How many days does it take you to return to work after finding yourself at the epicentre of a terror attack?
That is all policeman and Palace fan Leon McLeod took from work before returning, despite being out on the frontline when the London Borough Market terror attacks hit in the June of 2017.
Recalling the events of that night, it is quite clear from talking to Leon that it still doesn’t feel real: “It was just a normal night shift and my colleague, Wayne (Marques) and myself were chatting about the Champions League final, what we were going to have for dinner…the usual chat, when we heard a noise 100 yards away where Borough Market is…someone came up to us and said somebody had been stabbed, but even then we didn’t realise the scale of what was going on.
“At no point was I particularly thinking ‘I have to do this, I have to do that’ – it was honestly all just autopilot; I just knew I had to do something.”
Leon’s colleague, Wayne, was brutally stabbed in the head that night. Thankfully, Leon was able to help people and come away from the scene unharmed physically, but the emotional scars still linger on.
“There was no pressure from work to return,” Leon explained, “I just felt like I needed to not hide away from this feeling and get back to normal and part of it was testing myself to see if I still felt comfortable in that environment.
“My mentality has always been that you have always to get back up and get on with life – in hindsight, though, I did that too quickly.
“I reached out to a couple of organisations, and I was aware of PTSD999 - a service that offers emotional support to officers who need a way to ‘come out of the other side’ from the traumas and experiences they’ve witnessed. But even then I didn’t get massively involved with them, not until therapy sessions made me realise how much I needed it.
“I have to admit that it was always on offer to me but I didn’t take it up because I didn’t know there was something wrong. When I did realise, I still didn’t attribute it to mental health and my wellbeing.”
Leon has come a long way in almost two years. It is a testament to himself, his network of family, friends and work colleagues that he is now able to talk so openly about the events of that night, not only for his own rehabilitation but for others out there who have been through similar experiences.
Growing up, lots of kids dream of becoming a policeman and it has a lot to do with the uniform – the closest they can get to being a real life superhero. And interestingly, the feeling of invincibility by pulling on those iconic blues doesn’t subside as you get older and realise those dreams:
“I wore my uniform when I went to see Wayne in hospital and I suppose, again, that was me testing myself to see if it felt right.
“Initially it didn’t: you put this uniform on and it does make you feel safer and more confident. However, the first few times I put it on, it had lost this feeling and took several outings to get that feeling back.”
PC Leon McLeod gave lifesaving first aid to his colleague, PC Wayne Marques, and many others, during the London Bridge attack.— British Transport Police (@BTP) December 4, 2017
He is commended for his bravery that night. pic.twitter.com/1QBTc99BCW
Wayne has now also returned to work since the horrendous injuries suffered and Leon is well on the path to dealing with what happened to him and his colleagues on that horrific night in London, and it is things like his love for Crystal Palace that have helped his journey:
“It becomes more important to do things like go to Crystal Palace games. There are times when you just don’t want to get out of bed but it is massively important to drag yourself away.
“It was more surreal going out at Selhurst at half time than meeting the Queen when I was awarded the Gallantry medal at Buckingham Palace! It is my club and for them to have backed me; I appreciate it so much and it has made me love my little club even more.”
Leon does acknowledge that his road to recovery from the events at Borough Market isn’t complete, in spite of his progress so far: “I still have my down days. However, after being awarded the Gallantry medal I realised I was now
in a situation to truly make a difference and raise money for mental health awareness, which is why I’m running the London Marathon this year to raise money for PTSD999.
“I am aware my £10,000 target is an aspirational goal – but if I can help just one person, I will be happy.”
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This feature first appeared in the official Palace programme, which you can buy around Selhurst Park at every home matchday for £3.50. Alternatively, grab a digital copy below.