A police investigator is to face a disciplinary hearing over an inquiry into the mysterious death of a talented black student who was struck by a train following a night out in Plymouth.
The parents of Romello McCook, 22, have claimed the British Transport Police (BTP) did not investigate his death thoroughly because of his race and have fought for five years to try to find out exactly what happened.
The BTP strongly deny the allegations of racism but a misconduct meeting is being held for a civilian fatality investigator who allegedly failed to conduct an effective investigation.
McCook’s parents, Lawrence and Vivienne, from Abingdon, Oxfordshire, said they remained angry at how their son’s death had been investigated. “We have lost all trust and confidence in the British Transport Police,” they told the Guardian. “We will forever have unanswered questions surrounding our only child’s death, due to ineptitude.”
Luke Pollard, the MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said: “The McCooks have a right to the truth about what happened to their son and a right to justice for the failings by the police. Losing a child is heartbreaking but that loss has been compounded by the way they were treated by the police. All they want is the truth and to be treated fairly.”
On the night of 29-30 September 2018, McCook, who was about to begin a course in architectural engineering, left a club in the early hours. His bank card was used in a shop at 6.05am and shortly after 10am he was hit by a train.
It was put down as an accident, but McCook’s parents could not understand why he was more than two miles from his accommodation and walking in the opposite direction.
They were mystified that he did not appear to have his phone with him, though he was “addicted” to it, and could not understand how he had got on to the line as there was a high fence.
Dissatisfied with the police inquiry, they carried out their own investigation and established his phone appeared to have been used after his death, suggesting it may have been stolen.
Thames Valley police reviewed the investigation and in a report seen by the Guardian concluded that the “lack of personal interaction” with the McCooks led to “missed opportunities” in obtaining evidence of their son’s movements in the hours prior to his death. CCTV footage that might have helped was not secured and McCook’s phone was never found.
The report suggested the fatality investigator had not followed a charter for the bereaved that says there should be regular contact with grieving relatives. He told the review team it was his practice not to make contact with families for six weeks to allow them time to make and hold a funeral service.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigated how the BTP dealt with the family’s complaint that the case was not dealt with properly because of race and concluded the force should look again at how it has handled their grievance.
The BTP did this and found that none of its employees had a case to answer for discriminatory behaviour.
The BTP said: “We can confirm a misconduct meeting is scheduled to take place on Tuesday 21 March for a member of police staff working as a fatality investigator. The allegation is that the fatality investigator failed to conduct an effective investigation into the death of Romello McCook.”
A misconduct meeting is an internal process where there is a case to answer for misconduct, and the maximum outcome is a final written warning. The meeting will not be heard in public.
Last year the senior Plymouth coroner, Ian Arrow, recorded an open conclusion on McCook’s death.
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