IOPC investigation recommends search wands to be introduced into all forces following shooting of Sergeant Matt Ratana

Published: 23 Jun 2023

Following the tragic murder of Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) custody sergeant Matt Ratana, a learning recommendation from the Independent Office for Police Conduct’s (IOPC) investigation could see handheld search wands introduced widely into policing throughout England and Wales.

Sergeant (Sgt) Ratana was fatally shot by Louis De Zoysa in Croydon Custody Centre, South London, on 25 September 2020 after he had been arrested by police. De Zoysa has today (23 June) been found guilty of the murder of Sgt Ratana at Northampton Crown Court and will be sentenced on 27 July.

As De Zoysa was seriously injured during the incident, and while in police custody, we investigated the contact officers had with him leading up to and during the shooting. This included his initial stop and search, arrest and transfer to the custody suite, the supervision of him in custody and use of force by officers.

Following the conclusion of our investigation, in June 2021, we recommended the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) consider the implementation of handheld metal detectors – or search wands - in all response vehicles and vehicles used to transport detained persons.

Our recommendation has been accepted and the NPCC is exploring the implementation of search wands.

We established that, following the stop and search which began just after 1.30am on London Road in Norbury, Croydon, De Zoysa was arrested for possession of Class B drugs with intent to supply and possession of ammunition. No firearm was found by the officer carrying out the initial physical search.

His coat was not removed, but it was opened at the front and lifted at the back, all pockets were checked, his waistband was checked, as well as his shoes.

De Zoysa was initially handcuffed to the front but was handcuffed to the rear after the ammunition was found.

He was transferred into a police van and then transported to the Croydon Custody Suite in Windmill Road.

Upon arrival at the custody suite, De Zoysa remained handcuffed to the rear and was seated in a holding area as officers prepared to begin searching him using a metal detecting wand.

De Zoysa, who was still handcuffed, stood up and brought his hands from behind his back to the right side of his body. He held a gun in his right hand.

He moved his right arm to waist level and shot Sgt Ratana twice, once in the chest and in the top of his right leg, at approximately 2.13am.

As De Zoysa was being restrained by officers, the gun was discharged two more times, once into the wall of the holding cell and the fourth into De Zoysa’s neck, seriously injuring him. An officer then discharged Taser.

The holster was found while officers were giving De Zoysa first aid following the fourth shot. It was not possible to establish conclusively where the gun was hidden during the search, but it was under his coat and may have been in a holster under his arm pit.

A firearms expert, consulted during our investigation, stated the gun could be gripped more easily and removed from the holster when the holster’s retaining strap was opened, and when the wearer lent forward.

In their opinion, the gun could be removed by the wearer reaching for it behind their body if they had sufficient joint mobility. Our investigation found that, as a child, De Zoysa had been diagnosed with hypermobile joints, where some or all of a person's joints have an unusually large range of movement.

For our learning recommendation, we identified six previous incidents across England and Wales that had been referred to the IOPC, where detained people harmed themselves in custody using concealed metallic items, despite being searched by officers prior to entering custody. A further incident is currently being investigated.

We also identified and liaised with a number of forces who are or already have implemented the use of handheld metal detectors to frontline officers as an additional tool to assist with physical searches of detained people.

We decided the implementation across all police forces of handheld metal detectors in response vehicles and vehicles used to transport detained persons may improve the safety of officers and those held in custody by helping police to locate concealed metallic items or weapons at an early stage, prior to the transport of detainees to custody.

The handheld metal detectors could be a screening device available to officers already conducting a lawful and justified physical search of a person following their arrest.

They should not replace the requirement for a physical search and should be used at the discretion of the officer conducting the search, taking into account the search powers relied upon and the grounds for the search.

We understand the Met has made good progress by growing the use of metal hand-held wands. Within weeks of the murder it began a roll-out of wands to vehicles used to transport suspects and other frontline operational vehicles.

It now has 4,300 wands deployed for use across the force for trained officers across custody and in vehicles, and a pool of devices for use by officers on foot/cycle patrol.

Our investigation focused on the actions of officers in dealing with De Zoysa on 25 September 2020.

The entirety of the police interaction with him was captured on officers’ body worn video and CCTV. All of that material was examined and analysed, alongside recordings of radio transmissions and downloads from Taser.

Examinations were carried out of the custody centre, the police car and van De Zoysa was transported in, along with the handcuffs, Taser and firearm used.

Statements were obtained from police officers and staff who interacted with him, from relevant MPS training and policy leads and from a firearms expert.

During the investigation, there was no indication any police officer or staff member had behaved in a manner that would justify the bringing of disciplinary proceedings or had committed a criminal offence.

Director of Operations, Amanda Rowe, said: “My thoughts continue to be with the family, friends and colleagues of Matt Ratana and all of those affected by this shocking incident.

“I hope the recommendation we have made will improve officer safety and help to prevent detained persons from being able to harm themselves or others in custody.

“We did find two officers could have conducted a more thorough body search of De Zoysa on the street, during which ammunition was found but not the firearm.

“Although the officers searching De Zoysa did not strictly follow MPS training – which requires that the torso is divided into quarters, and each quarter is searched from the top down, both back and front – we concluded that neither their actions nor omissions breached the police standards of professional behaviour.

“However, we suggested one officer could benefit from some further training around body searches and transportation of detainees, and the second officer around body searches and their role in assisting the other officer.

There is no power for police to require a person to remove any clothing in public other than a coat, jacket or gloves. Searching officers can request the removal of outer clothing, but it is not mandated by the legislation, policy or guidance.

“Given that we now know De Zoysa wore a gun holster beneath his coat it is possible the search would have yielded different results if the coat was removed.

“The same officers should be commended for their incredible bravery in trying to disarm De Zoysa after he produced the firearm. They acted without hesitation, despite the significant danger they were placed in at the time.”

An inquest into Sgt Ratana’s death may be held in due course.

  • On 27 July, Louis De Zoysa was sentenced to a whole-life order, meaning he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
  • An inquest into Matt Ratana's death ended on 13 November 2023 and concluded he was unlawfully killed. Following the conclusion of all proceedings, we now publish our investigation report.
  • Metropolitan Police Service
  • Custody and detention
  • Death and serious injury