Colleagues of Sergeant Matt Ratana, who was killed in the line of duty, have described the officer as a close friend who was part of the “police family”.
Pc Paul Reading, of the Metropolitan Police, said the 54-year-old was well loved by all and even criminals liked him.
“Everyone liked him, even people he arrested,” he said.
Sgt Ratana was shot at Croydon Custody Centre in south London in the early hours of Friday September 25 as he prepared to search a handcuffed suspect.
Pc Reading had known Sgt Ratana, who was born in New Zealand, since 2008 when both were based at Harrow Road.
In a touching tribute to his “gentle giant” friend, he said the officer would regularly visit the station while off duty because he “always wanted to be around his police family”.
“He was a real approachable man, he looked after his team,” he said.
“He was your typical, big, strong Kiwi rugby player and he was so proud of his heritage.”
He said Sgt Ratana was dedicated to his job, adding: “He was your old-fashioned copper, very fair, very firm, and he would treat everyone like you would want your parents to be treated.”
Sergeant Gareth Starr, who worked with Sgt Ratana in Paddington Green in 2007 and later in custody, described his devastation at receiving a phone call telling him his colleague and family friend had been shot.
“It’s had a huge impact on everybody, even our own children that watch their parents go out to work every day thinking that that could be us,” he said.
Speaking about how Sgt Ratana’s death has affected the police force, he said: “It’s been very sombre.
“Matt appears a lot, whether we’re on social media reading the news, he didn’t ever leave us anyway and we’d often talk of Matt in the office where I’ve got colleagues who have worked with him over the years sharing stories, laughing.
“It’s had a huge impact, it’s dumbed down everything we do, without a shadow of a doubt.
“We’re just very sombre and very solemn, it’s just terribly sad.
“You don’t get two Matts.”
On Sgt Ratana’s personality, he said: “I’ll always remember his huge smile and his huge stature, and he always gave you a cuddle.”
As an officer who specialises in police safety, Sergeant Starr said it is “incredibly difficult” to keep officers safe.
“In the environment he (Sgt Ratana) was working in, it’s a dangerous environment, and we have to keep that at the forefront of our mind all the time.
“There are people out there who want to do us harm for the job that we do to protect others.
“Unfortunately Matt’s paid that price by no fault of his own, by being where he was, doing what he loved and doing it really well.”
Sergeant Chris Excell, a custody officer who worked alongside Sgt Ratana and had known him for 12 years, described him as a friend as well as a mentor.
When he heard the news of Sgt Ratana’s death, he said he was in disbelief, adding: “It doesn’t feel real yet, we all used to talk about him while he was still here.
“Matt was really good at being caring and compassionate, he was an exemplary officer.”
All three officers described how Sgt Ratana was a big foodie, with an infectious laugh, who would love to rugby-tackle his peers in the hallway of stations.
“I remember the last thing he said to me was ‘a rubbish day only lasts 24 hours’,” Sgt Excell added.
A minute’s silence took place across the Met at 11am on Friday, while Hackney police tweeted a picture of a vigil with candles and flowers that was held in honour of Sgt Ratana by officers on the night shift on Thursday.
Described as a “remarkable rugby hero”, Sgt Ratana was also honoured by members of East Grinstead RFC based in West Sussex, where the officer was head coach.
Meanwhile, Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, who this week visited the site of Sgt Ratana’s shooting, has written a tribute to him in the New Zealand Herald newspaper, saying it has been “humbling to see and hear the heartfelt tributes to Matt in the UK and in New Zealand”.
“It has reminded all of us… how much the public values the efforts of police officers to keep them safe,” Dame Cressida wrote. “We have heard from people of all backgrounds, faiths, ages and viewpoints, who recognise Matt’s spirit and his service. At a time of sadness like this, that support means a huge amount.
“Visiting the site… it was striking to see how in a single week the tributes to Matt had become a shrine of respect and pride in the impact he had on people’s lives and the strength of feeling in his death.
“There were flowers, silver ferns, police and rugby tributes – all truly fitting for a man who loved policing and rugby, and took great pride in his service and in his heritage.”
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