John McDonnell

Do you remember Ricky Reel? I still do

John McDonnell
Do you remember Ricky Reel? I still do

POLITICS IS AS MUCH ABOUT addressing the tragedies facing individual families as it is about high policy.

Recently I once again met my constituent Sukhdev Reel. Over the years she and members of her family have become good friends. Sukhdev is the mother of Ricky Reel. Ricky was a bright and beautiful young man who was studying at nearby Brunel University. One evening 20 years ago he went for a night out with his friends in Kingston. He never came home.

On the night he went missing his family were worried he hadn’t come home. This was so out of character for Ricky that they contacted the police. When they felt that the police were not taking their concerns seriously enough they contacted me to see if I could intervene.

I linked up with my local police and urged that pressure be put on the Kingston police to prioritise and properly resource the search for Ricky. Ricky’s friends, who were with him that night, reported that they had experienced some threats and abuse from a group of white youths and had split up, with Ricky running towards the river.

Frustrated with the lack of police response the family launched its own search. Requests were also made for the police to search the River Thames near where Ricky was last seen. It took a week for this request to be met and tragically Ricky’s body was found in that spot of the river.

Various police inquiries subsequently took place with no success. On behalf of the family I raised their various concerns about the lack of police resources and the way in which the inquiries were being undertaken. The family launched a campaign to try to find out what actually happened to Ricky and how he came to his death.

Three years ago I was contacted by the police to arrange a meeting with the family and Suresh Grover, a leading human rights campaigner and adviser to the family campaign. At that meeting we were informed that the family, our campaign and I had been the victims of what the police officers described as “collateral intrusion”.

I had never heard this expression before but it was explained that the family’s campaign for justice had come under surveillance and that undercover police officers had been attending our meetings. It was argued that this was not to carry out surveillance on the family or me but on some people they thought were involved in the campaign.

Mrs Reel and her family were outraged and absolutely distressed because, at the very time when they were pleading for additional police resources to be applied to investigating what had happened to their beloved and desperately missed son, police officers had actually been allocated to surveillance of the campaign members.

This admission by the police came at the time when the government was forced to set up the Pitchford inquiry into undercover policing and so the surveillance of the Ricky Reel campaign became an issue to be addressed by the inquiry. Three years on, Lord justice Pitchford sadly has passed away and, though the inquiry continues, Mrs Reel and her family are no nearer to finding out the truth. In fact they still haven’t seen all the information the police and other bodies are holding on them.

I recently met her and her daughter, and she won’t mind me telling you that she is not in the best of health. Now aged 70, she described how the news of the surveillance hit her very, very hard. She was very ill and on medical advice received counselling. She has found this all extremely difficult to bear. Before Ricky’s death she and her family had had no dealings with the police or justice system.

We are hoping even now that the family can gain some comfort from the Home Secretary that the investigation of Ricky Reel will continue, with appeals for new information to be launched. Even after all these years there may be someone out there who now feels safe enough to come forward and tell us what really happened, especially who was involved in the racist abuse and possible attack on Ricky that evening. The Reel family still deserves justice.



Shadow Chancellor, MP for Hayes and Harlington, Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and Chair of the Labour Representation Committee. John has been involved in Labour Briefing since the early years.