Race case verdict blow to Yard
Jury's rejection of Met claims that Asian student's death was an accident applauded by family

Race issues in the UK: special report

Vikram Dodd
Tuesday November 9, 1999
The Guardian

Scotland Yard's record on race relations was dealt another blow last night when an inquest jury rejected its conclusion that the death of Asian student Ricky Reel was an "accident".

The jury at Fulham town hall took 56 minutes to return an open verdict on Mr Reel, found dead in the river Thames in Kingston, south-west London, two years ago.

The Metropolitan police maintained that Mr Reel, 20, had drowned after going to the river bank to urinate following an evening out. But his parents have fought a two-year battle, saying his death followed a racist attack on him and three Asian friends he was with.

Mr Reel's mother, Sukhdev Reel, hailed yesterday's verdict as a vindication of the family's traumatic battle with the police.

She said far from her son's death being an accident, he had been "murdered". "It's victory for us. After two years I'm going to have a good night's rest tonight.

"We have campaigned tirelessly for two years to try and find out what happened. From the very outset the police have carried out the investigation with a closed mind. They never had an open mind."

Mrs Reel's solicitor, Louise Christian, attacked Scotland Yard for trying to get the jury to return a verdict of accidental death which would have vindicated their position of the last two years.

"The police came to this inquest determined to try and convince the jury that they should return a verdict of accidental death. The jury have rejected that and rejected its conclusions by delivering an open verdict."

The Reel family says that police failed to treat the death of the computer student at Brunel university in west London as suspicious from the very start of their investigation.

Mr Reel's body was dredged from the Thames in October 1997, a week after he was last seen. The inquest heard that former Detective Superintendent Charles Moffat, who headed the investigation, had told a journalist that there was no need for a criminal investigation because the death was an accident within minutes of Mr Reel's body being recovered and before a post mortem could be held.

Mr Reel, who had gone with three Asian friends for a night out, had been drinking. Police partly formed their conclusion that his death was an accident because the flies on his trousers were undone when police divers recovered his body from shallow water.

After the verdict, deputy assistant commissioner John Grieve, head of Scotland Yard's race and violent crimes task force, said: "This is the correct verdict. I have always had an open mind about this."

Mr Grieve appealed for any witnesses to come forward.

The Ricky Reel case represents yet another question mark about the Met's ability to properly deal with violent crime where the victim is black or Asian.

The force is still being rocked after evidence of a string of blunders in the case of Stephen Lawrence led to the Met being found "institutionally racist" by a public inquiry.

In the Reel case, the inquest heard that Mrs Reel had begged police officers to hunt for her missing son after he failed to return the previous night.

But she was told officers could do nothing for 24 hours. She said that when she rang the police she was shouted at and accused of wasting police time.

The inquest also heard evidence from Mrs Reel that police did not quickly realise the significance of the fact that Mr Reel had disappeared after he and his friends had been attacked by two white youths shouting racist abuse.

After the verdict, Ms Christian called for a Police Complaints Authority report, believed to heavily criticise the Met's investigation, to be made public.

Although the PCA report is still secret, parts of it were revealed in the House of Commons.

It showed that the potentially vital video tape from a CCTV camera had been lost by police.

The PCA also found that "the link between the racial attack earlier in the evening and Mr Reel going missing was not made soon enough".

Three officers were found guilty of neglect of duty for their role in the Reel investigation.

Det Sup Moffat retired in February 1999, ahead of a scheduled disciplinary hearing. He told the inquest he did this fearing the proceedings would be unfair.

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