The British Transport Police has been told to re-examine its handling of the case of a black student who was killed on a railway line following complaints that his death was not properly investigated because of his race.
Romello McCook died when he was struck by a train shortly after 10am on 30th September 2018 following a night out in Plymouth. He was 22 years old and about to start an architectural engineering course at Plymouth University.
The British Transport Police quickly concluded that his death was an accident. The police watchdog the Independent Office for Police Conduct looked at how BTP dealt with the complaint and decided that the force should re-examine its handling of the grievance. McCook’s parents hope that this will lead to a complete re-investigation. An inquest into their son’s death will take place in June 2022 and they hope to learn more from that.
His father Lawrence McCook told the Guardian: ‘We felt we have been let down because of our ethnicity … the police did not do very basic things when they investigated’ His mother Vivienne McCook also said: ‘We felt the moment they went down there and saw it was a black person the investigation ended. The case was almost closed from that day … We’ve had to become investigators.’
His parents questioned circumstances surrounding the incident including that McCook was more than two miles from his accommodation and walking in the opposite direction, that he would have had to get past a high fence to reach the railway line, and that he did not have his phone with him despite being ‘addicted to it’.
Another police force has also reviewed BTP’s investigation. The report stated that the family were initially told by the investigator that McCook’s mobile phone was being held by the force. Nearly six weeks later, it was realised that the phone had in fact never been found. It also highlighted ‘missed opportunities’ to secure evidence, including a failure to secure CCTV footage of McCook’s movements before it was wiped. Further, it said that the reason why McCook was found where he was ‘appears never to have been considered by the initial investigation’.
The Independent Office for Police Conduc has highlighted that none of the reviews carried out have asked the McCook family why they felt ethnicity affected the investigation. It has stated that these concerns should be properly considered. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for BTP has said that they ‘strongly refute the suggestion that his death wasn’t investigated properly because of the colour of his skin’. And said there was ‘no evidence or information to indicate any suspicion or third-party involvement’.