One dark night in October 1997, young 20-year-old, Brunel University computer science student, Ricky Reel failed to return home after a night out with friends in Kingston Upon Thames. A week later his body was found in the River Thames. But despite initial assumptions made by the police, this was not a simple accident, and Ricky’s mother has spent the past 23 years battling against the system to find the truth about what really happened to her son on that fateful October night.
Now, 23 years on, former EastEnders and Bend It Like Beckham star, Ameet Chana has teamed up with west London born Bollywood music producer Rishi Rich and singer-songwriter Kiranee to pick up the baton and remind the world, through music, about the injustice faced by the family of Ricky Reel.
When Ricky uncharacteristically failed to return home his family went to the local police, but they were turned away and sent to another police station closer to their home. Again, the Reel family were turned away, passed between different stations and the officers joked that Ricky had probably run away in order to avoid an arranged marriage and that maybe he was gay. They even implied that Sukhdev Reel, his own mother, was involved in his disappearance! The family is clear that these assumptions were based on their race.
Neither police station took the investigation seriously and Sukhdev Reel remembers, “We were begging on our knees asking them to find Ricky. We were out in groups looking for our son. We were putting up posters, collecting evidence like CCTV and handing it to police.”
But a week later, Ricky’s body was found in the River Thames. On the night in question, two youths were witnessed shouting “P*k*s go home” before they attacked Ricky and his friends.
The Police initially endeavoured to persuade the family that Ricky must have fallen into the river whilst he was urinating and told the family no further investigation was needed. But Ricky’s family have always believed that he was murdered, stating that his phobia of open water would have never led him to urinate near a river. The family themselves along with campaigners obtained a wealth of evidence, including commissioning their own independent post mortem which showed that this was not an accident. Additionally, his own friends who accompanied him that night described being racially attacked.
No forensic examination was undertaken of the scene where Ricky’s body was recovered nor of his clothes which were returned to the family, resulting in vital evidence being lost. This clearly shows the police’s negligence and closed mind.
The Reel family’s commissioned post-mortem indicated that Ricky had fallen into the River Thames backwards, his shirt was torn and Ricky also had blunt-impact bruising on his back. An external investigation into the conduct of the police had found that there were ‘weaknesses and flaws’ in the original investigation, that vital CCTV had been destroyed without being viewed and statements had not been taken by the police in time. Instead of looking for the suspects responsible for Ricky’s death, the police spied on the Reel family, wrongly worried that Sukhdev was arranging violent and political protests.
‘Justice for Ricky Reel’ is the emotive retelling, through song and the spoken word, of the true story of a mother and her continuous struggle for justice following the death of her beloved son.
Ricky’s mother, Sukhdev began writing poetry after Ricky’s death and those same words are sung by Kiranee in this dedication to Ricky’s life. With Ameet Chana writing and performing the spoken word portions of this song; ‘Justice For Ricky Reel’ is a true tale of every mother’s worst nightmare and a reminder to stand up for what is right, despite the adversities we may face.
October 21, 2020 marks the 23rd anniversary of Ricky’s body being found. Sukhdev Reel has spent all these years fighting for answers and her fight continues as she prepares to go back before the Courts in 2021.
Excerpts of Sukhdev’s interviews have been used within the track to highlight the obstacles her family have faced whilst raising questions into Ricky’s death. Rishi Rich has put this project together from the heart to give Sukhdev Reel, a fighter and a mother, a voice of strength with the hope that the name Ricky Reel and the search for justice are not forgotten.
Actor, director and radio presenter Ameet Chana adds: “For young Asians growing up back in 1997, we all felt an immense sense of anger and injustice after Ricky’s death. 2020 has been a pivotal year and the tipping point for so much change. I can only pray that 23 years on, the police and the judicial system take this as an opportunity to right another wrong in the community.”
Rishi Rich, now based in Mumbai says of the project: “People across the whole world know about Stephen Lawrence and the institutional racism that has been highlighted as a result of Doreen Lawrence’s resolute determination for justice. However, Ricky’s death happened three years later and the treatment his mother received was unforgivable. I was pretty much the same age as Ricky – and I remember everything about that time. Ricky’s death and his mother’s fight had a huge impact on me and this track is a tribute to both Ricky and his mother.”
The supporting video is a simple tribute to Ricky Reel with family footage, his photos and images of various protests, marches and gatherings arranged by Sukhdev Reel over the last 20+ years. The emotional visual also includes Ameet Chana and Kiranee performing their portions of the track ‘Justice for Ricky Reel’.
UK born Kiranee, who is also now based in Mumbai says: “Sukhdev’s strength and resilience should be an inspiration to every woman out there. She has fought tooth and nail for answers, closure and justice and continues to do so. I sincerely hope that our song reminds people of what happened to Ricky and that the road to justice is still being travelled.”
Sukhdev Reel is adamant the fight for justice will continue: “Rishi Rich and Ameet Chana have been supporting the Justice for Ricky Reel campaign for quite some time. Rishi agreed to write and produce a song for Ricky on his 23rd anniversary. Kiranee and Ameet also have been working to produce the song. Our aim is to highlight a family’s pain, anguish and grief after losing a son. It is also a message to show the authorities that we have not gone away. Our fight to get justice for our son Ricky continues. Our message is quite clear that we are all equal and that black lives do matter. They are also entitled to justice.”
John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington has been a firm supporter over the years: “Losing Ricky was heartbreaking for his family and our whole community. I remember our shock and worry from the first day he was missing. I also recall our anger and frustration at the failure of the police to assist our campaign for the truth and now we know they were surveilling us. We will never forget Ricky and we will never cease in the search for justice for him and his loving family.”