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LONDON: Police across Britain on Saturday paid silent tribute and flags were flown at half mast after a long-serving officer became the first to be shot dead in the line of duty in more than eight years.

Sergeant Matiu Ratana, 54, was shot by a 23-year-old man at Croydon Custody Center in south London at about 2:15 a.m (0115 GMT), and died in hospital.

The suspect, who had been arrested for possession of drugs with intent to supply and possession of ammunition, turned the gun on himself, and was said to be in critical but stable condition.

Ratana’s death is being treated as murder.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said Ratana, who came to Britain from New Zealand and was known as Matt, was “senselessly killed.”

Originally from Hawke’s Bay, on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, he joined the Met in 1991 after university and had nearly 30 years as a uniformed officer in the British capital.

He played for London Irish and the force rugby union team, before going into coaching at East Grinstead, near Croydon. He leaves a partner and an adult son from a previous relationship.

“As a colleague, he was big in stature and big-hearted, a friendly, capable police officer,” Dick said.

“A lovely man, highly respected by officers and staff, and by the public, including suspects he arrested or dealt with in custody.

“He was very well known locally and will be remembered so fondly in Croydon, as well as in the Met and the rugby world.”

Dick said security and police body camera footage would be examined closely as part of the investigation, after media reports suggested the suspect may not have been fully searched before entering the custody suite.

Many British police carry taser stun guns but are not routinely armed, although forces have tactical firearms units to respond quickly to incidents.

According to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, which sent investigators to the scene, no police firearms were fired.

The suspect was handcuffed and apparently opened fire in the custody suite with a revolver as officers prepared to search him, it added.

Deaths in service in Britain are rare and the shooting sent shockwaves throughout police forces across the country. 

Flags were lowered and officers stood in a minute’s silence in Ratana’s memory.

His death came as the British government is looking to introduce harsher sentences for attacks on emergency service workers.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered his “deepest condolences” to Ratana’s family, writing on Twitter that “we owe a huge debt to those who risk their own lives to keep us safe.”

Policing minister Kit Malthouse told parliament: “We ask our police officers to do an extraordinary job.

“The fact that one of them has fallen in the line of performing that duty is a tragedy for the entire nation.”

Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes were the last British police officers to be shot dead in the line of duty, when they were ambushed in a gun and grenade attack in September 2012.

They were killed by drug dealer Dale Cregan while responding to a report of a burglary in Manchester, northwest England.

Since then, a further five officers have been killed on duty — four by vehicles while pursuing suspects and one, Keith Palmer, who was stabbed during a 2017 terror attack on parliament.

Ratana is the 17th officer from the Met to be killed by a firearm since the end of World War II, according to the National Police Memorial roll of honor.

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