At the time Leroy Smith felt he had no choice but to shoot the two police officers.
They’d crept up behind him and his friend, having followed them from a Brixton pub associated with drug activity.
When the officers said they wanted to search him, it all happened in a split second.
“I was wanted for escaping from prison, I’d got ounces of crack cocaine in my pocket and my gun in my waist,” Leroy told MyLondon. “So I’m not trying to get searched whatsoever.
“I [wasn’t] in the mindset of running from anyone. So that gave me just one choice, which is to do what I did.”
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(Image: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon)
Leroy fired three shots, one hit Metropolitan Police officer James Seymour’s back and another struck his colleague Simon Carroll’s leg.
One more went into the air moments later to bring his fleeing accomplice back to the scene. Leroy needed him to drive the motorbike they’d been riding to escape.
Looking back, he didn’t think his intentions were deadly.
“I know this sounds cruel or whatever, but people trying to kill people shoot [for] their head,” he continued. “When you shoot people in their leg, that’s not trying to kill them, that’s slowing them down so you can do what you want to do.”
For the man on the other side of the gun, PC James Seymour, the overriding memory is the feeling of helplessness.
Everything became slow motion the moment he saw the weapon in Leroy’s hand.
“As I looked across, I [saw my colleague] Simon struggling with Leroy rolling around [and] Simon nearly had the better of him,” he told MyLondon.
“Then Leroy pulled out a handgun out, he hit Simon in the leg with it, then the gun went off again, breaking his thigh bone, he told me to ‘disappear’.
“The third shot he fired hit me near the back, went across the top of my kidney and ripped out my side.”
Bleeding and in pain he ducked behind a nearby van, desperately hoping the backup they’d radioed for would arrive.
Unable to see the scene, when he heard the final gunshot he thought his colleague had been murdered.
“You don’t want to believe it’s happening,” he explained. “It’s like a nightmare [and] the alarm’s going to go off, you’ll wake up.
“[..] The sense of helplessness, I can’t tell you what that feeling is like. Physical pain, you can get over or you get through, [but] the mental side [is something else].
“I saw Simon get shot, knew it was my turn and there was nothing I could do.”
The shooting might still haunt James, but it did not mark the end of his relationship with Leroy.
Twenty years later the pair are good friends.
They now work together to influence younger generations of Londoners at risk of being involved in the violence which had such a devastating impact on both of their lives.
This is the story of the two men on either side of the gun and how they became friends.
How Leroy’s life changed
(Image: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon)
It was a relationship that changed Leroy’s life.
Having been released from prison for a second time his then partner provided the support and inspiration for him to change course.
He is convinced it couldn’t have happened while he was locked up.
“I [didn’t] have time to think like that in that arena, it’s a very dangerous place,” he said. “I was stabbing people [and] I got stabbed a couple of times. High-security prison is very violent, everybody’s still on ‘gangster mode’.
“When I came out the second time, my ex-partner really got my mind opened and thinking, it’s because of her that I made it. She was challenging me about some things and making me look at [others] differently.”
He remembered one way his former partner illustrated how a simple social interaction often revealed someone was on the wrong path.
“She said ‘if I bring you somewhere? What are you going to say when people ask you what you do?’” Leroy continued. “And it’s true. When you go somewhere, [it’s] the first thing people ask.
“It’s a simple thing [but it’s revealing], years later, now I’m an author, actor and mentor, I’ve seen shady people get real wobbly when people ask them what they do.”
He decided writing a book could be a start, to tell his story in full and hopefully offer a lesson to young people caught in similar circumstances.
“I thought that maybe that could be the start of something,” he explained.
His then partner agreed, she supported him financially for the year it took to write the book and helped him with parts of the text.
It told the story of Leroy’s life and how it got to the point where he felt shooting two policemen was the only option.
The story before the shooting
Growing up in Brixton in the 1980s Leroy was dealt a seriously tough hand as a toddler.
“My mum was murdered when I was two [and] growing up in South London with my nan I was always going to turn to crime, what else are you going to do?” Leroy said.
“You start smoking weed when you’re like 13 and crime is everywhere. You start supporting [that habit] and everyday living with petty crime and that escalates.”
For Leroy that meant rising to the top of the cocaine trade and carrying out armed robberies. They were lucrative activities and his earnings were six figures.
He explained: “Back then a kilo of coke in Jamaica was like £3,000 and in England it was worth £1,300 an ounce. [The profits were like] telephone numbers.”
The cash enabled him to live a lavish lifestyle.
“The method was to always have £10,000 in your pocket to buy anything you want when you want,” he continued. “I was living with four girls in my condo [which I owned], I had a car, [lots of] jewellery [and guns]. All the stuff people dream about having, but never actually get, I really had.
“There were some good times, but they were never worth it.”
Leroy might have been living it up, but the wreckage he was leaving behind him would eventually catch up with him.
When he encountered the policemen in 1993 he was on the run from jail having escaped while being transferred from Leicester to Brixton Prison under arrest for gun charges.
After the shooting, Leroy used fake documents to travel to Holland and then New York.
As he was travelling across the Atlantic his prints were being pulled from the weapon in Brixton. Not only that, his accomplice had been captured and was giving evidence against him.
Already a wanted fugitive at the time of the attack, the desire to see him behind by the British authorities couldn’t be higher.
But Leroy would push his luck even further before he was apprehended.
Once in New York he became involved with Jamaican drug dealers and got embroiled in a conflict between rival suppliers.
“I was just living like there was no end to nothing and that was crazy,” he added.
His involvement in the New York drug scene eventually brought the FBI to his door, they raided his place and, when they realised who he was, Leroy was on a flight back to the UK.
While he was living recklessly, the South Londoner never saw his luck running out.
Warnings from his father that criminals come unstuck eventually and he should seek legitimate employment, fell on deaf ears.
“I thought he didn’t know what he was talking about,” Leroy explained. “I was walking in with a Sainsbury’s bag with like £70,000 I’ve just got from a Post Office and [he] wanted to tell me to sign-on to get the rent money.”
Now, however, he thinks about it totally differently.
“When you live that life, all that stuff, no matter what it looks like, in the end, it will all get destroyed and vanish from you,” he added.
“You’re not going to end up with it.”
It’s a message he tries to pass on tp the young people he talks to and mentors.
“When I go to schools, I tell my story and then I say if you want to make money, go on Amazon, find some business, make an app, if you’ve got two languages, be a translator. Use your brain to make money,” he said.
“Because otherwise you’re going to lose. That’s what I tell them. You’re going to be at the bus stop eventually begging for £1, if you don’t just die or go to prison for your life. Nothing’s going to end nice. If you work in McDonald’s you’re likely to be better off.”
An overtime stop leads to shots
When James spotted Leroy and his accomplice quickly exit a pub known for drug activity they saw an opportunity.
“I had a young family at the time and I liked to do a bit of overtime,” James said. “One of the easiest things you could do was to get a simple drugs arrest by a pub called the Atlantic on the corner of Coldharbour Lane [in Brixton].
“If you saw somebody go in one door and out the other within a minute you knew they’d bought drugs.
“You’d chat to them as well, [but] you had more than enough evidence to turn them over.
“You could get a couple of hours [overtime for] a bit of puff or sometimes you get more than that, some [crack] rocks or something.”
In addition to Leroy going in and out of the doors of the Atlantic within a minute, he and his friend had jumped a red light on their motorbike, a vehicle the officers then discovered was unregistered.
James felt it was more than enough to warrant a search, so they waited until they were about to get back on the bike and stopped them.
The next thing he knew a bullet had ripped through his body.
While the pace of Leroy’s life continued at breakneck speed from the moment he pulled the trigger, James’s came to a shuddering stop.
He was in hospital for four days after the shooting and then had to keep returning for a good while after as the wound healed.
When he returned to work things were different.
People stopped him in the street to wish him well and, most memorably for James, on one occasion a young Black boy handed him a can of ginger beer as a sign of respect. The former policeman felt it was a significant gesture in an area where relations between the Black community and the Met have often been frayed.
Post-shooting James realised he was different too.
“It did change me when I went back to work, I was much more aware,” he said.
That awareness could well have saved his life several years later when he and a colleague spotted suspicious activity around a hire-car vehicle.
His partner wanted to stop the vehicle, but James saw that they were outnumbered and told him no.
“You’ve lost your bottle,” the colleague told him.
Half an hour later it came through on the radio, one of the group in the vehicle had been spotted with a handgun.
Reaching out to Leroy
Being shot might have altered James’s sense of danger, but it didn’t mean he was suddenly going to seek out Leroy and become his friend.
After all, the next encounter with the man who’d shot him was in court. There an unrepentant Leroy had taunted him, pointing an imaginary gun across the room and pretending to shoot.
It was a moment that lingered with James, but which he ultimately came to understand.
“I felt degraded [and] upset at the time. For many years there was a lot of bitterness there. Not hatred, but bitterness,” he said.
“I never hated [Leroy], I certainly didn’t like him. But I didn’t hate him because it wasn’t personal. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Besides, the resentment James felt about the whole affair was not confined to Leroy, he was also disappointed by the way leaders at that time had handled things.
As well as feeling the 1990s senior management showed a lack of understanding after the event, he was really hurt when he saw a colleague using the shooting as a means for getting promoted.
“They’d used our incident [in the application] saying how they got us out back on the streets and all this. It was total bulls**t […] the person wasn’t particularly helpful,” James explained.
He did keep tabs on Leroy over the years through a victim’s support officer and this was how James found out about his book.
“I decided, what have I got to lose? And I just read it,” James explained.
The process was powerful. It enabled him to put himself in Leroy’s shoes.
“I found out about his life, his mum getting murdered, where he was brought up [and] the temptation of dealing drugs,” he continued.
“And I don’t care what anyone says, a lot of Black people have been discriminated against because of their colour and it still goes on.
“I thought, for people to go and get educated, get a real decent job and earn the same sort of money it takes years and you’re facing prejudice as well.
“[So] I can see why young kids get involved in crime and I understood that with Leroy.
“That was the challenge for me understanding what happened.”
With that James decided to take the next step and actually meet him.
(Image: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon)
Leroy chose a train station for him and James to meet, as he feared the whole thing might be a ruse to get revenge.
“I was very scared,” Leroy revealed. “I picked the train station because it’s quite public and busy, so it’s hard for anyone to do anything to me there.”
The feelings of trepidation were shared by James although he was not concerned for his safety.
“I was nervous,” James explained. “[I thought] was I doing the right thing? Did he genuinely want to redeem himself? And was he genuine?”
But from the moment they met both were assured of the other’s intentions, James said he could tell straight away that Leroy regretted what he did.
He apologised to him face-to-face and from that point on their relationship has just got stronger.
The pair have produced an updated version of Leroy’s book Out Of The Box together and take their story of redemption to at-risk kids.
They now describe themselves as friends, which is remarkable considering how they met.
Not that everyone is happy to see them build a positive relationship.
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“I’ve had a hard time doing all this to be honest,” James added.
“From colleagues, ex-colleagues [and] family, I’ve felt really alone sometimes.”
He also gets contacted by people who tell him he’s a criminal “a** licker” and a “disgrace to the police”.
That, he said, was outweighed by the positive responses he also gets from colleagues and the public.
But there’s been something even more rewarding than that.
“I know me meeting him has made a difference to several lives,” James said. “That’s all that matters.”
Have you got an extraordinary story of forgiveness? Contact [email protected]