London inquest into Asian student’s death returns open verdict

A west London inquest jury took just 50 minutes to deliver an “open verdict” into the death of 20-year-old Asian student Ricky Reel. Announcing the decision on November 8, the inquest coroner, Dr. John Burton, said that there “is not enough evidence to reach a conclusion as to how he came to an end—this is an open verdict”.

Ricky’s mother, Sukhdev Reel, described the verdict as “a start. It’s better than what the police tried to prove. If they had held a thorough investigation in the first place there would have been no need for a second investigation using further resources.”

The Reel family maintain that Ricky was murdered by racists and has fought a two-year campaign to uncover evidence. They argue that police racism meant that Ricky’s death was never properly investigated and dismissed as accidental. The inquest verdict means that the cause of Ricky’s death remains unsolved, and opens the way for further investigation.

Ricky, who was studying computer science at Brunel University, died in the early hours of October 15, 1997 after a night out with friends. One week later his body was pulled from the river at Kingston upon Thames.

During their night out, Ricky and his friends had been assaulted by two white youths, shouting “Paki’s go home”. Ricky was split off from his friends after the attack, and did not arrive home. When Sukhdev first contacted the police later that same evening to report her son missing, she was told to stop wasting police time. Sukhdev was later told that a policeman would be sent round, when they had time. When one did not appear, Sukhdev was told that the officer had gone to the wrong house. No statement was taken from the family, despite evidence of the racist attack earlier in the evening.

In desperation, the family began their own investigation into Ricky’s disappearance. They searched derelict ground and showed passers by photographs of Ricky. They were the first to find important closed circuit television (CCTV) evidence showing the racist attack on Ricky and his friends. Only after constant pressure from the family did the police begin dredging the river. Ricky’s body was found after only a few minutes’ search on October 21.

A police inquiry concluded that Ricky’s death was an accident and that he had drowned after falling into the river whilst urinating. Evidence that he may have been the victim of a racist murder was dismissed.

Once again, pressure from the family forced the convening of a second inquiry by the Police Complaints Authority (PCA). This investigation, involving officers from Surrey police force, found “weaknesses and flaws” in the initial investigation.

The PCA apologised to the family saying, “Sadly, you did not receive from the police the professional standard of service you had the right to expect.%

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