” but not the piles of essay marking.
Outside of academia, he still exercises, training six days a week.
He also enjoys spending time with his daughter and two grandchildren and his wife Lucy who he married in 2012.
The couple are currently packing up their Christchurch bungalow for a move to the Bay of Plenty where Newbold plans to spend his time hunting, fishing and scuba diving.
“Realistically I have got another 10 to 20 years. I just want to enjoy the time I have left.”