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Drowned student 'afraid of water'

What Happened
Person overboard/swept away/fell in the water
What Caused
Adverse environmental conditions
Casualty type/Qty
Causal Factors
Inexperienced for the environment
Injury Details
Accident suspected

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Description of Incident
An Asian student found drowned in the Thames had a morbid fear of water and would never have gone near it willingly, an inquest has heard.

The family of Ricky Reel believe the Brunel University student was murdered, and have accused police of dragging their feet over the investigation into his disappearance.

His mother Sukhdev Reel told the inquest into the student's death, at Fulham Town Hall: "If ever there was any event that involved going into water, Ricky always managed to get out of it, but if he was dragged there you could see the fear on his face. He was very reluctant to go anywhere near the river."

Sukhdev Reel feels she has let her dead son down
She said she vainly pleaded with police that her son was in danger, but police refused to act for 24 hours despite hearing he had been attacked by white youths.

The officer who interviewed the family suggested Ricky was drunk or staying with a friend.

But seven days after he went missing he was found drowned in the Thames at Kingston.

Close to tears, her voice breaking with emotion, Mrs Reel told the inquest: "I told him about my concerns for Ricky. I told him that Ricky had never gone missing. That if he was late he would also phone me.

"He said that I would have to wait for 24 hours ... At the time I was pleading with him that Ricky was in danger but he still refused to do anything."

The inquest heard that the police officer was told of an attack by two white youths the night before in Kingston town centre, south-west London.

Ricky was with friends, all Asian youths from Brunel, who were attacked and racially abused on the night he died, while walking through the town centre.

Mrs Reel said she had begun a frantic search for her son after his disappearance, including several trips into Kingston-upon-Thames where she went in search of video footage of her son.

Police operator 'shouted'

Ricky's father, Balwant Reel, said he and two of Ricky's friends reported the attack to police when Ricky did not return to the family home in West Drayton, west London, in October 1997.

Speaking through a Punjabi interpreter, Mr Reel told the inquest jury that the officer who interviewed them at Kingston upon Thames police station said Ricky, 20, may not have wanted to come home.

Police handling of the case attacked
Mr Reel said he originally rang the police at 0800 GMT. His wife rang again an hour later when they did not arrive.

"My wife rang the police and the woman operator who took the call in fact shouted at my wife, saying we have sent the police to your house but you have not answered the door," he told the inquest.

Mr Reel told the court his wife had been standing by the window near the door waiting for the police.

When the police did arrive they said they could do nothing for 24 hours as Ricky was over 18 years old, he said.

Flawed investigation

Police originally claimed Mr Reel had drowned accidentally but three officers were later disciplined over the first inquiry into his death.

Earlier this year, the Police Complaints Authority found the officers guilty of neglect of duty and apologised to the Reel family for "weaknesses and flaws" in the investigation.

The investigation was reopened in August this year with a fresh appeal for information.

The inquest is to continue with evidence from Ricky's employer and family doctor.
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