The partner of a Metropolitan Police sergeant shot dead in a custody cell has criticised officers for a “catalogue of serious failings”.
Matt Ratana, of the Metropolitan Police, was murdered in the early hours of September 25 2020 by Louis de Zoysa, who opened fire with an antique revolver at Croydon custody suite in south London.
De Zoysa, who is autistic, had earlier been arrested and searched but officers failed to find the gun the 26-year-old had in an underarm holster, despite discovering bullets in his pocket.
Senior coroner Sarah Ormond-Walshe, concluding an inquest at Croydon Town Hall on Monday into Sgt Ratana’s death, ruled it was an unlawful killing.
She added: “There was a failure to carry out a safe, thorough and systematic search.”
Sgt Ratana’s partner of five years, Su Bushby, told reporters she was “angry” because his death “should have been avoided”.
She added: “I have heard evidence regarding how Metropolitan Police officers did not do their jobs properly in searching a man who was in possession of a significant amount of drugs and bullets.
“If it wasn’t for a catalogue of serious failings, and if people had done their job properly, Matt would still be alive today.
“The shoddy and inadequate search undertaken by the police officers was a neglect of their duty and left Matt vulnerable to murder.
“The number of failures, the gravity of them and the impact of both the search failures and failures in the transportation of (Louis) de Zoysa to the police station, that have come out during the evidence in this inquest, has left me devastated.
“It is my view that Matt has been let down by the Metropolitan Police.
“Matt gave so much to the Metropolitan Police and its failures to protect him on that night are now clear for all to see.
“The search should have been thorough, safe and systematic for it to be effective – it was none of those things.
“If it was an effective search the gun would have been found on de Zoysa and Matt would be alive now.”
Ms Bushby said there “must be” improvements to searches of suspects and security arrangements in police stations, adding: “I do not want Matt’s death to be in vain.”
She went on: “Not once, during the past three years, has anyone from the Metropolitan Police informed me that there was any issue with the search on that fateful night.
“I have not been informed by anyone during this time that the actions of the Metropolitan Police may have contributed towards Matt’s death.
“If the Metropolitan Police had been more open and transparent with me about their failings, it would have gone a long way to making the last few weeks of this inquest easier.”
Pc Richard Davey, a probationer who carried out the search while his more experienced colleague, Pc Samantha Still, assisted, admitted he abandoned his training and should have discovered the weapon during the arrest in London Road, Norbury, at about 1.30am.
In the custody van, de Zoysa was seen in footage wriggling and jerking, which according to expert evidence was him repositioning the firearm to his hands.
After arriving at Croydon’s Windmill Road custody centre, de Zoysa was allowed to walk without an officer gripping his arm, or handcuffs.
De Zoysa later managed to move his handcuffed arms from behind his back to fire at Sgt Ratana.
The New Zealand-born officer, 54, who had served in the Met Police for almost 30 years and was three months from retirement, was hit in the chest by the first of three shots discharged by de Zoysa within three seconds.
A second bullet struck him in the thigh before de Zoysa was wrestled to the ground by other officers, as a third round hit the cell wall.
Former tax office data analyst de Zoysa, who was living in a flat on a farm in Banstead, Surrey, discharged a fourth shot while on the cell floor, hitting an artery in his own neck and causing him brain damage.
He is serving a whole-life jail term for Sgt Ratana’s murder after a trial earlier this year, during which his legal team said he was suffering an autistic meltdown at the time of the shooting.
Following the inquest, Met Police deputy assistant commissioner (DAC) Stuart Cundy, said: “My first thoughts are with Matt’s partner Su and his family. The appalling act of violence that stole Matt from them continues to have a lasting impact on all his loved ones and the large number of people whose lives he touched, both inside and outside of the Met.”
He added: “The arresting officers recognised that their search and observations of de Zoysa could have been more systematic, and should have found the firearm. Later at the police station these same officers showed great courage in disarming de Zoysa whilst he continued to fire the gun. I admire their bravery and that of everyone who was in the custody centre that night.
“Matt Ratana’s murder was a stark and terrible reminder of the risks and challenges police officers and staff undertake every time they turn up for work.
“We will never forget Matt and will continue to honour his legacy, which will live on through his family, his many friends and colleagues in the Met, in his rugby foundation and beyond.”