Kiwi police officer slain in Croydon thought custody role was 'safest option' ahead of retirement

A New Zealand police officer shot dead by a handcuffed suspect inside a station had taken the job of custody sergeant because he thought it would be safer, friends have revealed.

Matt Ratana, 54, had been looking forward to retiring next year, when he was gunned down at Croydon Custody Centre in the early hours of Friday morning.

An investigation is underway to establish how the firearm was concealed following the 23-year-old suspect’s arrest on suspicion of possession of ammunition and cannabis resin earlier that night.

As tributes poured in to New Zealand-born Ratana, his friend, Neil Donohue said the rugby fanatic had moved to a job in the custody suite because he believed it was safer than being out on the street, as he approached retirement.

Donohue said: “He thought it was his safest option just to see him through to his retirement and no-one expected this to happen – certainly not within the police cells.”

Investigators from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) are trying to establish the circumstances of the shooting and the events in the minutes after he was initially detained.

Footage of the man’s arrest in the Norbury area of south London, seen by the Sunday Telegraph, shows the moment he is stopped by a marked patrol car as he walks casually along a pavement just before 1.30am.

The police car did not have its blue lights flashing as it approached the man and as the officers engaged the suspect he appeared to be compliant.

A short time later however a rapid response car with blue lights flashing arrives at the scene to offer assistance, and minutes later a police van also arrives and the suspect is ushered inside.

At 1.48am another police car arrives at the scene and blocks off the road as three officers using torches appear to carry out a search of the ground close to where he was apprehended.

At 1.50am the police van carrying the suspect leaves the scene and heads towards the Croydon Custody Centre while the remaining officers continue to search the ground.

Ken Marsh from the Metropolitan Police Federation has said the current stop and search rules prevent officers from carrying out full searches in public places.

In a statement, Sal Naseem said, from the IOPC said: “The man was handcuffed to the rear before being transported to Croydon Custody Suite in a police vehicle where he was escorted into the building.

“He remained handcuffed to the rear and seated in a holding area in the custody suite. His handcuffs remained in place while officers prepared to search him using a metal detector.

“It is at the point that shots were fired resulting in the fatal injuries to the officer and critical injuries to the man. A non-police issue firearm, which appears to be a revolver has been recovered from the scene. Further ballistic work will be required.”

Ratana was hit in the chest and the gunman also received a bullet wound to the neck.

The officer was rushed to hospital but tragically was declared dead on arrival.

Matt Ratana pictured with his partner Susan Bushby. Photo / Supplied
Matt Ratana pictured with his partner Susan Bushby. Photo / Supplied

The suspect remains in a critical condition in hospital where he was being held under armed guard.

Friends, family and colleagues from the policing and rugby worlds continued to pay tribute to the man who was described by Dame Cressida Dick as “a lovely man” and “big in stature and big hearted”.

Adrian Rurawhe, his cousin, and the Labour MP for New Zealand’s Te Tai Hauauru district, said the family had been completely devastated by his murder.

Paying tribute to the “proud Maori”, Rurawhe said: “He just had this enthusiasm about him.

He was a natural born leader. He loved sports, we are all rugby mad here. And he loved being a police officer.”

Ratana, had a partner, Sue Bushby, and a grown up son from a previous relationship.

Rurawhe said his cousin’s parents had both passed away some years earlier.

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