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Matt Ratana: The sports-mad Kiwi who chose to serve the people of his adopted country

Martin Evans
·3-min read
Matt Ratana was educated at Palmerston North Boys High School where he excelled at sport, especially rugby - Metropolitan Police/AFP
Matt Ratana was educated at Palmerston North Boys High School where he excelled at sport, especially rugby - Metropolitan Police/AFP

To his colleagues in the Metropolitan Police force and his teammates on the rugby field, Matt Ratana was simply one of the good guys.

Physically huge, and with an even bigger personality, the sports-mad Kiwi was close to retiring from the police, having served for 29 years, although he had no intention of putting his feet up.

Having played rugby for a string of top-level clubs including London Irish, Mr Ratana could have turned professional – but instead he chose to join the police and serve the people of his adopted city and country.

Three years ago, when PC Keith Palmer, the last Metropolitan Police officer to be murdered on duty, was stabbed to death, Mr Ratana spoke for a nation when he told his followers on Facebook: "Good will overcome evil. The British people never surrender."

On Friday night, his devastated friends and colleagues (paying tribute to Mr Ratana in the video below) found themselves having to reflect on those poignant words once again.

Born in New Zealand, Mr Ratana was brought up in the picturesque Hawke's Bay area of the North Island and educated at Palmerston North Boys High School where he excelled at sport, especially rugby.

While studying town planning at Otago University, he played club rugby for Ravensbourne RFC and, after graduating in 1989, moved to the UK, where he was signed by London Irish.

In December 1991, having fallen in love with Britain, he decided to stay and joined the Metropolitan Police Service as a constable. He married his girlfriend, Theresa, in Slough in 1992 and they had a son the following year.

Despite his policing career, the talented loosehead prop always found time for rugby, playing for a string of clubs around the south of England. As his playing career tailed off he moved into coaching and had most recently been based at East Grinstead Rugby Club.

Gareth Davies, a Telegraph journalist who was coached by him during his time at Hove Rugby Club, said he was a "giant man with a giant heart".

He said: "Matt was just one of those top blokes who was instantly likeable. When I was struggling for confidence, he would not only sense that I was low but know exactly what to say to remind me I was good enough.

"He commanded respect. He was hard as nails but selfless beyond measure. A giant of a man with a giant heart."

Starting off his policing career at Charing Cross, in central London, Mr Ratana (watch tributes being paid to him in the Commons in the video below) later joined the Territorial Support Group before moving to the Safer Neighbourhood team in Hackney.

Passionate about making a difference and helping people, he eventually took on the challenging role of custody sergeant at the busy station in Croydon. The role involved checking in suspects who had been arrested and ensuring that they were being kept safe.

One colleague said: "The appalling irony about this is that as custody sergeant Matt was there to be the guardian of the suspect, to protect him and guarantee his rights."

A former colleague who worked with him from the beginning of his career said he "cared passionately" about his job.

"There are people who you could cut in half and they would bleed blue," he said. "Matt was one of them. He was always up for a joke and a laugh and a squeeze, but he was absolutely serious about police work. It's heartbreaking for his colleagues."

Mr Ratana, whose son is understood to have followed in his footsteps by joining the police in Western Australia, had been in a relationship for the past four years with Sue Bushby. She was being comforted by family.