A police officer shot dead by a handcuffed suspect at a south London station had moved into custody work because he thought it was safer as he approached retirement, a friend said.
Tributes have poured in for Metropolitan Police Sergeant Matiu Ratana following his death after a 23-year-old gunman opened fire at Croydon Custody Centre in south London in the early hours of Friday.
Investigations are continuing into how the suspect, who had been detained for possession of ammunition and possession of class B drugs, was able to access the weapon.
Sgt Ratana, known as Matt to family and friends, thought working in the custody suite was his “safest option” as he neared the end of his lengthy police career, said a friend, Neil Donohue.
Donohue told BBC Breakfast: “He thought it was his safest option just to see him through to his retirement and no-one expected this to happen – certainly not within the police cells.”
He described the officer as “the most nicest, generous man you could meet”, and said he was “just a really genuinely nice guy”.
Ratana, 54, was originally from New Zealand and joined the force in 1991.
Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, who with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, led police officers across the capital in a minute’s silence on Friday, described Sgt Ratana as a “talented police officer”.
He was “big in stature, big in heart, friendly, capable, a lovely man and highly respected by his colleagues”, and leaves behind a partner and adult son, Dick said.
His partner’s sister told the Sun he was aware of the dangers of being a police officer but saw it as “all part of the job”.
Describing the news of his death as “devastating”, she told the newspaper: “He was dedicated to being a police officer and had almost 30 years of service.
“He knew the dangers of working in London but for him it was all part of the job.”
The suspect, who had been arrested for possession of Class B drugs with intent to supply and possession of ammunition, also shot himself during the incident at about 2.15am and is in a critical but stable condition in hospital.
No police firearms were fired and the case is not being treated as terror-related.
The suspect was not regarded a subject of interest by security services, but reports suggest he may have previously been referred to the anti-extremism Prevent programme.
A murder probe has been launched and investigators from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) watchdog attended the scene and have obtained CCTV and body-worn video footage from the officers present.
These will now be reviewed in the coming days and initial accounts from the officers present will also be taken.
The suspect was arrested by regular officers following a stop and search, then handcuffed behind his back before being taken to the station in a police vehicle.
The IOPC said he was taken into the building and sat in a holding area in the custody suite, then opened fire while still in handcuffs as officers prepared to search him with a metal detector.
IOPC regional director Sal Naseem said: “It is at that point that shots were fired resulting in the fatal injuries to the officer and critical injuries to the man.
“A non-police issue firearm, which appears to be a revolver, has been recovered from the scene. Further ballistic work will be required.”