Sukjdev Reel: The killing of my son Ricky

Do you see those speakers, says Sukhdev Reel, pointing towards the ceiling of her living room. “Ricky put them up. Ask anyone, he did everything in the house – painting, decorating, everything.” Two half moons of tears glitter round her eyes. Now she’s smiling. He was such a perfectionist – when he came down the ladders, he looked at the perfectly levelled speakers, said they weren’t quite right and went back up to straighten them out.

Sukhdev says that the day the police discovered Ricky’s body at the bottom of the River Thames in Kingston, two people died. “My children lost a much-loved brother and they also lost a mother – I haven’t been there for the last two years for them. Most of the time the kids are home, and I’m out and the only conversation is on the phone. That is not the way it should be.” Her eldest daughter is sitting on a sofa at the far end of the room. I ask her if her mother is being too hard on herself. No, she says, it’s true. “I have lost my Mum. She is hardly ever here.” But she says it has to be this way. “Mum has all our support. She has to get justice for Ricky, she has to find out what happened.”

You won’t mention my daughter’s name will you, asks Sukhdev, their lives have been disrupted enough. She looks at her. “What was it you said about not forgiving me?”

“Oh yes,” says her daughter. “We said we’d never forgive you if you don’t get justice for Ricky.” And she grins, embarrassed by the harshness of her words.

Last week, Sukhdev was giving talks about Ricky in London most evenings. She visited Jack Straw on Tuesday to press for full disclosure of the Police Complaints Authority report condemning the Met’s incompetent investigation into Ricky’s death. And on Friday she could be found at a benefit concert for Ricky in Hammersmith. In the days, she works as an officer for the homeless. Sukhdev says it’s wonderful when things work out, when homes are found and people are given a glimpse of hope. At night she rarely sleeps.

On October 14 1997, 20-year-old Ricky Reel went missing after a rare night on the town. A rare night because he had been studying hard at Brunel University and doing so much work around the house.

Ricky told his mother he would be back at 1am. “You could set your watch by Ricky,” says Sukhdev. “If he said he’d be back at one, he’d be home by 12.50.” Night turned to day, and Sukhdev sat by the front window waiting for his return.

The police contacted the three friends Ricky had been out with the previous night, and they told them they had been verbally abused by two white youths who shouted “Pakis go home” and then attacked. The four Asian boys realised it was getting nasty and split. The three friends caught up with each other, but Ricky was missing.

When Sukhdev’s husband Balwant asked the police to take a statement, they refused, saying they couldn’t investigate missing people until 24 hours had lapsed. Balwant pointed out that there had been a racial attack, a criminal offence. The police ignored him. “The officer then said, your son may not want to come home, or he may have run away with a girlfriend that you don’t approve of. Then he winked and said: ‘You never know your son may have even run away with a boyfriend.’ Yes?” Sukhdev Reel’s “Yes?” is a muted, bewildered question.

On Saturday, the police told Sukhdev they had searched the river and found nothing. On Monday she received another call from the police. They were going to search the river again on Tuesday. On Tuesday night she was phoned at the monitoring group that had been set up to search for Ricky. The police had some news. Sukhdev promptly rang her daughter, who said a police car was drawing up to the house. The line then went dead. The inspector arrived at the monitoring group to tell Sukhdev that Ricky’s body had been found.

“I just collapsed. They brought me home, and I was dreading it because when I went out in the morning I’d told my kids not to worry, that I’d bring Ricky home. I felt I’d lied to them. When I got home my children rushed outside and I knew they knew. The two police officers hadn’t even waited for me. My son was 11 and they said to him that they found his brother’s body at the bottom of the river. He went into shock. My other daughter had an asthma attack right in front of the police officers. She was waving her arms because she couldn’t breathe, and the police officers stood by. No one offered her any help. She crawled upstairs on all fours to get her inhaler and got there just in time. When I found that out I just went beserk. It wasn’t just losing a son, it was the way the police treated my kids. I thought they don’t deserve this.” And the tears glitter again. “They treated us like second-class citizens. And I’m going to make sure no other family is treated that way.”

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