Lee Lawrence, a son of Dorothy “Cherry” Groce, whose shooting by police sparked the 1985 Brixton riots, yesterday gave evidence at her inquest.
He told Southwark coroner’s court of the moment armed officers burst into the family home in Normandy Road as he and his sister, Sharon, 14, slept alongside their parents. The raid took place around 7am on Saturday September 28, 1985. He was 11 at the time.
His mother, born on March 13, 1948, in Jamaica, died in King’s College hospital on April 24, 2011, from an infection reportedly linked to being paralysed as a result of being shot in the chest.
Mr Lawrence said: “I first became aware of what was happening when I heard a loud bang, a noise, and I woke up. I was still quite sleepy at the time and I saw my mum going towards the bedroom door. She was going to see what the noise was about. At the time I was reassured she was dealing with whatever it was about. I lay back down and closed my eyes.
“Then I heard another bang, which is when I jumped up. I saw a police officer holding a gun… My mum laying on the floor, he was pointing the gun towards her neck. He was shouting out ‘Where is Michael Groce? Where is Michael Groce?‘”
[Michael Groce, his half-brother, was being sought by police after threatening four Met officers with a sawn-off shotgun two days earlier. He had been suspected by Hertfordshire police of an armed robbery in Royston on September 10, 1985.]
Mr Lawrence continued: “I was screaming and shouting at the time: ‘What have you done to my mum? What have you done to my mum?’ I just heard her saying she couldn’t feel her legs. She couldn’t breathe. She is saying… she is going to die.
“At this time, I was screaming hysterically and still shouting at this officer: ‘What have you done to my mum?’ The officer turned round and pointed the gun towards me and told me to shut up. At that point he was trying to calm me down and usher me out of the room.
“I was then ushered from the bedroom into the living room, which is a through-lounge. We were all there with my other siblings, who were all crying, and confused and shocked and traumatised. The fact we had just witnessed such an horrific event, in terms of my mum being shot.
“I remember being extremely worried and I tried to get back into the room. I eventually fought my way back into the bedroom. I looked over at my mum. She was lying on the floor. I saw blood coming from the side of her. At that time, I turned to the officer who is attending to her and I said: ‘Why is my mum bleeding?’ He said she has just had a graze, it’s nothing to worry about.
“I got pulled out of the bedroom again. We were all in the living room area, worrying, distressed, confused. The last I saw of my mum was when they put her in an ambulance.
‘My half-brother Michael, he was a visitor to the Normandy Road address but he didn’t live there. He was about 22. I didn’t see him very often at all. I viewed him more as a novelty brother. I saw him occasionally and would get excited.
“The family’s concerns are that we were never part of the criminal trial. The family have never had the opportunity to be involved or ask any questions around the circumstances which led my mother being shot and paralysed and suffered for 26 years and ultimately died in 2011.
“For us as a family, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. We want to get down to the truth about the circumstances, about her being shot.”
Mr Lawrence was asked if his mother ever spoke about the shooting.
He said: “She knows there was a wrongdoing. She felt she had no choice to accept what had happened to her because there was no way of fighting. She just came to the conclusion that these beings can happen. Her main focus was around raising her children, being a mother, looking after us and surviving.
“This incident had a devastating impact on my mum and my family. This was life-changing for us. We have always felt a sense of injustice. We have had to wait 29 years to finally get questions answered around what happened to my mum and the devastating effects it had on her.
“I just hope this inquest will be an open and transparent one, and that we will finally get down to the truth around the circumstances which led up to the life-changing experience.
“My mother was a loving, strong, determined, independent woman and she was mine and my family’s biggest inspiration. She was the reason why we are here and are here and are able to talk.”
Under questioning from the Groce family’s counsel, Dexter Dias, Mr Lawrence added: “She ended up being paralysed from her chest down and confined to a wheelchair.
“Mum spent the best part of nine months in hospital. The family got split up. We were left quite vulnerable and exposed. Then she came back home nine months later and just had to pick up the pieces and just work it out somehow.
“It had a huge impact on me. I had just started secondary school. I was in my second week of secondary school when the incident happened. It was a very sensitive time for me. When I went back to school, the children were ruthless. They would make fun of the situation. My school life suffered. I spent a lot of time at the hospital. I didn’t really have a social life. The responsibility of caring for someone and confined to a wheelchair was huge.”
Asked whether the police shooter, Inspector Douglas Lovelock, attempted to help Mrs Groce after the shooting, Mr Lawrence told the inquest: “No. Another officer came in to assist my mum. The officer who had the gun at no point showed any compassion in terms of what had just happened.”
The inquest is expected to last eight days.