Lamont Roper: Family of Black student who drowned in canal following police pursuit demand answers after inquest

Thursday 2 December 2021

Allison Munroe QC, of the Garden Court Chambers Inquests and Inquiries Team, represents Lamont’s family instructed by Eva Luna Roszykiewicz of Bhatt Murphy solicitors.

The family are supported by INQUEST caseworker Selen Cavcav.

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Lamont Roper drowned in Lock 17 of the River Lea following a police pursuit in Tottenham, London. An inquest concluded on 30 November 2021, noting, in particular, the inadequacy of resources for water rescue along the canal and lock, the lack of sufficient police resources, and the lack of a specialised on-call dive rescue team.

The inquest also found that a struggle between Lamont and a PC Collins took place at railings closest to the edge of Lock 17, culminating in the officer releasing Lamont, who fell into the canal and drowned.

Lamont was a 23-year-old Black man. His family describe him as a very warm and friendly person who would always go out of his way to help those around him and inspire people to follow their dreams. He was very active in his church and had a real passion for music. The family told the inquest Lamont had never learned to swim. He was deeply scared of water and had often stated that his worst nightmare was drowning.

On 7 October 2020 at approximately 9.10pm, Metropolitan police officers approached Lamont and his three friends (one of whom was Black and two White) who were travelling north along the canal towpath. Lamont was on a bicycle and his two friends were on electric scooters.

The officers told the inquest they had intelligence about recent robberies involving Black males between the ages of 16 and 24, wearing dark clothing and possibly on pedal cycles, and were intending to stop and speak to the group. PC Collins told the inquest that he believed he had grounds to stop and search the group.

Lamont continued along the towpath on his bicycle. He was pursued by PC Collins, who was on an electric bicycle, up the towpath towards Tottenham. The inquest heard evidence that the officer in pursuit was on restricted duties with a requirement to activate his body-worn camera during operational matters, including stop and searches. At the time of the pursuit, PC Collins had his camera underneath his zipped-up cycle jacket and, in any event, did not activate it.

PC Collins told the inquest that Lamont fell from his bicycle near Lock 17. The officer then detained him on the ground. He described two struggles, the first taking place where Lamont fell from his bicycle, and a second taking place close to the edge of the lock. Unbeknown to the officer, his camera had activated during the second struggle, although the footage of this use of force was obscured by his jacket.

In the recording, Lamont can be heard saying, “please let me go, please mate”. The officer told the inquest he backed off at this point after feeling a possible weapon in Lamont’s waistband. The officer can be heard saying “okay, go, go”; only two seconds later a splash can be heard and the officer then says “oh f***”. Lamont had entered the water at Lock 17 at Ferry Lane in Tottenham.

PC Collins can be heard then, radioing his control room stating, “Need urgent assistance, there’s a male in the canal. Fallen in. By Tottenham Hale”. Within minutes, however, the officer can be heard informing colleagues who attended that Lamont had jumped in the water.

The officer did not call out to Lamont but told the inquest that he could see that Lamont was drowning. He also said that he could not see any life-saving equipment by the canal, nor did he have any specific equipment on him to assist with rescuing someone who had gone into the water.

Some four minutes after Lamont went into the water, PC Collins climbed down a ladder at the side of the lock and swam to where he last saw Lamont but was unable to find him. Other officers began to arrive on the scene, as well as staff from the London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service.

A search of the lock and surrounding areas took place, however, this was limited as none of the emergency services present were equipped to go under the surface of the water. During the search a 90 minute “golden hour” was agreed between the emergency services present, i.e. that was the period during which life was considered sustainable upon rescue.

The search was called off at approximately midnight and the following morning MPS Marine Unit divers were asked to attend the lock. A diver entered the lock at 9.33am on 8 October 2020 and only two minutes later found Lamont’s body. Lamont was declared dead at the scene.

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) incident commander on the scene told the inquest that she did not consider the possibility of asking divers to attend on the night. A Marine Unit officer on scene told the inquest that MPS divers cannot work at night and therefore he did not ask them to attend. However, the inquest then heard from the diver who recovered Lamont’s body, who said that there was no reason, in principle, that he could not have conducted a search of the canal the previous night during the crucial “golden hour”.

The inquest jury concluded that the cause of Lamont’s death was consistent with drowning and noted the following in their conclusions:

  • Non-compliance with stop and search request
  • Inadequate resources for water rescue along the canal and Lock 17
  • Lack of sufficient police resources
  • Lack of specialised on-call rescue team [i.e. divers]

A hearing will be held at a later date to determine whether the coroner will make a report to prevent future deaths on the issues identified. In 2015 Jack Susianta drowned after jumping into the River Lea whilst being pursued by police officers near the Leyton Marshes. He was 17 and had Indonesian and White Mixed ethnic heritage. In this case, officers also did not have rescue equipment and there was a delay in entering the water.

The family of Lamont Roper said: 

“We are disappointed by the outcome of what we had hoped would be a robust inquiry into the circumstances of our beloved Lamont’s death. We have spent the last 14 months praying that this inquest would bring us some much-needed answers as to the circumstances of his death, but today we feel no closer than we were when we first learned of his passing.

We are relieved that the jury agreed with us that Lamont did not jump into the canal voluntarily but instead fell, despite what was told to us by the Metropolitan Police Service and supported by the Independent Office for Police Conduct. We are also relieved that the jury recognised the lack of resources for water rescue along the canal and Lock 17, a general lack of police resources, and the lack of a specialist on-call rescue team such as divers who might have been able to save Lamont in the critical period after he entered Lock 17.

We are, however, disappointed that the conclusions as to the circumstances of Lamont’s death do not reflect the poor judgement we believe was exercised by both the officers involved and the MPS more generally in terms of the decision to stop and pursue Lamont, as well as in relation to the inherent dangers of conducting cycle pursuits at speed and in the dark on a narrow towpath so close to a body of water. At the end of this inquest, we feel no reassurance that another family will not one day soon be grieving the loss of their loved one in similar circumstances”.

Eva Luna Roszykiewicz of Bhatt Murphy solicitors, who represent the family, said:

“At the inquest, the jury heard disturbing evidence that PC Collins pursued Lamont on an electric bicycle, at speed and in the dark, on a narrow path along the canal, having received no training in cycle pursuits and not having been issued with any specific equipment or training for the eventuality of a person entering the water.

Whilst the coroner found that there was no causal link between the actions of the MPS and Lamont Roper’s death, the jury’s conclusions refer to a number of issues, including a lack of sufficient police resources, inadequate water rescue equipment along the canal, and a lack of a specialist on-call dive team. These are clearly things that can and must be rectified as a matter of urgency.

The inquest, unfortunately, failed to address many of the elephants in the room in this case. Another young black man has died in Tottenham following police contact yet neither the MPS nor the IOPC has ever acknowledged the possibility that Lamont’s race may have played a part in the officers’ decision making over the course of the events leading to Lamont’s death.”

Selen Cavcav, Senior Caseworker at INQUEST, who support the family said: 

"This inquest showed concerning evidence of a chaotic police force lacking basic training and equipment to save Lamont’s life. His family had to watch body camera footage showing officers using inappropriate language and displaying very poor decision making and leadership.

His is the second death following police pursuit in the River Lea. It is also one of the many deaths of young Black men following police contact. The issue around structural racism which is embedded in policing practices continues to be ignored by the investigation and inquest processes.”

A version of this press release was first published on INQUEST's website on 02/12/2021.

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