Mother takes on police after son's death

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The Independent Online
The Police Complaints Authority yesterday announced an investigation into how the Metropolitan Police reacted to the death of Asian student Ricky Reel. His family told Ian Burrell that the case has similarities with the police response to the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

When Ricky Reel went missing for the first time in his life, his mother, Sukhdev, knew immediately that something was seriously wrong.

From the next morning she began walking the streets of Kingston-upon- Thames daily, from 8am to 3am, scouring disused buildings, handing out posters, talking to shopkeepers, hospital staff and school teachers.

The police, she says, were unconcerned. They told her that her 20-year- old was old enough to choose not to come home after a night out with friends.

As a mother she knew different. Ricky, a second-year computer science student at Brunel University, carried a mobile telephone and always called her if he was going to be late. And what worried her most as she continued her increasingly frantic search was the news from two of Ricky's friends that he had been caught up in racial violence immediately before he disappeared.

Ricky and his three Asian friends had been standing in the street near Kingston bridge debating whether to end a night out at the nearby Options nightclub on October 14. Ricky protested that he wanted to go home because he wished to attend a computer conference the next day.

As they tarried, they were approached by two white youths, racially abused and assaulted. The friends scattered for safety and when they later regrouped they were without Ricky, who was never seen again.

After a week of searching, the missing boy's family concluded that they had looked everywhere in Kingston, apart from in the river itself. Police divers went in on 21 October and found the body within seven minutes.

Mrs Reel said yesterday that her son was a strong swimmer but would not normally go near to open water because of a phobia. "I feel that somebody killed my son," she said.

"When the police first assumed that he was missing they totally disregarded the possibility of a racial attack."

The Police Complaints Authority said yesterday that, following an official complaint, the Met's handling of the inquiry is to be the subject of an independent investigation by Surrey Police.

The Met fiercely rejects the criticism. It claims that officers reacted promptly when Mrs Reel first registered her son missing at 8.25 the next morning. An officer visited her at home in West Drayton, Middlesex, that morning. Kingston police were alerted and inquiries carried out at local hospitals. Searches were made in the area close to where Ricky and his friends had parked their car. During the next two days, a police boat was used in further searches and doormen at Options were shown pictures of the missing youth.

A Met spokesman said that Ricky's friends had made statements that the two white youths had left the fight to run for a night bus. The bus driver was contacted but had no recollection of any confrontation. Eight weeks on, the white youths have not been identified.

When Ricky's body was found, a post mortem examination was carried out, concluding that he had drowned. There were no bruises on his body.

The spokesman said: "We are not ruling out that he was pushed but we do not have any evidence to suggest that. We don't have any evidence to suggest that there were any suspicious circumstances which led to his death."

A coroner's inquest is due to be heard, but Ricky's family said that they have been told by police that he may have died while relieving himself. Although his fly was undone, his mother does not accept this and has set up a campaign, Justice for Ricky Reel.

Her case has been raised by John McDonnell, the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, and by Louise Christian, a lawyer known for supporting anti- racist causes. Ms Christian said: "It is just awful that this could happen after Stephen Lawrence has died. It shows that the Met has not learned anything at all. If it had been the son of a rich, white person every stop would have been pulled out."