By Tristram Hooley
This article was produced after I attended a meeting at which Sukda Reel (Ricky’s mother) spoke. This was one of the most horrifying and moving political meetings I have ever been to. To see the mother of a young man speaking through her tears about the complete failure of the police force to help her find out how her son died, reawakened me to the desperate need for radical change in the government of this country. This article is based largely on Mrs Reels speech and the publicity of the Justice for Ricky Reel campaign. However I also try to suggest some ways that we can make the police force more responsive and accountable to the people they are supposed to serve.
On the night of Tuesday, 14th October Lakhvinder (Ricky) Reel aged 20 and his three Asian friends were racially abused and attacked in Kingston. Fearing for their lives they fled. That was the last time anyone saw him alive. When Ricky failed to return home, his parents and friends reported the case of racial abuse and Ricky’s subsequent disappearance. The police refused to investigate initially saying that Ricky probably just had a girlfriend who the family did not approve of and that was why he hadn’t come home. Ricky’s family and friends were unsatisfied with this explanation and organised a search party. After a few days of fruitless, but arduous, searching he could not be found.
The police finally responded to pressure and began to search the river – a number of days after they had promised to do so. Seven days after the initial incident Ricky’s body was found in the river. The police refused to investigate further, denying the possibility of racial murder and arguing, based on the flimsy evidence that his trouser buttons were undone, that Ricky had just fallen in the river whilst urinating. This news was broken by the police not initially to Mrs Reel, but insensitively to Ricky’s young brothers and sisters.
Mrs Reel tried to tell the police that Ricky had a phobia about open water and that he would not have chosen to relieve himself in that place when there were so many more convenient sites available. The police were unresponsive to this and ultimately Mrs Reel was forced into taking the distressing step of asking an independent pathologist to perform a second post-mortem on Ricky. His report suggests that the police should not have ruled out third party involvement and that the urinating explanation was unlikely as Ricky fell in backwards. The pathologist also made the point that most bodies found in rivers have their trouser buttons undone and their is no significance in this fact.
The complaints that the Southall Monitoring Group and Mrs Reel have made about the handling of the case have not resulted in more officers on the case – rather they have resulted in the ridiculous situation where there are more police investigating the complaint than the death.
The police have continued to drag their feet on this incident and have refused to stage a reconstruction of the events leading up to Ricky’s death. However BBC 2 have made a reconstruction which will be shown – along with some discussion of the case on 27th August at 7.30pm.
The Justice for Ricky Reel campaign are asking for a meeting with Jack Straw to discuss some of the issues that this case raises – so far he has not granted this. Write to Jack Straw or to your local MP to try and speed up this process. Also raise awareness of this and other miscarriages of justice and examples of police failure. Write to Justice for Ricky Reel, c/o SMG Unity, PO Box 304, Southall, Middlesex, UB2 5YR and ask for more information. Also please send a donation to help towards legal costs and campaigning. The campaign is also calling for people to support a national civil rights demonstration on 31st October in London.
Obviously something needs to be done to improve the nature of policing in this country. I would hope that we can begin to come up with some constructive ways to reform the police. Some on the left are too eager to call for the abolition of the police, and to see them as the enemy. Cases like that of Ricky Reel and Stephen Lawrence seem to strengthen this view of policing. Yet at the same time as we must recognise that the police are failing us, we should also recognise a powerful desire for effective policing in society. People want the police to provide stability and protection for themselves and their homes. All too often they fail to do this, but where else is there to go when you’ve been burgled, beaten or raped? Those on the left who advocate setting up “Community Defence Squads” etc. don’t seem to really be engaging sufficiently with the idea of a fair trial where all points of view are heard – nor does it really explain how these vigilante groups will be accountable and free from prejudice.
My feeling is that inadequate and rife with institutional racism though the police are – it is fantasy to try and dismantle police forces altogether. We need mechanisms to make the force more accountable. These are my proposals I would appreciate hearing what people think of these and how we can develop alternative policing strategies and bring these issues onto the mainstream agenda.
1) The establishment and adequate funding of police monitoring projects. These could be coupled with advice centres for local communities on how to deal with the police and the complaints system. These centres should probably have lawyers, social workers, community police, researchers and civil rights activists based in them. Creating a place where the community could register the extent of police/community problems and work through strategies to deal with these problems.
2) A more transparent, public and effective police complaints procedure.
3) The direct election of police authorities from the local community. End the quangoisation of the legal system.
4) The election of senior police officers by the community.
5) The legalisation of trade unions in the police force. Enabling the more progressive elements inside the police force to organise and deal with problems of racism and nepotism themselves.
6) Increased funding for community and anti-racist education and training programmes inside and outside the police force.
7) A commitment to tackling the economic, social and cultural causes of crime and racism.
For full article go to http://leftforum.tripod.com/ricky.html