A teenager drowns in the river Lea while police stand by
compiled by Tippa Naphtali
published: December 2020
Updates are listed at the foot of this item
17-year-old Jack Susianta died in a canal at Walthamstow Marshes on 29 July 2015. He had suffered a psychotic episode and smashed through a window at his family home and fled in just a T-shirt, socks and boxer shorts. Jack’s family had telephoned the Metropolitan Police for help after he had jumped out of their living room window and police soon began an urgent search, which ended when he was found at the canal in East London’s Walthamstow Marshes. It was said that Jack had jumped into the canal to evade the attending police officers believing that they were not real officers.
Eyewitnesses claimed police refused to enter the water, something the Metropolitan Police vehemently deny. They were also accused of preventing witnesses who were desperate to save the teenager from trying to help – telling them that it was ‘not safe’. At a later inquest a cyclist who saw Jack die in the canal told of her confusion that police were not diving in to save him.
It transpired that on the day before this incident, Jack was found by local police officers cold, wet and mentally unwell sitting on a traffic island in Hackney. He was removed by local officers to Homerton Hospital as a place of safety under the Mental Health Act 1983. It would later come to light that at the hospital Jack was subjected to a high-level restraint by numerous local police officers, including one male officer kneeling on his neck. He was admitted to A&E at 3am and discharged just four hours later at 7am after being seen by a Consultant Psychiatrist. The Consultant did not provide Jack or his family with any advice on what to do if his crisis re-emerged.
Jack’s father, Ketut Susianta, came to London from Bali in the 1990s to be with his British mother, Anna. She described Jack as “hilarious, a joy, a person who always saw the light in people and brought a smile to their faces”.
“Jack had time for everyone,” said Anna. “He was a bridge between groups, and I think that was because he was mixed-race. Every night after his death, his friends gathered on the riverbank where he died. They are fundraising for a bench. They made a beautiful book. Jack’s spirit lives on in these inspiring young people.”
At Jack’s inquest held on 29 April 2016 at St Pancras coroners court, jurors concluded that his death was a drug related accident. Following the verdict, the Met’s Commander for east London, Lucy D’Orsi, said; “Following Jack’s death, my thoughts remain with his family and friends. It is impossible for me to understand how they have managed to cope with Jack’s death, something most of us hope never to have to deal with. She added: I also recognise the impact Jack’s death has had on members of the public who watched as the incident unfolded last July and other emergency service personnel involved.”
Jack’s mother had told the inquest she wished she had never dialled 999. She left the courtroom as footage was shown of the final moments of her son with officers at the scene. Two clips were shown, of around 13 and two minutes in length respectively. They began with Jack already in the water on his own. At one point a voice on the footage can be heard saying the teenager has refused a line and ‘intentionally submerged himself in the water’. At another someone can be heard saying: ‘There is a guy with a canoe, can we shout at him to go and get him?’
Another unseen officer called for the fire brigade to be contacted, adding: ‘They’re going to be a lot quicker than us.’ One officer asks over the radio, ‘Are you happy for us to go in?’, just seconds before the teenager disappeared beneath the water for the final time.
Eventually an officer notes: ‘He has gone under the water. We cannot see him any more. He has been under for about a minute now.’
An eyewitness, Ailish Tynan, told the court how she arrived at the canal and another onlooker told her “the police have chased that fella into the water.” She said that she did not see Jack go into the canal but saw him “treading water like he was trying to stay in one spot” as police looked on from the grassy bank. She went on to say; “There did not seem to be any sense of urgency, which made me think: ‘Gosh, maybe he has got a knife,’ and: ‘Why is nobody doing anything?”
Another witness, Sean O’Shea, who was rowing a small canoe in the canal at the time of the incident, praised the police and described the officer who waded into the water as “brave”. He said; “They were frantically trying to get him to get hold of the (rescue) ring. He instinctively seemed to be moving away from it.”
The family believe that, at the inquest, instead of “finding better ways” to handle teenage mental health issues, the institutions tried to put the blame on Jack for his own death. “It was as if Jack had got lost,” said mother, Anna. “It was hard to keep hold of him.”
What unfolded over Jack’s final days offers important lessons for all the five institutions involved: the police, the ambulance service, the fire brigade, the East London Foundation NHS Trust and Homerton Hospital, Hackney.
Jack’s mother, Ms Anna Susianta said;
“Jack was a wonderful son, a brilliant brother, a great friend and a bright student. He loved life and had everything to live for. When he became ill we sought help from professionals because we had never been in this situation before. We believe that Jack did not get the help he needed from East London Foundation NHS Trust or from TSG officers by the River Lea. If he had received that help we believe Jack would be alive today. He will never be forgotten.
We are relieved that the Jury has not sought to blame Jack for his own death as the police and East London Foundation NHS Trust have sought to do. We hope that this process will result in other vulnerable young people and their families receiving better support from the authorities and we welcome the Coroner’s decision to make a preventing future deaths report to that end. We look to the IPCC to now do its job.”
Jack Susianta canal death was ‘drug-related accident’
29 April 2016