Shortly before 9pm Matiu Ratana left the training pitch at his rugby club to head to his nightshift as a custody suite sergeant.
The inspirational police officer had thrown himself into coaching and was looking forward to being able to focus fully on nurturing future rugby stars once he retired.
Six hours later, his life and hopes were snatched from him in the cruellest way imaginable.
He was shot at point-blank range in the line of duty, in a police building where he should have been safe.
Sergeant Ratana, who’s job was to look after the care and welfare of detained people, died in hospital.
He was formerly a protection officer for Princess Diana, the Queen Mother and former-Prime Minister John Major.
And, in 1992, the hero officer found himself less than 330 yards away from an IRA car bomb which was exploding outside 10 Downing Street, The Mirror reports.
The 54-year-old father emigrated to Britain from New Zealand in 1989 and had been with the Metropolitan Police Service for almost 30 years. Friends said he was incredibly proud of his job and would do anything to help those in the community.
A year from retirement, the inspirational police officer (pictured) had thrown himself into coaching and was looking forward to being able to focus fully on nurturing future rugby stars
A bear of a man, the rugby-mad prop forward was thrown into the deep end of London’s dark underbelly, first policing in Hackney and later Croydon, where he died yesterday morning. Friends say that he dedicated his life to the force but away from work had a keen sense of humour and would leave friends in fits of laughter.
After moving to Worthing in West Sussex six years ago, Mr Ratana took over as head coach of East Grinstead Rugby Club, helping youngsters develop their game.
He had been an outstanding player himself, even turning out for now professional side London Irish among a host of other London clubs. He had learnt the game at Palmerston North Boys’ High School, which has produced a number of All Blacks.
Three years after arriving in Britain he married Teresa Conway in Slough and the couple had a son, Luke, the following year.
They later separated and his ex-wife and son are thought to have emigrated to Australia. Friends said Mr Ratana had remained very close to Luke.
After moving to Worthing in West Sussex six years ago, Matiu Ratana took over as head coach of East Grinstead Rugby Club, helping youngsters develop their game
For the past four years he had been in a relationship with Sue Bushby. Her sister, Amanda Tessier, said Miss Bushby was devastated by the news and was being comforted by friends.
Describing Mr Ratana, she said: ‘He was a great big friendly bear of a man, one of the loveliest men you could meet.
‘He was absolutely dedicated to being a police officer and had almost 30 years of service.
‘He knew the dangers of being a police officer in London and he had spoken about them but for him it was all part of the job.
Flowers are laid this morning outside Croydon Custody Centre by colleagues honoring Sgt Ratana who died in the line of duty
People headed to the Croydon Custody Centre today to mourn Sgt Ratana
‘It was something he was trained in and used to. He was such a lovely guy. We simply can’t believe it. How did someone have a gun in the police station?’
We’ve lost another hero, says PC’s widow
The widow of Constable Andrew Harper yesterday spoke of her grief at ‘another hero’ being killed on the front line.
Lissie Harper, pictured with her late husband, said she was heartbroken over the death of Sgt Matiu Ratana, adding: ‘They protect us, but who protects them?’
The 29-year-old had been married to Mr Harper, a Thames Valley officer, for just four weeks when he was killed by a gang of three teenage thieves in August 2019.
She said: ‘This is devastating news. No person should go to work never to return. No human being should be stripped of their life in a barbaric act of crime. Another hero has been taken from us in unwarranted violence. They protect us but who protects them? Another life is gone in a disgraceful act that reminds us of the danger our police officers face with every shift they begin.’
Mr Harper, 28, was killed by the gang of teenagers in a speeding getaway car, who dragged him for more than a mile on country roads near Sulhamstead, Berkshire.
Flowers were left outside Croydon custody centre yesterday.
Among those paying tribute was Paul, 27, who was coached by Mr Ratana at East Grinstead.
He said: ‘The man was a machine. He was a leader among men. He would go from training us straight to work like he did last night.
‘He left training last night at about 9pm. He was such an inspiration. He helped our club so much.
‘Many years ago we lost our funding and he fought tooth and nail for the club and really lifted us up. As players we were like brothers. He was so vibrant, larger than life, he was the sort of guy that everyone just wanted to have a beer with.’
Glenn and Debbie Stobart lived next door to Mr Ratana in Coulsdon, south London, for a number of years before he moved to Worthing.
Mrs Stobart, a close friend, said: ‘He was a fantastic man. He was always helping others. If you were concerned about anything he would answer your concerns.
‘He was so caring, funny, everyone knew him. He was a really big character.
‘The first day he moved to the area he came and knocked on the door and introduced himself and everyone got to know him from then. He absolutely loved his job and being a police officer. He was so proud to serve the community.
‘He was looking forward to retirement next year but was unsure what he was going to do with all that spare time, so he threw himself into the rugby even more. He loved helping the kids out and it gave him a real purpose.’
Holding back tears as she discussed his killer, she added: ‘They should throw away the key.
‘How could someone get into a police station with a gun? It beggars belief.’