Shukri Abdi: family of refugee schoolgirl who drowned sues police

By Diane Taylor

The family of a 12-year-old refugee schoolgirl who drowned in a river is suing the police force which investigated her death, claiming institutional racism.

The body of Shukri Abdi, who first came to the UK in January 2017, was found in the River Irwell in Bury, Greater Manchester, on 27 June 2019. A group of children were with her at the river in the period before she died. They can be referred to only as Child One, Child Two, Child Three and Child Four.

In December 2020 a coroner concluded that Shukri’s death by drowning was an accident. Joanne Kearsley, senior coroner for Manchester North, concluded that there was no evidence that a child known as Child One had any intention to kill Shukri.

She also rejected claims that anyone had pushed Shukri into the water. However, she said that Child One should have recognised the risk of death to Shukri once they were in deep water and Shukri was relying on her to stay afloat. She rejected claims that Child One had not led Shukri into deep water.

“I am satisfied that Child One’s breach of duty caused or made a significant contribution to Shukri’s death,” she said.

Solicitors have lodged a civil action for breach of the Human Rights Act against Greater Manchester police on behalf of Shukri’s mother, Zamzam Arab Ture.

The legal action claims that there were a number of failures in GMP’s investigation into Shukri’s drowning including a failure to speak to all four children who were at the river with Shukri on the day of the incident. Two were spoken to on the day and the other two spoken to subsequently.

The lawyers argue that police should have investigated more thoroughly before deciding the drowning was an accident because the incident involved a child who could not swim, who had never been to a river before, had for the first time in her life not come home from school and was with children she had never before been with after school.

They add that institutional racism played a part in the way the case was investigated because Shukri came from a family of black, Muslim refugees.

An Independent Office for Police Conduct investigation into GMP – following a complaint from Ture alleging that officers failed to conduct an effective investigation and prematurely concluded that Shukri’s death was not suspicious – said it did not find evidence to indicate Shukri’s family were treated less favourably because of their ethnic background.

The force is currently under fire after it was placed in special measures by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services. Inspectors found that the force had failed to record 80,000 crimes in 12 months and was providing a “poor service” to many victims of crime.

Attiq Malik, the solicitor representing Shukri’s family, said: “The same criticisms that Shukri’s family raised about the GMP’s treatment of them and the investigation into her death resonate with the findings of the inspectorate of GMP’s conduct across the board.”

Maz Saleem, of the Justice4Shukri campaign, said: “This is an important development in the fight for justice for Shukri Abdi. The family has maintained the firm position that they have been unfairly treated by GMP from the outset due to their status as a refugee family.”

A GMP spokesperson said: “The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) carried out an independent investigation and reviewed GMP’s response following the death of Shukri Abdi.

“The IOPC concluded their investigation and no learning was identified for GMP. Following the inquest, a civil claim has been started and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time.

“Our sincere thoughts remain with Shukri’s loved ones and those affected by her death.”