Heartbreaking tributes have been paid to a Metropolitan Police officer who was shot dead at a custody centre in south London.
Matiu Ratana, 54, died after being shot at Croydon Custody Centre during the early hours of Friday.
The officer, also known as Matt, joined the police in 1991 and served in the force for almost 30 years.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said he was a long-serving and “much-loved” officer.
She described him as “big in stature, big in heart, friendly, capable, a lovely man and highly respected by his colleagues”.
One friend said Sgt Ratana was looking forward to retirement and told the PA news agency: “I think he earned his stripes, if you ask me.”
The police officer leaves behind a partner and an adult son from a previous relationship.
Sgt Ratana, originally from Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand, came to London in 1989, two years before joining the force.
Dame Cressida detailed his career in the Metropolitan Police, starting as the captain of his recruit training class before working as a constable on the streets of the West End and Westminster.
He later worked with the Territorial Support Group across London and in Hillingdon.
A former colleague of Sgt Ratana’s, John Davies, said the officer was a “proud Maori”.
Mr Davies, 58, worked with Sgt Ratana for the Metropolitan Police from 2002 to 2004.
He told PA: “He was a truly remarkable, strong and unique individual.
“He would have left an impression on all those he came into contact with. He was a great guy and will be sorely missed.”
Sgt Ratana was promoted to sergeant in 2010, before moving to Croydon in 2015.
Dame Cressida described the keen rugby player as a “leader in his sport”.
She continued: “He was very well known locally and he will be remembered so fondly in Croydon and missed there, as well as in the Met and in the rugby world.”
A police source said he had also been based in some of London’s toughest boroughs, including Hackney and Newham, both in east London.
The source said: “He was a great police officer, proactive and helpful and he did a huge amount for children’s charities. This was a huge f*** up.
“The bottom line is if you arrest someone you have to search them and you must handcuff them in a vehicle.”
Amanda Tessier, whose sister Sue has been in a relationship with Sgt Ratana for four years, said: “He was a great big friendly bear of a man, one of the loveliest men you could meet.
“He as absolutely dedicated to being a police officer and had almost 30 years of service.
“He knew the dangers of being a police officer in London and he had spoken about them, but for him it was all part of the job.
“It was something he was trained in and used to.”
Sgt Ratana was the head coach of East Grinstead Rugby Club. The club’s chairman, Bob Marsh, and president, Andy Poole, said they were “utterly devastated”.
They said: “Matt was an inspiring and much-loved figure at the club and there are truly no words to describe how we are feeling.”
The officer was also described as “an inspiration” by a friend who knew him from playing rugby together at the club.
The 27-year-old friend, who would only give his name as Paul, told PA: “We all looked to him – on the field or off the rugby field… losing that is big.
“The man was a machine. He went from training with us last night to come to his shift work here in Croydon. He would do that week in and week out.
“He bought into the whole family atmosphere that we had at the club.
“A few of my team-mates (on hearing about his death) are just not sure how to take it.”
England Rugby tweeted: “Our thoughts and those of the entire rugby family are with the family and friends of Sergeant Matt Ratana. Head Coach at @RugbyEGRFC who gave so much to our sport.”
England rugby player Danny Care tweeted: “This is awful. All my thoughts and prayers with Matt’s family and friends.”
Community police officer Jacqueline Kufuor told PA “Sgt Ratana was a lovely guy” and “the nicest man I have ever met”.
She said: “He was a very lovely man. He was such a nice man. When he sees you, he would just stand and talk to you.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “My deepest condolences go to the family, friends and colleagues of the police officer who was killed in Croydon last night.
“We owe a huge debt to those who risk their own lives to keep us safe.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel added: “I am deeply shocked and saddened to learn that a Metropolitan Police officer has been shot and killed in the line of duty.
“This is a sad day for our country and another terrible reminder of how our police officers put themselves in danger each and every day to keep the rest of us safe.”
A murder probe has been launched by the Met Police and investigators from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) are probing how the gun got into the custody suite.
A 23-year-old man who was being detained is in a critical condition with gunshot wounds after seemingly turning the weapon on himself.
Police have not confirmed why the suspect was arrested, or how he had a loaded gun inside the custody centre.
A poignant minute’s silence was held at 4pm at the station on Friday.