Lamont Roper inquest: 'Inadequate' police water rescue resources

Lamont Roper died in October 2020 after a struggle with police.

Lamont Roper died in October 2020 after a struggle with police. - Credit: Family handout

A Hackney police monitoring group is calling for an apology from the Metropolitan Police following an inquest into the death of a man who drowned in the River Lea.

North London Coroner’s Court heard Lamont Roper, 23, from Hackney, was approached by police in a stop-and-search at 9.10pm on October 7.

He entered the water following two struggles with an officer and was pronounced dead at 9.35am on October 8 at Lock 17 of the River Lea in Tottenham Hale.

The inquest, which ended on November 30, concluded that the police had “inadequate” water rescue resources and that Lamont fell into the water after being released in a struggle with a Hackney Met officer – who was identified by the court only as PC Collins.

The inquest jury concluded that the cause of Lamont’s death was consistent with drowning. The inquest noted "a non-compliance with stop and search request, inadequate resources for water rescue along the canal and Lock 17, lack of sufficient police resources and lack of specialised on call rescue team". 

The Met has since released a statement saying that the coroner found “no causative link between police actions or inactions” and Lamont’s death.

Police monitoring group Hackney Account issued a statement on December 4, criticising the police's response time and the use of stop-and-search.

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Yolanda Lear, research officer for Hackney Account, told the Gazette: “I knew Lamont personally. Following the inquest, his family and the Account team still have so many questions about how this happened. That’s why we had to speak out.

“We want the police to make an improved statement that considers their role in this death, and also for changes to be made in the way searches are carried out.”

Yolanda added: "We would like an apology or improved statement where the police reflect on their actions more, to acknowledge their accountability. Then, the community can see that police are holding their hands up a bit more."

Officers told the inquest they were given intelligence about robberies in the area involving Black men aged between 16 and 24, wearing dark clothing and possibly on pedal cycles.

Lamont was on a bicycle and his three friends, one of whom was also Black, were on electric scooters.

Yolanda said: “The intelligence that was given to the police, that the suspects were 'Black males with dark clothing', is too generalised. That could be anyone.

“Even if the individual officers themselves were not racist, the intelligence they are being given makes it look that way. This is not just an issue we are seeing in Hackney but across the world."

She added: “There are young Black men who want to be successful, who want to own their businesses or pursue other dreams. All of that is being overlooked for the fact that they wear dark clothing.”

The inquest heard that PC Collins, who pursued Lamont, was required to turn on his body-worn camera during stop-and-searches. Collins had the camera on underneath his cycle jacket, and limited footage of the incident was obscured.

Yolanda said: “The camera could have told us more about what happened. Police need to adjust uniforms so that officers can easily wear their cameras outside of their jackets.”

In the obscured recording, the officer was heard calling for assistance after Lamont fell into the river. However, he was later heard telling colleagues who attended the scene that Lamont jumped in.

The inquest jury noted that there was non-compliance with stop-and-search, but also that police had insufficient resources for water rescue along the canal.

The Met’s statement on the conclusion of the inquest said: “This investigation found no evidence that the actions or inactions of the officers that evening contributed to Mr Roper’s death.

“Every effort was made to find Mr Roper once he had entered the water, including one officer going into the lock unaided in an attempt to find him. Sadly, he was unable to be rescued in time.”

It said recommendations were made by the Independent Office for Police Conduct to equip officers on a pursuit with throw lines, as well as other suggestions, which have been introduced or are in the process of being introduced, according to the Met.

The Met declined to comment further on Hackney Account’s statement or Yolanda Lear’s comments.