Family claim 'victory' after inquest returns open verdict on Reel death

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The family of Asian student Lakhvinder "Ricky" Reel celebrated a "victory" against the police last night after an inquest jury returned an open verdict on his death.

The family of Asian student Lakhvinder "Ricky" Reel celebrated a "victory" against the police last night after an inquest jury returned an open verdict on his death.

The jury at West London Coroners Court took less than an hour to decide that it was impossible to say whether the young man had fallen into the river by accident - as the original police investigation concluded - or been the victim of racist youths who had attacked him shortly before his disappearance.

Ricky, a computer science student, was last seen in the early hours of October 15, 1997 after a night out with three friends in Kingston.

They planned to go to a night club but got lost after parking their car near the river.

The four youngsters had been confronted by two white youths who shouted racial abuse at them and then two of Ricky's friends were hit by the two youths before they ran off, the inquest was told.

The 20-year-old Brunel University student's body was pulled from the river at Kingston upon Thames on October 21 1997, one week after his disappearance.

His mother, Sukhdev, who has always maintained her son was murdered by the racists and campaigned tirelessly for answers, said: "It is a victory for us. After two years I am going to have a good night's rest tonight." The open verdict is a vindication today for what the Reel family and their supporters had said all along - that the police should have had an open mind when they investigated Ricky's death.

"The police came to this inquest to try and convince the jury they should return a verdict of accidental death. The jury had rejected that," said the family's solicitor Louise Christian.

Complaints about the mishandling of the Asian student's disappearance and later death have proved a high profile embarrassment to the Metropolitan force, coming in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. A Police Complaints Authority said their initial investigation was "flawed" and found three officers guilty of neglect of duty.

Last night, the Deputy Assistant John Grieve refused to concede defeat after the jury's open verdict. The head of Scotland Yard's Racial and Violent Crime task force, who has been reinvestigating the death along with Detective Chief Inspector Sue Hill, said: "This is the correct verdict. Sue and I have always had an open mind about this."

DCI Hill, who had told the inquest that her personal view was that Mr Reel had died from a tragic accident, nevertheless insisted last night that she would continue to investigate the case with an open mind.

"I am disappointed that we have never been able to find anybody who was at the river that night," she said, appealing for witnesses to come forward.

Mr Reel's family and the police said last night that they would continue to press for the investigation to continue in the hope that one day they would be able to find out the truth behind Mr Reel's death.

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