WHEN actor John Boyega punches his police locker daubed with the N-word in a new BBC drama, all the horrors of the past come flooding back for Leroy Logan.
The 63-year-old retired police officer was one of the first poster boys for diversity in British policing and he faced racism and resistance throughout his career.
He joined the Met Police in London in a bid to change it from within after his dad was beaten “black and blue” by two coppers.
Rising to the position of superintendent, he played a key role in investigating the killing of Damilola Taylor, policed the 2012 Olympic Games, fought knife crime and helped found the National Black Police Association (BPA).
On hearing of Leroy’s remarkable story, Oscar-winning director Sir Steve McQueen made a film about him called Red, White And Blue as part of a BBC series titled Small Axe, which started on Sunday.
In Red, White And Blue — being screened on November 29 — Star Wars actor Boyega gives what has been described as his best performance yet as the unbowed Leroy.
But Sir Steve’s drama ends before Leroy’s most crucial work begins — helping to bring the killers of ten-year-old Damilola to justice.
That case, which shocked the nation 20 years ago this month, was deeply personal for Leroy. He knew Damilola’s dad Richard, because he is the cousin of Leroy’s wife Gretl.
He told The Sun: “It meant more to me, there was a family connection. It had a massive impact on my wife. But I didn’t want it to get in the way of the investigation.”
The senseless end of primary school pupil Damilola’s life on a concrete stairwell in November 2000 shocked the nation. CCTV footage showed him hopping and skipping 15 minutes before a pack of young boys descended on him in a council estate in Peckham, south London.
WIN BACK TRUST
Damilola, who had only arrived in the country a few months earlier from Nigeria, bled to death after being stabbed in the leg.
At that time, the failure to bring the killers of black student Stephen Lawrence to justice had left a stain on the reputation of British policing, and the authorities knew they could not fail again.
But they could not break down a wall of silence among the community, which was fearful of Damilola’s killers, Danny and Ricky Preddie, even though they were only aged 12 and 13 at the time of the attack.
Leroy reveals he was drafted in to form a racially diverse investigations team to win back trust among the predominantly black neighbourhood.
The lead officer in the case told him: “We’ve got a wall of silence here — my officers are not getting into the house, we need people to tell us what happened. Can you help us?”
As a last-minute addition to the ongoing investigative Gold Group, Leroy’s efforts bore immediate fruit.
His officers would call out in Yoruba, a West African language, through the letterbox of a local resident and be invited in, while white officers could not get someone to answer the door.
Leroy recalls: “I chose those officers and they were deployed with the grudging acceptance of the local team and within hours they were not only getting in, they were getting info about who did what, where and when.”
Although the initial trial of the Preddie brothers failed, they were convicted in August 2006 of manslaughter and jailed for eight years each.
The methods ushered in by Leroy were adopted in future investigations as other senior officers realised the value of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) officers.
He says: “Officers that looked like them and talked like them were actually able to communicate with them in a way where white officers didn’t even get a look in — it’s not rocket science.”
Leroy launched the BPA charitable trust, which led to an initiative called Voyage Youth in 1998 to build bridges between the police and young black people.
The ex-officer knew from bitter experience how divided these two groups had been. Even when Leroy was a schoolboy dressed in his uniform and carrying his trumpet case, he was stopped by the police.
Consequently, he had not considered joining the force until a friend suggested it would be a more exciting career than the one of a research scientist that he had initially opted for.
At the same time that Leroy was putting in his application, his lorry driver father Oswald was viciously beaten by two policemen when he objected to a fine he received over how he had parked his vehicle.
When he went to visit his father in hospital, Leroy remembers: “I walked past my dad not recognising him as his face was contorted and swollen. He was literally black and blue.”
Even though witnesses said Oswald had done nothing wrong, the police charged him with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. The case was eventually dropped.
Perhaps, understandably, Leroy’s dad was furious with him when he discovered that he had applied to join the police in 1983.
His pal Leee John, lead singer with Eighties soul act Imagination, could not understand his decision either and when Leroy went on the beat he was taunted by black people.
He says: “In signing up for the Metropolitan Police, I would be joining an organisation I had no love for. I’d seen the way police officers treated people who looked like me, and it was sickening.
“And yet I sensed that there was a purpose for me in the Met.”
That purpose was to end the “them and us” attitude. Not only did Leroy’s community not want him to be an officer, many policemen did not want him in the force either.
Shockingly, and as seen in the TV drama, the N-word was enscibed on Leroy’s police locker and he was turned down for promotion despite being commended for his performance.
He says: “It’s lonely and that’s what John Boyega gets across. Obviously, I had the support of Gretl. When you have that sort of calling you must keep going.”
'CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES'
Watching Boyega grow more and more frustrated at his bigoted colleagues in the show was a reminder of what his career had been like.
Leroy admits: “Yeah, I was that angry. But I had controlled anger. I had to make sure it didn’t derail me from what I had to do. You had to choose your battles wisely. In those days it was just accepted. The leadership never took ownership of it being intolerable.”
Senior officers were more than happy, though, to capitalise by presenting him as the face of a diverse force. He was chosen to show Princess Diana around the new Edmonton Police Station in 1989 and his image was used in recruitment drives.
What changed attitudes was the public inquiry ordered into the way the police had mishandled the investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s murder in 1993.
Leroy was one of three BPA officers who gave evidence of racism with the force, which led to Sir William Macpherson concluding in 1999 that the Met was “institutionally racist”.
Leroy thinks that, over the next decade, real progress was made within the ranks, but prejudice still persisted.
Leroy, who was awarded an MBE in 2000, says: “You still have a disproportionate number of BAME officers leaving after two years.
“They are also five times more likely to be disciplined than their white counterparts.”
After more than three decades in the police, Leroy retired in 2013 but still campaigns for better community relations.
He says: “Having got through it, with my faculties intact, my desire to make changes joining the force made sense.
“If it doesn’t break you, it makes you. It made me a stronger person.”
- Leroy’s autobiography Closing Ranks is available to buy now, priced £14.99.
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