Born to addict parents, surrounded by heroin and crack cocaine, Leon Reid says all he ever wanted was to escape drugs.
Instead, the sprinter ended up feeling deceived and betrayed by a friend, leading to a conviction for allowing his home to be used to produce crack cocaine.
It was the unravelling of an athletics career that saw him compete at the Olympics for Ireland.
The 28-year-old sees himself as a victim of naivety and breach of trust. And it’s a story he hopes others – particularly in sport – can learn from to avoid making the same mistakes.
“I put my trust in someone and an old training partner, an old friend,” Reid tells Sky News in his first TV interview on the case. “I feel like I’ve got really taken advantage of, especially when I was at the height of my career.”
After moving between 14 foster homes, Reid found stability and speed on the athletics track.
Running put his life on a new track after a disrupted childhood, with the encouragement of foster parents and a coach. It gave him an unexpected career.
Running for Northern Ireland, his major event debut came in 2018. Bronze in the 200m was taken home from the Commonwealth Games in Australia.
By 2020 he was preparing for the Olympics, delayed by the pandemic, and changed his routine.
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Friend ‘used his flat’ to produce crack cocaine
The first lockdown prevented him from continuing training in South Africa. So he was back in England, returning to a flat in Bristol that he was subletting to a friend.
Reid maintains while he was out training, Romaine Hyman was using the flat to produce crack cocaine.
The first he knew about it was when the police arrived, he insists.
In May 2020, he was arrested as part of an operation led by the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit, taking down an encrypted communications service.
“It’s obviously really upsetting,” Reid says by the beach in Worthing. “It’s been everything I’ve tried to get away from my whole life (drugs) and getting put back into that sort of that circle, it was just nothing that I had ever dreamed that I’d ever be involved in, ever.”
Ordered to carry out community sentence
While awaiting trial, he was still able to go to the Olympics – after appealing against an Irish deselection decision – and made the 200m semi-finals in Tokyo in 2021.
Then came his trial last year and a conviction for allowing his flat to be used for the production of cocaine and receiving payment, which text messages showed to be £500.
Reid was ordered to carry out community service. Hyman was jailed for 26 years after being found guilty of 18 offences in the crackdown on his attempt to build a drugs empire.
“I was there training for the Olympics. I was at the peak of my career,” Reid recalled. “I wasn’t really focused on my friend. He was doing his work-out in the apartment, which obviously he said it was forex trading and things like that, which I’ve got no interest in.”
How could Reid not notice the apartment was being used to produce cocaine?
“He was making sure that I was out of the apartment,” he responded. “I was on a WADA drug list, so even if I touched a door handle that did have traces of drugs on, I would get a positive drug test and I would fail that, and I would lose my career. So I was in no position to risk that on any scale.”
‘It destroyed my career and also my reputation’
Reid maintains he was “too nonchalant about the whole situation” while doing a favour for a friend, insisting: “I didn’t need the money.”
He had gained status, sponsors and success. But they abandoned him after the conviction.
A return to the Commonwealth Games was also blocked last year when he was deemed a security risk by Birmingham organisers.
“It destroyed my career,” he says. “And also my reputation.”
Earnings were lost, debt grew. With his first child born a month ago, Reid realised a career harmed by a criminal conviction had to end.
But throughout our hour together, he does not seem angry. Not even over the betrayal.
“Controlling emotions is obviously super important in sport, and you obviously have to take that into life,” Reid says. “I can’t get angry over every little thing.
“And for the past two years I’ve been sort of like living this nightmare. So for me to be able to clear the air and actually get some fresh start, then that’s more important than me getting angry about someone … in prison.”
Instead, he hopes to use his misfortune to help those still in professional sport. A mentoring business is being formed, so he can leave his temporary telesales job.
“I fought my demons of the past two years,” Reid says. “I’ve had the no sleep nights and the cry myself to sleep. But now I’m looking forward to the future.”