A HERO police officer has revealed how he was driven to the brink of suicide after coming face-to-face with knife-wielding terrorists.
Leon McLeod was on patrol during the London Bridge attacks, when three jihadis wearing fake explosive vests drove into people before going on a stabbing rampage.
Leon McLeod Leon McLeod has opened up about his battle with post traumatic stress disorder after fighting off terrorists during the London Bridge terror attack
Leon McLeod The dad-of-one revealed that in the aftermath of the attack his marriage broke down after he started neglecting his wife and son Elijah, now aged three
Hearing the screams, the brave dad-of-one and his colleague PC Wayne Marques – armed only with their batons – ran towards the chaos, with little thought for their own safety.
Leon gave chase to the sick terrorists, before turning to help the victims by giving vital first aid and carrying the injured to safety.
He was unaware one of the attackers had brutally stabbed Wayne in the head, leg and hand, leaving him temporarily blind in one eye.
The atrocity on June 3, 2017, left eight people dead as well as the three terrorists who were shot dead by armed cops.
As the second anniversary of the attack approaches, Leon told The Sun Online while he escaped physical injury, the mental scars remain.
The 31-year-old, from Blackheath, south east London, has battled PTSD, the breakdown of his marriage and admitted he began to question whether life was worth living.
‘I was on auto-pilot’
Speaking to The Sun Online as part of our You’re Not Alone suicide prevention campaign, Leon said: “It started out like any other shift.
“We had left the office around 10pm to have a stroll and say hello to the underground staff.
“Then there was this noise and at first I didn’t think much of it. We stopped to look down the street and Wayne said, ‘I think there’s a fight’, so we started heading towards it.
“When someone came up to me and said someone’s been stabbed, it wasn’t this chaotic environment you’d imagine.
“But then a few more people came up to me to say this person has been stabbed and my guts were like, ‘this is something really serious’.
AFP – Getty Leon and his colleague Wayne were the first responders at the scene in June 2017
AFP – Getty They were on patrol at London Bridge when they heard the first screams
“When that many people are being attacked you start to think this isn’t just a fight.
“We didn’t know about the lorry on the bridge, we just knew people were getting stabbed, but the penny was starting to drop.”
Leon describes going into “auto-pilot” as he began sprinting towards the crowds of people running in the opposite direction.
“I don’t know if it’s because you’re wearing the uniform but you can’t run away, so I ran towards it.
“It’s insane and dangerous, but when you’re at work you have to do something. What would it look like to the public?”
Coping in the aftermath
After chasing the attackers, Leon helped rescue dozens of the wounded – many of whom had been enjoying a night out at Borough Market.
Fortunately the brave officer wasn’t physically injured, but the horrific events have left their mark as he continues to battle with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
His life soon began to spiral out of control. He started to go out drinking more and neglected his wife and their young son.
Leon McLeod PC Leon McLeod and PC Wayne Marques were both awarded medals for their heroic actions by the Queen
Leon McLeod Leon and Wayne with PC Charles Guenigault, who was awarded the George Medal, after running in to help while off duty
He said: “I didn’t want to be at home. I wasn’t neglecting my responsibilities there but throwing myself into work more than I should’ve been.”
In fact, Leon went back to work just a few days after the attack.
“There was no pressure to return, I just felt like that was what was best for me.”
He also went to visit Wayne in hospital on the way in.
Leon said: “It was very emotional. He was very sedated and probably doesn’t remember but I wanted to see him.
“We shared this horrific thing together and I just wanted to be able to go, ‘you’re still here’.”
‘I wasn’t okay’
Leon said that when he looks back on those moments now he realises something wasn’t right.
He said: “On the Tuesday after the attack some of the Royals wanted to meet the first responders in Lambeth.
“I felt like I couldn’t say no to it – I’d never met anyone from the Royal family.
“But it wasn’t good, I didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t awkward and there was nothing wrong with how they spoke, it just wasn’t a nice experience.
“It was just this weird thing of feeling upset. This is when I should’ve realised I wasn’t okay.”
I was having something to eat and I just felt like I wanted to cryPC Leon McLeod
He continued: “When I was back at work I was having something to eat and I just felt like I wanted to cry.
“That should’ve been a sign but I didn’t take it as that.
“There was no trigger, no flashback, just a feeling of ‘man I feel terrible’.
“But I didn’t think it was serious – I’d just been through a traumatic experience.”Dark thoughts
Three months later, Leon was offered the opportunity to move to a station nearer his home in Ashford, Kent.
He said: “I felt okay at London Bridge, but I thought it’d probably be a good thing to be nearer home.
“But I suddenly started suffering with anxiety and I was hardly eating. It made me feel sick so I had to try to force myself to eat.
“I also felt exhausted even though I was sleeping for eight or nine hours.
“It was like a cloud, or an aura, of feeling s**t and lousy. I had really dark thoughts.
“I thought I don’t want to be here, I don’t know if I want to do this. Yet, I still didn’t think anything was wrong with me.
Leon McLeod Leon with his son Elijah, who was one when the London Bridge terror attack happened
Leon McLeod Leon receiving the Queen’s Gallantry Medal from Her Majesty for giving chase to knife-wielding terrorists during the London Bridge attack
“My wife was telling me I needed help but I didn’t listen.
“It’s the only thing that chokes me up. She knows me better than anybody and could tell I wasn’t in a good place but I just didn’t agree at the time.
“I started doing stupid things and pushing her away. I wasn’t there for my son.
“But I had justified it to myself that my anxiety stemmed from not being happy at home and I didn’t want to be married anymore.
“It started to get worse and I started drinking more. I would go out with colleagues after work and sometimes I’d go on my own.”
‘I lost my wife and kid’
Leon said that things came to a head that Christmas when his son fell ill but he failed to return home.
His wife told him to pack his bags and he moved back in with his mum.
By February they had sold their house and the marriage was over.
My wife was telling me I needed help but I didn’t listenLeon McLeod
It wasn’t until June last year, at the first anniversary remembrance service, that Leon spoke to someone about getting help.
He said: “A governor who is in charge of welfare came up and asked me how I was and if there was anything I could do.
“That was when the wheels started getting into motion.”Getting help
He began seeing a new counsellor and having cognitive behavioural therapy.
It was only after listening to a podcast by a former police officer that he realised he was suffering with PTSD.
He said: “I was like f***, that’s what I feel like. It just blew me away.
“He made one comment about how we normalise death, especially on the railway where there’s an average of one suicide a day.
“You see some horrible things so it’s hardly surprising that someone starts having a hard time.”
Leon says he can now recognise the warning signs and wishes he could go back, and get help sooner.
YOU’RE NOT ALONE
It doesn’t discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It’s the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.
And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
Yet it’s rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun launched the You’re Not Alone campaign.
The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.
Let’s all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You’re Not Alone.
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
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He said: “If I could flip a switch I would.
“Maybe I could’ve still been living with my little boy and things would be different.”
Leon, who now works at Stockwell station, is running the London Marathon on Sunday for PTSD999, which offers support to emergency services workers.
If you or a loved one are affected by mental health problems, or suicidal thoughts, call the Samaritans helpline on 116 123