'IT'S A victory for us.' Those were the first words of Sukhdev Reel on Monday after a west London inquest jury took just 50 minutes to return an 'open verdict' into the death of her son Ricky.
The verdict vindicates the Justice for Ricky Reel Campaign and the thousands of people, black and white, who have supported it. It is a condemnation of the Metropolitan Police, who argued that Ricky's death was 'a tragic accident' and pushed for the jury to return an 'accidental death' verdict. In effect the jury was saying they could not be sure how Ricky died because the police had not done a proper investigation. This still leaves the Reel family not knowing how Ricky died, but fearing that he was killed.
The police attitude shows nothing has changed since the release of the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. In the Reel case, as in the Lawrence case, the officers involved were reluctantly given just a slap on the wrist by their superiors. The main investigating officer retired earlier this year. The same institutional racism, criminalisation of the victims and closing of police ranks that marked the Met's behaviour in the Lawrence case have been exposed by the Reel family.
Ricky's body was pulled from the River Thames in Kingston two years ago. The last time he was seen alive, one week before, Ricky and three friends had been physically attacked by racists who called them 'Pakis'. The police never took the attack seriously. Even during the inquest police described it as 'a bit of a skirmish'.
In the crucial first 24 hours after Ricky failed to return home the police told the family there was nothing to be done. One officer said Ricky might have gone off with a 'girlfriend or boyfriend'. At one point Sukhdev was told to 'stop wasting police time'.
It was never clear, even after six days of the inquest, which officer was in charge of Ricky's case in the first days. The Reel family, not the police, tracked down all the witnesses. It was the family who found crucial CCTV evidence. It was the family who scoured Kingston in search of Ricky.
The police never even set up an incident room. No reconstruction, like that done following the killing of TV presenter Jill Dando, was carried out. Ricky's friends were not asked to put together an e-fit of their racist attackers. In a move that mirrored the way the Stephen Lawrence detectives targeted Stephen's friend Duwayne Brooks, initial police suspicions fell on Ricky's friends. Detective Superintendent Charles Moffat (retired) told the inquest that he had his best detectives quiz the young men to 'see, quite frankly, whether they could be shaken from [their story]'. He told the inquest jury that no reconstruction was carried out because they were 'considering' that 'maybe the boys were engaged in a prank with Ricky in the river'.
As soon as Ricky's body was pulled from the Thames DS Moffat effectively closed the case. A reporter said Moffat told him at the river bank that Ricky had fallen in whilst urinating, his death was not suspicious and there would be no criminal investigation.
Moffat said there were 'bundles of evidence' that Ricky had accidentally fallen into the river. The jury rejected this after hearing from a series of Home Office pathologists. One, Dr Ian West, said that there was bruising of Ricky's back that 'didn't exclude a fight where a blow or a couple of blows had been landed'.
The police would have succeeded in sweeping Ricky's death under the carpet if the Reel family had not campaigned. Sukhdev Reel told Socialist Worker, 'I feel vindicated. But I also feel angry that we had to struggle for two years. I've travelled up and down the country speaking at meetings. Now I've proved to everyone that what I have always said was true, that the police bungled the investigation.'
Sukhdev says that there has been no change since the Macpherson report: 'There was an inquiry and a report. The police had the opportunity to do something about it, but they haven't. They are still treating the families as the perpetrators. The police have tried very hard to discredit the family and the campaign.'
Report kept secret
METROPOLITAN Police deputy commissioner John Grieve said that he agreed with the verdict and had always had 'an open mind'. But in February of this year Grieve was quoted in the Guardian saying he was sure that Ricky's death was a 'tragic accident'. This was the same phrase used throughout the inquest by DCI Susan Hill, who headed the re-investigation into the case.
Top police are still reluctant to discipline their own officers. DS Moffat said that when he announced he was going to retire early John Stevens, the man picked by the home secretary to replace Paul Condon as head of the Met, spent an hour 'trying to persuade me not to resign'. Moffat was one of three officers disciplined for his part in the flawed inquiry. He told the inquest jury that the senior officer who carried out the ticking off was 'highly apologetic'.
The Metropolitan Police has refused to release the Police Complaints Authority report into the case. The coroner even found the copy given to him had pages taken out of it. A hint of what the report contains was given when the Reels' MP, John McDonnell, read parts of the report out in the House of Commons using his parliamentary privilege.
The report found that 'important information was lost', a vital CCTV tape had been destroyed without being looked at, and 'the way in which forensic evidence was dealt with is difficult to justify'. McDonnell said the report 'condemns the investigation because it lacked focus, it eliminated the racial element earlier in the evening too readily, it lacked thoroughness, and there was a failure to initiate an early reconstruction'.