Ex-gangster becomes friends with police officer after serving 25 years behind bars for shooting him in the back
A one-time gangster has formed an unlikely friendship with a police officer – nearly 30 years after shooting him in the back.
Leroy Smith, then a drug dealer, shot two constables when they asked to search him near The Atlantic pub in Brixton, south London, in March 1994.
Mr Smith fired three shots; one hit James Seymour’s back and another struck his colleague, Simon Carroll, in the leg.
The shooting might still haunt Mr Seymour, but it did not mark the end of his relationship with Mr Smith – almost 30 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.
Mr Smith said of his 25-year sentence for the crime: ‘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.’
Fromer policemen James Seymour and his attacker Leroy Smith are now best friends
PC Seymore was in action outside the Atlantic pub in Brixton, south London, in March 1994
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.
His ex-partner agreed, she supported him financially for the year it took to write the book and helped him with parts of the text.
Mr Smith said: ‘I thought that maybe that could be the start of something.
It told the story of Mr Smith’s life and how it got to the point where he felt shooting two policemen was the only option.
The book was what led to the unlikely friendship between the two men starting up.
Mr Seymour said: ‘I decided, what have I got to lose? And I just read it.
‘I found out about his life, his mum getting murdered, where he was brought up [and] the temptation of dealing drugs.
‘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.
The pair have now worked on a book which has helped steer young people from crime
‘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.
‘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 Mr Seymour decided to take the next step and actually meet him.
Mr Smith chose a train station for the pair to meet, as he feared the whole thing might be a ruse to get revenge.
He said: ‘I was very scared. 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 Mr Seymour, although he was not concerned for his safety.
Mr Seymour said: ‘I was nervous. [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, Mr Seymour said he could tell straight away that Mr Smith 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 Mr Smith’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.
But not everyone is happy to see them build a positive relationship. Mr Seymour said: ‘I’ve had a hard time doing all this to be honest.
‘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’.
He said any criticism was outweighed by the positive responses he also gets from colleagues and the public.
Mr Seymour added: ‘I know me meeting him has made a difference to several lives. That’s all that matters.’