IOPC investigation finds no indication Metropolitan Police Officers contributed to the death of Lamont Roper
An Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation found nothing to suggest that the actions of Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) officers contributed to the death of Lamont Roper, who entered the River Lea in Tottenham, N17 following a pursuit.
The evidence we gathered indicated that an MPS officer was involved in a struggle with Mr Roper shortly before he entered the lock and drowned but that Mr Roper sustained no injuries of an offensive, defensive or restraint type nature. It was our opinion that the officer’s use of force during the struggle with Mr Roper was reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances, and the evidence supported the officer’s rationale in releasing him, fearing Mr Roper may have had a weapon. All officers were treated as witnesses in relation to the investigation into Mr Roper’s death.
However we also found that critical evidence was not available to our investigation as the officer in pursuit failed to activate body worn video (BWV) in line with policy before Mr Roper, aged 23, entered the river.
A seven-day inquest at Barnet Coroner’s Court ended on 30 November when the jury determined that Mr Roper did not comply with the officer’s stop and search commands. They also found that there were insufficient resources for water rescue alongside the canal, that there was a lack of sufficient police resources on patrol and that there was a lack of specialised on call rescue team divers. The Coroner made clear there was no causative link between police actions and Mr Roper’s death.
Mr Roper was one of four men on electric scooters and bicycles who fled when approached by three MPS officers patrolling on bikes along the towpath between Ferry Lane and Markfield Park, N15, at around 9.15pm on 7 October 2020.
Following a referral from the MPS, we investigated the police decision to approach the group, the pursuit and a struggle involving one of the officers and Mr Roper, how he came to be in the water, and police efforts to locate him.
Evidence we gathered indicated that the constable who pursued Mr Roper turned the camera on during the struggle on the towpath, but it was inside a zipped-up jacket. Although some audio was captured, no images were recorded until after Mr Roper had entered the water in the dark. The officer subsequently entered the river but was unable to find him. Mr Roper’s body was recovered by police divers the following morning.
We found a case to answer for misconduct for the officer who pursued Mr Roper on the basis that, when approaching the men, BWV was not switched on to ensure the interaction was recorded in line with policy and guidance. The officer claimed it was too dangerous to do so while spontaneously pursuing on a bicycle in the dark. It was our view there should have been heightened awareness of the need to activate it because, less than four months earlier, the constable was placed under restrictions preventing deployment without BWV and to ensure it was on when dealing with operational matters. We noted that the other two officers had switched on their BWV at the start of the incident.
Our investigation concluded that the officers had reasonable grounds to approach the young men as the initial sighting of the group matched details of the intelligence briefing about location, timings and clothing of the young men and the fact that they all were on electric scooters or bicycles. Without approaching the group the officers could not ascertain the age, sex and race of the group or make enquiries to confirm or point away from any reasonable suspicion.
The constable attended a misconduct meeting organised by the MPS on 9 September facing allegations that standards of professional behaviour had been breached relating to orders and instructions, and duties and responsibilities. The case was not proven, and no further action was taken.
As a result of the investigation, and prior to the inquest, we made recommendations that officers deployed to patrol areas near bodies of water are equipped with throw lines in the event that either they, their colleagues, or a member of the public, should enter the water unexpectedly. We also recommended that the force enhance its existing cycle and water training to include pursuit and instructing elements for officers on how to cope should they enter a body of water unexpectedly.
During our six-month investigation, we collated and reviewed more than 100 hours of BWV, CCTV footage and police radio transmissions. We also analysed a large number of witness statements, reviewed existing MPS policies relating to cycling and bodies of water and received a mixture of reports, logs and accounts from the staff assigned to the incident from both the London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service. Our investigation report can be found here.
Our thorough investigation suggested that the police decision to approach the men was reasonable given the intelligence they had about recent robberies in the local area.
While there was nothing to suggest police contributed to Mr Roper’s death, it was our view that the failure on the part of one officer to activate BWV from the outset meant critical evidence was not available to this investigation. Previous cases have shown the vital importance of transparency when people tragically lose their lives after direct contact with the police. Had the officer activated the camera at an earlier point, the footage could have provided Mr Roper’s family with clarity as to how he came to enter the water.