EXCLUSIVE: Former county lines dealer turned back on crime after seeing friend stab another to death
A FORMER county lines drug dealer, who turned his life around through contact with horses, has described the moment he tried to stop a friend stabbing another to death in front of him in broad daylight.
The killing of Exauce Ngimbi was the final sign Vernel Dolor (pictured above) needed he was right to turn his back on years of drug dealing.
Three months earlier friends on the Pembury Estate in Hackney, north-east London, had tried to get him involved in a new deal for a £6,000 cut.
But, by then he had already made contact with charity Key4Life, which tries to reduce re-offending, often by bringing gang members into contact with and riding horses.
Vernel, 27, was jailed for drug supply in 2015 and after his last release from Peterborough Prison, he bumped into a former inmate, who told him about the charity and how it helped him.
The charity gets tough criminals to learn about themselves through equine therapy by experiencing close contact with horses before providing other life support.
Vernel (pictured above on and grooming a horse) said: "I had never been around a horse before or ridden one. It grounded me and made me understand what was in my head."
Until then, Vernel had spent years "on road" - urban slang for street drug dealing - from the age of 13.
He was first jailed, at 18 after being convicted of violent disorder for throwing bottles during the 2011 London riots, sparked by the death of Mark Duggan (pictured below).
Vernel said over the years he witnessed murder, violence and kidnappings as rival gangs fought, and described seeing an attempted murder, aged just 16 in December 2008, as he stepped outside his door.
He said: "I saw someone get out of a car and point a gun and shoot someone. I knew him, Raphael, I never slept for two nights.
"He didn't die, but can't speak or can't walk and is still in rehabilitation. The place was taped off for two days, but I don't think they caught anyone."
Raphael Smith, now, 30, was left paralysed from the neck down after a bullet lodged in his spine. No one has been convicted over the attack.
The former dealer, who has a nine-year-old daughter, said: "I've seen people kidnapped and shot.
"One of my friends got snatched in front of me when a beef first kicked off.
"He was kept in a boot for two days with his mum going out of her head.
"They beat and stabbed him and burnt him with a fag."
The friends, who tried to lure him into a drug supply deal in September 2019, were shocked at his rejection, but he was already having contact with horses and other support from Key4Life.
And, events over the next few weeks convinced him he made the right choice.
He said on December 5 he was chatting to friend Mr Ngimbi, 22, (pictured above) when another friend, Kieron Brown, 28, began arguing with him.
Vernel said: "Exauce's Mrs was pregnant and he was really excited to be a first time dad. I was really happy for him.
"But, they started arguing intensely and pulled out knives, semi-swords, and were going at it to try to stab each other.
"I couldn't get between them because it was not a first fight, it was a knife fight.
"I was screaming at them, trying to stop them, but one grabbed the other and plunged the knife in his chest, then neck.
"I panicked and lunged for his wrist and tried to get the blade, but he pulled the blade from me and sliced the tendons in my fingers."
A month later the friends, who encouraged him to carry on dealing, got nine and a half year sentences for drug supply.
In November 2020 Harrow Crown Court heard that Brown (above) stabbed Mr Ngimbi eight times, puncturing his heart.
He was found guilty of manslaughter and possession of a bladed article and sentenced to 15 years in prison and three more on license.
Vernel said: "I lost two friends that day. One is in prison and the other died in front of me.
"His daughter was born last September and she will never get to know what a great guy he was.
"Most of the people from that life are either dead or in prison now."
Vernel (pictured above mentoring and boxing with Key4Life) started 2020 from a very different position and Key4Life had got him to learn about himself through its contact with horses and gave him the support of a mentor to look for work.
By January 2020 he secured a position as a runner at television production company Knickerbockerglory, which was making Channel 5 show GPs Behind closed Doors.
He said: "Most people said 2020 was a terrible time, but it’s been the best year of my life, because I changed things around."
The work with Knickerbockerglory ended due to the pandemic, but he is now a support worker himself for Key4Life, trying to steer others from crime.