A police sergeant was shot to death in an “unlawful killing” in a custody cell after his colleagues failed to conduct a “safe, thorough and systematic” search, a coroner has concluded.
Matt Ratana, of the Metropolitan Police, was murdered in the early hours of 25 September 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 weapon 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 went on: “There was a failure to carry out a safe, thorough and systematic search”.
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 away 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 the murder after a trial earlier this year, during which his legal team argued he was suffering an autistic meltdown at the time of the shooting.