‘Shoddy and inadequate’ police search led to Ratana’s death

The partner of Sergeant Matt Ratana, the officer who was shot dead by a prisoner carrying a gun inside Croydon Custody Centre in September 2020, said he had been let down by the “shoddy and inadequate” performance of his Metropolitan Police colleagues.

Much admired: Sgt Matt Ratana was weeks away from retirement when he was killed

Su Bushby was speaking outside Croydon Town Hall yesterday, after the conclusion of the inquest into Ratana’s death which found he was unlawfully killed and that there were failures in the searching and observations of the murderer, Louis De Zoysa.

The inquest, which had been held over three weeks, had heard evidence that arresting officers had failed to find De Zoysa’s antique pistol when they searched him even after they had found homemade bullets in the suspect’s pockets when arrested in Norbury on the fateful night.

“If people had done their job properly, Matt would still be alive today,” Bushby said.

Ratana, 54, had served in the Met for 30 years and was just months short of his retirement when he suffered fatal gun shots to his chest when taking De Zoysa into custody at the Windmill Road station.

De Zoysa was found guilty and sentenced to a whole life term of imprisonment at his criminal trial earlier this year.

Under arrest: no one noticed Louis De Zoysa moving his undiscovered pistol from its holster to his hands when being transported to Windmill Road

“Matt Ratana’s murder was a stark and terrible reminder of the risks and challenges police officers and staff undertake every time they turn up for work,” Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy told reporters as he stood outside the Town Hall.

“Like others, when I heard Matt had been fatally shot I was utterly shocked. The accounts of the officers who gave evidence highlighted the dangers and the challenges police officers face.

“The arresting officers recognised that their search and observations of De Zoysa could have been more systematic and should have found the firearm.

“Later at the police station these same officers showed great courage in disarming De Zoysa whilst he continued to fire the gun. I admire their bravery and that of everyone who was in the Custody Centre that night.”

The events surrounding the murder were investigated by both the Independent Office for Police Conduct and the Health and Safety Executive.

The IOPC investigation found no indication that any of the officers – including the two arresting constables – “behaved in a manner that would justify the bringing of disciplinary proceedings, or that they had committed a criminal offence”, according to a Scotland Yard statement.

The IOPC did recommend the implementation of handheld metal detectors in all police response vehicles and vehicles used to transport detained persons. More than 4,300 detectors have since been deployed, including by frontline officers in vehicles and on foot and cycle patrols.

And custody sergeants, those performing the tasks that Ratana was carrying out on the night he was killed, now must wear vests when meeting detainees in a holding or search area.

Yesterday, in recording her inquest verdict at Croydon Town Hall, senior coroner Sarah Ormond-Walshe said there was a “failure to carry out a safe, thorough and systematic search”.

During the inquest, the court had heard that probationer PC Richard Davey carried out a search while his more experienced colleague, PC Samantha Still, assisted.

PC Davey admitted he “abandoned his training” and should have discovered the weapon during the arrest.

Devastated: Su Bushby outside the inquest at Croydon Town Hall yesterday

In the custody van, De Zoysa was seen in footage wriggling and jerking, which according to expert evidence was him repositioning the firearm from an underarm holster to his hands.

Bushby said: “The shoddy and inadequate search undertaken by the police officers was a neglect of their duty and left Matt vulnerable to murder.

“The number of failures, the gravity of them and the impact of both the search failures and failures in the transportation of De Zoysa to the police station that have come out during the evidence in this inquest has left me devastated.

“It is my view that Matt has been let down by the Metropolitan Police.

“Matt gave so much to the Metropolitan Police and its failures to protect him on that night are now clear for all to see.

“The search should have been thorough, safe and systematic for it to be effective – it was none of those things.

“If it was an effective search, the gun would have been found on De Zoysa and Matt would be alive now.”

Bushby continued: “Not once, during the past three years, has anyone from the Metropolitan Police informed me that there was any issue with the search on that night.

“I have not been informed by anyone during this time that the actions of the Metropolitan Police may have contributed towards Matt’s death.

“If the Metropolitan Police had been more open and transparent with me about their failings, it would have gone a long way to making the last few weeks of this inquest easier.”

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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