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Monday, November 8, 1999 Published at 17:26 GMT


Open verdict on Ricky death

Parents of Ricky Reel believe he was murdered

An open verdict has been returned at the inquest of Ricky Reel, despite a senior policeman insisting that an "abundance of compelling evidence" suggested the student's death was accidental.

The nine member jury sitting at Fulham Town Hall, south west London, took 50 minutes to reach their unanimous verdict.

The BBC's Penny Wrout: "The family sat through a six day ordeal"
Coroner Dr John Burton, delivering the verdict, said: "Ricky ended up in the river in the early hours of the morning of October 15, 1997.

"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, who contends that her son was murdered, said the verdict was "a start".

"It's better than what the police tried to prove," she told the BBC.

[ image: Sukhdev Reel:
Sukhdev Reel: "Ricky was afraid of water"
"They totally ignored the injuries on his back and shoulder, and that his shirt was torn at the shoulder."

Mrs Reel said she was not impressed with the original police inquiry, or a later one headed by Detective Chief Inspector Sue Hill.

"If they had held a thorough investigation in the first place there would have been no need for a second investigation using further resources," she said.

The BBC's Geeta Guru-Murthy: "The family feel vindicated"
She added she would carry on with her campaign to prove that her son was killed.

Outside the hearing John Grieve, of the Race and Violent Crime Task Force, said he agreed with the open verdict.

"Our deepest sympathy goes to the Reel family. This is a correct verdict. We have always had an open mind about this."

Former Detective Superintendent Charles "Bob" Moffat had told the inquest into Ricky's death that a physical assault or racially motivated attack was an unlikely cause.

The 20 year-old Brunel University student was last seen alive on 15 October, 1997, after a night out with three friends in Kingston upon Thames, south west London. The four were confronted by two white men who shouted racial abuse and hit two of Ricky's companions.

[ image: Police handling of the case was attacked]
Police handling of the case was attacked
The student's body was later pulled from the Thames by a police diver. He was face down in a couple of feet of water, close to where his friends had parked on the night of his disappearance.

Supporters have protested at the police handling of the case which was reopened last month, after three officers were disciplined over the first inquiry into his death.

Earlier in the investigation Mr Moffat told Mrs Reel that her son had drowned after standing on a crumbling river bank while trying to relieve himself when he was drunk.

"I was telling the truth that there was no evidence that there was anyone else associated with her son's death, but there was an abundance of evidence that this was a tragic accident," he told the inquest at Fulham Town Hall, south west London.

Mr Moffat, who has now retired from the Metropolitan Police South West Crime squad, said the bank, which was covered by a patch of foliage, was unstable and "in such a condition that your foot goes down and it crumbles away - it's lethal".

'No evidence'

Under cross examination from Michael Mansfield, QC, representing the Reel family, Mr Moffat "rejected any allegations" which suggested he "did anything improper".

"I'm not aware of any serious mistakes that occurred either in the first week or subsequent weeks," he said.

"I was making a judgment based solely on the evidence. If there had been a solitary shred of evidence to suggest someone else's involvement I would have opened a murder inquiry."

Describing the case as "the most investigated sudden death inquiry in British police history and most probably in the world", he said it had not raised "one jot" of evidence that anyone else was involved.

But Mr Mansfield alleged that police failed to conduct a thorough inquiry immediately after the death.

He said that despite police claims that the death was not suspicious because defensive wounds were not apparent on Ricky's body, a post-mortem had found two deep bruises on Ricky's back which could have been caused before he died and before he hit the water.

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