Commissioner Cressida Dick, tribute read at the funeral of Sgt Matt Ratana: Matt was a fantastic, professional police officer. A brilliant Sergeant and a leader. A supremely loyal colleague and friend, a true team player. He mentored and coached generations of officers, young and old/junior and senior.
The key to what made Matt a great police officer has already been mentioned – his lovely nature and his big, generous, lion’s heart. He brought amazing energy and determination to his job and to his life. As enthusiastic after 25 years as he was after two. Who else would have done a night duty at Wood Green, then had a great big breakfast – a great big Turkish Breakfast on Green Lanes no doubt – and then head back for another night shift.
He had great presence but never shouted or drew attention to himself. He was clever and insightful but never showed off. He always stayed calm, never overreacted but was incredibly quick to asses a situation, to spot danger and jump to protect others, or to spot an opportunity to arrest someone, to stop a crime. He was a disciplinarian at work who set high standards but he never embarrassed anyone. Instead a quiet word with the senior officer making a fool of themselves or an arm round the shoulder of a probationer who wasn’t ‘getting it’.
He had a great sense of fairness and of doing right by people. He had a huge interest in people and gave himself generously to others – as we’ve heard – he had time for everybody and he spoke to people as an equal. Whether you were a homeless person, a victim of crime, a garage hand, or a member of the Royal Family – Matt treated you with respect and with interest and fairness. Never patronising or over deferential. Matt was very kind – colleagues describe random acts of kindness when they were struggling or sad. He once saw a little boy at a football match, on his birthday but unable to see properly so Matt picked him up and carried him, no doubt blagged his way, for the boy to sit in the manager’s seat. Matt joined the Met after his early life in New Zealand. After studying at University he left to travel. First to the US where he worked as a tennis coach in North Carolina, Nashville and Atlanta. Then on to the UK in 1989, where he worked in a pub, as a delivery driver and on building sites. Through rugby he met police officers and decided to join what we call ‘the Job’. In his first week at Hendon in 1991, he wrote ‘I am content with what is happening in my life and foresee a bright and stimulating time ahead’. He fell on his feet. The Met suited him and he suited the Met. We were lucky to have him. He had a huge natural talent and a great pride in police work. His presence and leadership skills were obvious from the start. He was a somewhat reluctant but very popular and respected class captain at Hendon. He threw himself into police sport, representing the Met in rugby union and league and the Met and UK police at tennis. He went on to serve the public in roles across London in frontline roles in response, in the homeless unit, in Westminster, Hillingdon, Hackney and Croydon. When Matt returned to Aotearoa ‘the land of the long white cloud’ he joined 73 other UK cops in joining the New Zealand police, serving proudly for several years in South Auckland – a very different environment, no doubt. In London he also spent several years on the Territorial Support Group dealing with the most dangerous criminals, high risk situations, and the most demanding public order policing. To do this he had to – and did – acquire some really high level skills. He carried a firearm, he was surveillance trained, he led proactive crime operations, and became an absolute expert in public order tactics, relied on by public order bronzes as their ‘tac advisor’ – keeping them safe and straight in their command role, when they had people’s lives in their hands. Matt’s expertise in this field, his love of the challenges of difficult protests, of potential disorder, of the big events, of Notting Hill carnival – was legendary. So many speak of the wisdom, the encouragement – the giving of courage. When it was all kicking off and could go badly wrong, Matt was there. The hand on the back, the Kiwi whisper in the ear, the right suggestion to the commander at the right time, and the smile. Matt received a number of commendations, including one for his off duty actions when he spotted and followed a man with a firearm and a knife, giving brilliant commentary on the telephone leading to a safe arrest. He was described by one Chief Superintendent, as ‘quite simply the best natural thief taker and communicator I have known.’ His work rate was phenomenal but it’s worth remembering that most of the people he arrested parted from him with a hand shake. He loved to be proactive ‘on the front foot’, as he would say. So he loved his work in safer neighbourhoods in Hackney Central, and south Norwood and in Croydon. A chance to work closely with the public, to really solve some crime and antisocial behaviour problems, to develop a great team and to make a difference. He was well known, respected, admired and it seems loved by people in his local communities. He could see things from others’ perspectives and he was always focussed on what was best for the public. He wasn’t always orthodox in his methods. He referred to himself as the ‘Sheriff of South Norwood.’ He insisted, against all health and safety guidelines, on standing at the wide open door of a carrier on patrol in high crime areas. ‘Engaging’ he would say, with the public, ready to pounce on the drug dealer or thief. Once, a tac advisor, he and his bronze Commander found themselves in a – technical term – a pickle. Isolated, facing an increasingly angry crowd during a difficult protest. Matt unceremoniously picked the Commander up and placed her behind him, he then launched into a Haka, thereby both amazing and distracting the crowd and diffusing the situation sufficiently to allow a reasonably – dignified – hasty retreat. In the 2011 disorder in London, Matt was in charge of a public order serial in Hackney. These were tough times. Night after night they were given food by a grateful kebab shop. The owners kept refusing to take payment. Once calm was restored, Matt returned to the shop and insisted they took full payment, also presenting them with a specially engraved Met plaque. He then announced he would work there for the day and preceded to don a chef’s hat and apron and serve kebabs for eight hours in his own time. Matt spent the last 18 months of his service in Croydon and other custody suites. When first introduced to custody work Matt was – I believe – dragged there kicking and screaming as he preferred to be outside, with the public, in the action. And frankly like many of us, settling down to paperwork and record keeping was not his forte. He could do it. In fact he wrote beautifully, I have read many of his reports, but he preferred to get on the next job. At Croydon he saw it as an opportunity to make a difference, perhaps for some overtime, but also to help investigating officers and detainees alike, and to support and lead a team of very dedicated detention officers. It’s not an easy environment to work in and Matt excelled in his motivation and encouragement of his colleagues. Put simply they adored him. Some months before he died Matt decided to create a new gym at the custody suite. He was passionate about his team’s wellbeing. He found an area that could be converted and through his drive and force of personality he got permissions for the building works and began to acquire the gym equipment. On the night he died Matt took his team excitedly over to the gym. So typical of Matt, having fun with his team, moving things on and looking to the future. Matt was the ultimate team player. His team, the public order team, the Met team. All the other teams. He loved them. Policing is all about teams and Matt knew that. A great leader, in the shadows often. Everyone wanted Matt on their team and everyone wanted to be on Matt’s team. Thank you Su, for your enormous support to Matt in his policing life. You made him very happy indeed. I hope it is some small comfort to you, to Luke and his family, to know what a huge impact he had on so many people’s lives through his work. His legacy in policing will live on in all those people he has trained, encouraged, taught and in the inspiration he gives to police people now and for generations to come. Thank you Matt for all you have done and all you have given in nearly 30 years of service to London and the public. We miss you, we honour you, we won’t forget you. And, to quote, one of your teams who loved and love you dearly – ‘– ‘we’ll take it from here, Sarg.’