Police insist that Reel died in `tragic accident'

THE SENIOR officer in charge of the "flawed" investigation into the death of the Asian student Lakhvinder "Ricky" Reel yesterday defended his reputation before the West London Coroners' Court.

Superintendent Charles "Bob" Moffat - now retired - insisted that he was an officer with an "outstanding" record, despite criticism from a Police Complaints Authority (PCA) inquiry which had found "flaws and weaknesses" in the Metropolitan Police investigation. Mr Moffat - pointing out that he had an average of pounds 10,000 to spend on such cases - said that pounds 2.5m was spent "scrutinising my work as a result of complaints that were made".

Mr Reel, 20, a Brunel University student, had been out with three friends in the early hours of 15 October1997 when they were attacked by two white youths. The friends scattered only to discover that they had lost Mr Reel. A week later his body was pulled from the river Thames at Kingston upon Thames, Surrey.

Supt Moffat immediately told Mr Reel's parents the fall into the river was a tragic accident without - so the family claim - properly investigating possible links between the death and the earlier racist attack.

Yesterday the former superintendent told the coroner, Dr John Burton: "During the year I was investigating the Ricky Reel case I was responsible for over 20 murder inquiries, of which only two were unsolved. I had an outstanding success rate." Referring to the sensitive nature of the Reel case, he added: "I would have been astounded had I not been complained about."

Earlier in the day, Detective Chief Inspector Sue Hill, who took over the reinvestigation of the death, admitted: "It has been accepted by a PCA report that mistakes were made. I am not going to say any different. We have apologised for those mistakes."

However, Det Ch Insp Hill - who works under the remit of Scotland Yard's new Racial and Violent Crimes Taskforce - insisted that she "had moved heaven and earth" to re-examine Mr Reel's death, painstakingly searching out every possible avenue of evidence.

She had, she said, come to the same conclusion as the original inquiry despite having a "completely open mind" when she took over the investigation. "If you pushed me, I think I have reached the stage when I would say that everything points to it being a tragic accident," she said, adding: "I have still not found anybody that could take this matter any further and I have tried."

Under cross examination from Michael Mansfield QC, who is representing the Reel family, Det Ch Insp Hill acknowledged she had been given an "impossible task" trying to re-investigate the death 13 months after it occurred. She added that her task in tracing the white youths had been made all the more difficult by them being publicly branded racist murderers.

Det Ch Insp Hill said several policy changes had been instigated by the Metropolitan Police as a direct result of the case. The reason Mr Reel's friends had never been shown photos of known local racists was because there were none available. A "rogues gallery" of racists has now been established. To roars of disagreement from a packed gallery of race campaigners, Det Ch Insp Hill added: "People have got more confidence in the police to report it [racial incidents]."

The inquest continues.

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