Matt Ratana, the police officer allegedly shot dead in a police station by a handcuffed suspect, was an inspiration to others during his life and would remain so for generations to come, the Metropolitan police commissioner has said.
Cressida Dick’s tribute came during a funeral service for Ratana, whose killing in September in a custody suite at Croydon station in south London, stunned policing and communities where he had served.
A picture emerged of an unconventional officer, supremely professional, warm of heart and big of spirit. Ratana, 54, was born in New Zealand, with Māori heritage, and had served as a police officer there and across London.
The service, held in English and Māori, complied with Covid-19 regulations and was streamed online so friends and family in New Zealand, and thousands of police colleagues could also pay tribute.
Dick said: “Matt was a fantastic professional police officer, a brilliant sergeant, a leader, a supremely loyal colleague, and friend … He mentored and coached generations of officers, young and old, junior and senior … as enthusiastic after 25 years as he was after two.”
The commissioner said Ratana spoke to everyone as an equal, be they homeless or powerful: “Most of the countless people he arrested parted from him with a handshake.”
The commissioner told the story of Ratana’s unorthodox methods when he and a more senior colleague faced an angry crowd while on duty at a protest: “Matt unceremoniously picked the commander up and placed her behind him. Then launched into a haka [a traditional Māori battle dance], thereby amazing and distracting the crowds and defusing the situation sufficiently to allow a reasonably dignified if very hasty retreat.”
Friends and colleagues at the service in Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, tried to keep their grief at bay as they paid tribute to the officer who was close to retirement after 29 years service.
His partner, Su Bushby, whose words were read by a friend, told of Ratana’s love of rugby, which he had played and coached.
She said: “In any situation or room he walked into, his presence would always be felt. Like a big ball of energy. You were taken far too soon. Your gym, rugby and policing family will help your legacy, your kindness, and your spirit live on.
“You have touched so many people’s lives, you will be truly missed. My life has been richer and funnier for knowing you and I feel blessed you were in my life.”
Rylan Morlen, Ratana’s friend from East Grinstead rugby club, remembered his final words to the fallen officer, made achingly poignant by the manner of his passing.
Morlen said: “We all miss you and wish that we could turn back the clock so that you didn’t leave for your shift on 24 September.
“I love you, we love you, and your legacy will always live on … Back to my final words to you as the office door closed: ‘Be safe, mate.’ Sadly that wasn’t enough.”
During the service a montage of photos of Ratana with friends and loved ones were shown.
After the service, the former All Blacks’ captain Zinzan Brooke led a haka outside the chapel, along with members of the London-based New Zealand culture group Ngati Ranana. The hearse carrying Ratana’s coffin then paused to be saluted by the commissioner.