Met Police re-investigating ‘tragic’ case of Ricky Reel, found dead 25 years ago after being racially abused

The victim’s family has criticised the initial police investigation and said they were spied on by undercover officers

The Metropolitan Police has reopened an investigation into the death of a young British Asian man who went missing and was later found dead after he was racially attacked 25 years ago.

Lakhvinder “Ricky” Reel, 20, was found dead in the Rriver Thames on 21 October 1997, seven days after he and a group of friends were attacked by two white men while on a night out in Kingston upon Thames.

Campaigners, led by Reel’s mother Sukhdev, have long called for the case to be reopened and criticised the Met’s handling of the inquiry, which resulted in no charges or arrests.

New Met Police commissioner Sir Mark Rowley met with campaigners last month and the force has now announced that it will use modern technology to “look more closely at certain lines of enquiry”.

Ricky was killed four years after the racially-motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993, which took almost 20 years for anyone to be convicted and led to Scotland Yard being described as “institutionally racist”.

What happened to Ricky Reel?

Ricky was a 20-year old student who was studying computer science at Brunel University and had been on a work placement in central London at the time of his death.

Along with three friends Ricky had been on a night out in Kingston when the group were racially abused and then assaulted by two white men, thought to be aged between 18 and 30.

Following the attack, Ricky’s friends became separated, and while the three managed to regroup Ricky was not seen again. A week later, his body was found at the bottom of the Thames, not far from where the incident with the two men took place.

Police say there was “an altercation between Ricky’s friends and the men which Ricky did not get involved in and he walked away on his own and disappeared”.

Last year Ricky’s mum Sukhdev published a book, Ricky Reel: Silence Is Not An Option, about her son’s death and the campaign for justice Last year Ricky’s mum Sukhdev published a book, Ricky Reel: Silence Is Not An Option, about her son’s death and the campaign for justice
Last year Ricky’s mum Sukhdev published a book, Ricky Reel: Silence Is Not An Option, about her son’s death and the campaign for justice

An inquest in 1999 into Ricky’s death returned an open verdict. No arrests have been made, or charges brought in connection with Ricky’s death. The Met says its inquiry has been “extensive with numerous investigations and reviews,” involving hundreds of statements from witnesses and various appeals for information.

Ricky’s mother and a group of campaigners believe he was murdered. They say the investigation which followed his death was seriously flawed, with a number of notable failures, which they believe were partly to do with racial bias and stereotyping. The investigation was also criticised by the policing watchdog, then known as the Police Complaints Authority.

Sukhdev Reel said: “We’ve waited 25 years for justice. I hope the police under the leadership of the new Commissioner can finally approach this case with an open mind and make every effort to obtain justice for my son. When dealing with racism and injustice, the litmus test is always in their actions and not in promises.”

A post-mortem report commissioned by the family at the time seemed to contradict some of the police’s claims. It confirmed he had fallen into the water backwards, rather than forwards. The family also carried out their own searches and gathered CCTV images showing Ricky’s last moments.

John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, who has been a long-time supporter of the Justice for Ricky Reel campaign, said: “This will be a test for the Met on whether there is evidence of real change in its attitude and behaviour towards the Asian community and wider society. Our hope is that this time around no stone will be left unturned in search for the truth and justice for Ricky Reel”.

What have the police said about the investigation?

Several members of the Reel family, along with other members of the campaign including legal representatives met with Met Police commissioner Rowley and Acting Det Supt Rebecca Reeves at Scotland Yard on 11 January.

At the meeting, the group raised a “litany of police failures and the unlawful police spying of the family campaign,” according to a statement released by the Monitoring Group, an anti-racist campaign group which has supported a number of victims and their families including the Reels. The Met said only that details of the meeting “remain private”.

As well as criticising the police’s investigation into Ricky’s death, the family has also spoken out about being subjected to spying by the Met’s infamous Special Demonstration Squad unit, which is the subject of a current long running public inquiry.

The unit operated for a number of years, infiltrating and surveilling mainly leftwing groups and campaigners, as well as a number of family-led campaigns for justice including that of Ricky Reel and Stephen Lawrence.

Following the meeting, the force has announced that the Major Inquiries Specialist Casework team has re-examined the case and is now looking more closely at certain lines of enquiry from the original investigation.

It said these lines of inquiry are being followed up with “fresh eyes and the benefit of modern technology” and detectives are appealing for people to come forward with any information that could help find answers.

Commander Catherine Roper, Specialist Crime, said: “It has been 25 years since Ricky died. My thoughts are with Ricky’s family and the pain they must still feel today.

"I hope that this appeal will encourage people to come forward with any piece of information they may have, however small they think it is, to help us piece together what happened that night in Kingston. We remain hopeful that we can provide answers for the family, and we need the help of the public to achieve this.’

The police urge anyone with information to contact them on 101 or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Mike Schwarz, solicitor for the family said: “I hope that this meeting will mark a turning point: the creation of a virtuous circle whereby the police now investigating Ricky’s death and the Undercover Policing Inquiry work not only with each other but also with the Reel family. We hope they will finally establish how Ricky met his death, bring to account anyone responsible and explain why and how, at the time they were supposedly investigating Ricky’s death, the Metropolitan police were spying on the family”.

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