Louis De Zoysa

The Murder of Matt Ratana

Louis de Zoysa

"Please leave, please leave."

When Sgt Matiu Ratana began his shift at the Croydon Custody Centre on an evening in September 2020, neither he nor his colleagues realised it would be his last. In the early morning hours, a prisoner was brought in, handcuffed and searched by officers during his arrest. That man was Louis De Zoysa, and unbeknown to the police, he was armed.

In the events that followed, De Zoysa somehow managed to smuggle a weapon into the custody centre, and shoot Sgt. Ratana dead. The married father of one had been three months away from retirement. The subsequent trial attempted to understand why this tragedy occurred, and the police force were left with the question of how such a thing could happened.

Matt Ratana

On November 4, 2020, Matiu “Matt” Ratana was laid to rest. The memorial for the 54-year-old was held at a chapel and attended in person by a limited number of his family, friends and close colleagues due to coronavirus restrictions. Moving tributes were paid to the long-serving policeman at the service in Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex. The Metropolitan police veteran had been just three months from retirement when he was killed in the line of duty.

Along with the many flowers, there was also a traditional Maori fighting weapon called a mere, which the chief of a tribe would hand down to his son, sent as a sign of respect from New Zealand police, where he worked from 2003 to 2008. After his service, Ratana was given a Haka send-off, the traditional Maori war dance, performed by his friends. It was a fitting farewell for such a much loved colleague.

Born to a Maori father, and a mother who had emigrated from Scotland, Matiu Ratana, known as Matt, grew up watching in New Zealand. Although the family was not wealthy, the young Matt did well at school, excelling at sports, and became a prefect. Along with his younger brother James, he liked to watch British TV shows, such as sporting events like the FA Cup final and the 1970s crime series The Professionals.

Matiu "Matt Ratana"

It must have had an effect on the young boy. Although he went to the US to Atlanta State University to do a tennis scholarship, hoping to become a tennis player, he instead decided on a career in law enforcement. By 1991, Matt, then in his early 20’s, moved to London and joined the Mat. Around that time, he also married and the couple had a son.

From the accounts of his co-workers, Sgt Ratana was a hard-working and effective policeman. He had worked an abundance of different jobs in the Metropolitan police, such as working in surveillance, the Territorial Support Group, which deals with some of the most violent situations, for which Ratana had carried a firearm, and he had even been seconded back to New Zealand.

One fellow officer described Ratana as a “natural thief-taker and communicator.” His Commissioner said he would sometimes stand at the open door of his police van as it drove along, claiming he was “engaging with the public.” He had once distracted an angry crowd by launching into a Maori “Haka.” Matt Ratana’s death deeply effected the community, and the entire Metropolitan force, with many questions that still lingered as to how and why he was murdered.

Murder in the Custody Centre

On the evening of September 25, 2020, a prisoner was brought into the Croydon Custody Centre, where Sgt. Ratana was in charge. The man, 23-year-old Louis De Zoysa, had been arrested in the early morning hours by PC’s Davey and Still. Handcuffed, De Zoysa was transported to the Centre in the back of a police van.

Once in the custody suite, Sgt Ratana took control of the situation. He was told De Zoysa had been apprehended in possession of bullets, which were found in his breast pocket. A metal detector was handed to PC Davey, one of the arresting officers, and Ratana told him, “Just wand him down but don’t take the cuffs off.”

Louis De Zoysa moments before shooting Sgt Ratana.

At this moment, De Zoysa became uncompliant, and started muttering to PCs Davey and Still: “Please leave, please leave.” As he was pulled to his feet by PC Davey, De Zoysa brought his still-cuffed hands from behind his back and shot Sgt Ratana. The bullet pierced his heart. A second shot struck the custody sergeant in the leg, while a third hit the cell wall.

A struggle followed, as PC’s Davey and Still leapt on De Zoysa in a bid to restrain him. During that moment, a fourth shot was fired, hitting De Zoysa in the neck. Paramedics responded immediately, but were unable to save the life of Matiu Ratana. The self-inflicted injuries caused Louis De Zoysa to suffer a stroke.

Surgeons had to remove a section of his skull to relieve pressure on his brain. For months he was unable to walk or talk. Eventually, he made a partial recovery, but mostly uses a wheelchair, while his speech is restricted to using single words or short phrases. Despite his debilitating injuries, the Crown Prosecution Service decided he was well enough to be charged with murder.

The violent life of Louis De Zoysa

The lawyers acting for the defendant tried to argue he was unfit to be tried, as he can no longer communicate properly, but the judge disagreed. The trial began on June 06, 2023, and Louis De Zoysa denied the charge of murder against Matt Ratana. The court heard the events that led to Louis De Zoysa’s arrest.

At around midnight on September 25, 2020, he left the flat he had rented on a farm on the edge of London. He carrying an antique Colt revolver, concealed in a holster and hidden under his left arm. This type of weapon was legal at the time because of the obsolete .41 calibre bullets it takes. However, De Zoysa had made his own ammunition.

In each of the six chambers of the revolver, he had placed a bullet. De Zoysa was also carrying seven more bullets in a black pouch he kept in his breast pocket. Shortly after 01:30am, two police officers, PC Rich Davey and PC Samantha Still, observed Louis De Zoysa walking along London Road in Norbury in south London.

He was carrying with him a small brown duffle bag, and the officers decided to conduct a stop and search. Realising he was going to be searched, De Zoysa informed the officers he was in possession of 3g of cannabis. He was placed in handcuffs, and during a search, PC Davey found the bullets.

Upon this discovery, further searches were carried out. The two officers checked De Zoysa’s bag, as well as his waistband. His legs were then frisked, but somehow they missed the gun in the holster under his arm. The officers did not have a metal detector with them in the police car that could be used to locate hidden weapons such as knives and guns.

Now under arrest, Louis De Zoysa was taken to the Croydon Custody Centre in the back of a police van. Detectives believe it was during this journey that De Zoysa managed to move the gun from the holster to his hands, while still cuffed behind his back. There was no metal detector at the entrance to the custody area.

Louis De Zoysa inside the van being taken to the Croydon Custody Suite.

Exactly how he had managed to move the gun was explained. The court was told De Zoysa had hypermobility which gave him unusual flexibility in his joints, and, it was this ability that allowed him at some point during the journey to the custody centre, to move the gun from the holster into his hands and keep it concealed behind his back.

Once De Zoysa was in the custody suite, Sgt Ratana arrived on the scene and assumed charge over the prisoner. As a result of the bullets that were found on his person, Ratana told De Zoysa, “So, you’re probably going to need a further search.” It was then that he fired the fatal shots that killed Sgt. Ratana.

The court heard De Zoysa was diagnosed at the age of thirteen with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), but had done well at school and had learnt how to shoot in the army cadets. He did, however, have a somewhat strained relationship with his father. This was something that was put forward as a possible motive for the events of September 25, 2020.

Prosecutor Jocelyn Ledward told the court, “His motives for carrying the firearm and discharging it at Ratana remain somewhat unclear.” At the time of the murder and its immediate aftermath, it was not clear to detectives why he was walking the streets near his parents house with a loaded gun during the early morning hours.

Aside from his interest in firearms, ammunition and extreme violence, one theory is that he was there to confront his Sri-Lanka-born father, Channa De Zoysa, who has convictions for domestic violence and allegedly carried out a reign of terror against his son. The two had a past history of volatile relations, and he was no longer living at the family home.

His father and mother, Elizabeth, were portrayed as Roman Catholic churchgoers, who were keen members of community and enthusiastic cyclists. Together they ran cycling groups for children, and won a ‘Green Household’ award in 2007 for their ecological awareness. A former electronics engineer, Channa De Zoysa, worked as a yoga teacher who kept bees and played badminton.

He was known locally as “Dr Bike,” for his free bicycle repair clinics, and boasted that he left children ‘safe and happy’ through his publicly-funded ‘Cycling Academy’. Outwardly, they appeared to be a happy and accomplished family. But behind closed doors, it was a very different matter. Louis De Zoysa painted a different portrait of his father.

He described him as a ‘criminal’ and former ‘drug dealer’ who had been hooked on cocaine for a decade. When questioned by the prosecution, the defendant, now brain damaged, answered questions with one word answers, or through use of a white board to communicate. When asked about his father, De Zoysa became animated, describing how he had been beaten for even the most ‘trivial’ things.

He went on to explain the ‘crazy violence’ at the dinner table, and how as his father once pulled a knife on another family member. De Zoysa described an incident where his father was arrested for assault after hitting his son so hard with a wooden slat, that he broke his foot. When officers arrived, they were told how Channa had previously attacked his son while on holiday in Sri-Lanka, leaving him requiring stitches to the back of his head.

Eventually social workers intervened for a decade in order to monitor the children’s safety, and Elizabeth De Zoysa took out a restraining order on her husband, cutting him off financially before they later reconciled. Over subsequent years police were routinely called to the family home due to calls of domestic violence.

As the young De Zoysa grew older, he started to fight back. He admitted to the court he once battered his father with a metal rod, setting the bedroom carpet on fire, fighting with him and kicking him off his bike in 2019. When asked how he felt about the violence in the household, Louis De Zoysa replied, “brewing.”

A court drawing of Louis De Zoysa during the trial.

His father was not present in court to hear the charges against his son, who suffered bullying during his time in school, from fellow classmates who threw chains at him. A higher achieving student who gained straight A’s in his A-levels at the Catholic John Fisher Secondary School, De Zoysa was known as an un-sporty ‘very clever maths geek,’ who struggled to make any friends.

One clinical psychologist stated that De Zoysa’s difficulties with social interaction, along with his restricted interests and the rigidity in his way of thinking, indicated he might be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. However, others, in particular his fellow former students, describe a more arrogant young man.

An Obsession with Guns

In his school yearbook, “Do what you must, for I have already won.” Former pupils recall a deeply troubled young man with an interest in weapons, something that led to him being disciplined for bringing an air gun onto school grounds. One of his classmates jokingly wrote in the official leavers book, “He was good with weapons.”

De Zoysa boasted to others that he often surfed the ‘Dark Web’, and one of his friends remembered him designing weapons on school computers. “He used to brag about he could see hitmen and guns for sale, and used to watch murder videos… ISIS videos and things like that. You’ve got kids playing outside or doing homework, and he was in the corner watching these videos.”

When studying mechanical engineering at the University College London in 2017, he was pictured smiling while brandishing a medieval broad sword. A year later in 2018, and two years before the murder of Matt Ratana, De Zoysa was referred to the Home Office’s ‘Prevent’ de-radicalisation programme after fears arose that he had “extreme Islamist and right wing views.”

However, he was assessed as “posing no threat.” A year into his studies, he dropped out, but was able to hold down a job as a data analyst at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in Croydon. There he was praised by colleagues for his ability to write computer code from scratch. Unbeknown to others, De Zoysa had begun to smoke increasing amounts of cannabis.

His typical day would often be described as ‘weed, oven, gym, food, bath’. In a bid to escape his fathers increasingly hostile and violent natures, and looking for his own solitude, De Zoysa moved out of the family home and lived eight miles away on a farm in Banstead, Surrey. Now away from his overbearing father, he secretly purchased an antique revolver from an online auction.

Because the gun was considered antiquated, obsolete and with the .41 calibre ammunition no longer available, he did not require a gun license. But he soon set about purchasing primers, casings and lead balls to make his own ammunition for the weapon, which he test fired at the farm to make sure it worked. When he was arrested, minutes from his parents home, he was carrying the fully loaded revolver, spare bullets and a bag of cannabis.

The antique revolver using by De Zoysa to murder Sgt Ratana.

He never told police what his intentions were the night he was arrested. But it was clear he intended to take revenge on his father. The morning after the shooting, the De Zoysa’s £600,000 home was searched by detectives as the couple sat handcuffed on the sofa. To them, it was clear who was at fault. They claimed the police had ‘failed’ their son. They believe it was a series of blunders by police that led to the death of Sgt. Matt Ratana, and that his family should seek compensation from the police force rather than from their son.

During his time in hospital after the shooting, officers seized a drawing made by De Zoysa of ‘two officers and gun.’ He had scrawled the drawing while recovering after shooting himself in the neck. His mother Elizabeth De Zoysa said, “He drew a picture of what happened because he’s been very, very anxious about the police presence, and police took it.”

“He showed it to his consultant,” she said. “Louis hasn’t been able to sleep very well and the consultant speculated it was because of the police presence this triggered something.” She went on to accuse the police of controlling his visits from family, his letters and the calls they made to their son in prison.

She went to say her son should have been accompanied by an appropriate adult at the custody centre, adding “I’m quite concerned that the IOPC hasn’t followed up on how the police have conducted the investigation.” At this trial, De Zoysa told the jury he was sad the officer died. He told the court he had not meant to kill Sgt. Ratana, nor cause him any serious harm. He claimed diminished responsibility, however the jury did not believe this.

On June 23, 2023, Louis De Zoysa was found guilty of murdering Met Police sergeant Matt Ratana by shooting him in the chest. The jury at Northampton Crown Court ruled he acted deliberately. He is scheduled to be sentenced on July 27th.

Procedural Changes

An investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) found that PC’s Rich Davey and Samantha Still should not face any disciplinary proceedings. Following the conclusion of its investigation, in June 2021, the IOPC said it recommended that the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) consider the introduction of handheld metal detectors in all response vehicles and vehicles used to transport detained people, a suggestion it said had been accepted by the NPCC.

The parents of De Zoysa complained after the IOPC announced its findings that neither officer would face misconduct charges. Mrs De Zoysa said, “Louis was hung drawn and quartered by this press release. As Louis’ family, we want justice, but we want the truth more than anything, truth and reconciliation. People aren’t thinking the police had done something wrong.”

IOPC director of operations Amanda Rowe said: “Although the officers searching De Zoysa did not strictly follow [Met Police Service] 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.” Met Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy said: “The officers, once they searched him on the street, Louis De Zoysa always remained in handcuffs.”

“When the ammunition was found on him the handcuffs were moved from a front position to a back position.” He did, however, praise their bravery once the shooting started. “The two arresting officers, I think without any thought, instinctively jumped on De Zoysa to try and wrestle the firearm away and get it off him,” he said.

He went on to say that all frontline officers in the Metropolitan Police would, from now on, have metal detectors in their cars. The officers who arrested De Zoysa did not have a metal detector in their car. Cundy also said the force was trialling an airport-style body-scanner for use at custody suites.

Matt Ratana’s younger brother James, who still lives in New Zealand, had lived a life of crime, and as a result had become familiar with police station procedures. He finds it difficult to believe that London police did not detect the gun. “What they’ve told us,” he said, “is they’ve changed the procedures and all these sorts of things.”

“They’ve got metal detectors when you walk in through now. I’m like, well, they’ve got those in the police stations here. They’ve had them for years. In New Zealand, for a fact, what he had on him if he was here in New Zealand, they would have found that. Because I’ve been through that situation. I’ve been through police stations where they searched the suspect. It was not done right.”

Written by Nucleus

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