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Christopher Alder – Killed in Police Custody

INQUEST
89-93 Fonthill Road, London N4 3JH
Phone: 020 7263 1111 Fax: 020 7561 0799
inquest@inquest.org.uk
http://www.inquest.org.uk

For immediate release 27 March 2006

DAMNING REPORT ON THE DEATH OF CHRISTOPHER ALDER FALLS
SHORT OF FAMILY’S DEMAND FOR PUBLIC INQUIRY

The IPPC today delivered its report into the death in police custody of Christopher Alder to Parliament. While welcoming the criticisms levelled at four of the five officers immediately involved in the events surrounding his death and who subsequently refused to co-operate with the IPCC Review, INQUEST and Christopher’s family are disappointed that both the IPCC and the Home Secretary Charles Clarke have resisted their call for a public inquiry into his death.

INQUEST has long highlighted the disproportionate number of deaths of young black men in police custody in circumstances involving medical neglect or the use of force. The IPCC Review recognises that racism played a part in Christopher’s death, and as the Chair of the IPCC Nick Hardwick commented “…I do believe the fact he was black stacked the odds more heavily against him,” and also that “…the officers’ neglect undoubtedly did deny him the chance of life”. His conclusion that the officers’ failure to actively assist Christopher meant that he “did not matter enough for them to do all they could to save him” is a
damning indictment in itself of their conduct and Nick Hardwick specifically considers the officers to be “guilty of the most serious neglect of duty”.

Despite two police investigations, an inquest, a criminal trial, an internal police disciplinary hearing and the review itself, Christopher’s family feel that they are still no closer to obtaining justice for his death. Speaking at a press conference after the report’s publication, Christopher’s sister Janet said:

The serious failings the report shows highlights the pressing need for further investigation and a public inquiry which could summon all those involved and through that I believe more evidence could be gained.

Deborah Coles, Co-director of INQUEST, said:

The public scandal of this shocking case is that the police officers who owed a duty of care to Christopher Alder have never publicly accounted for their actions on that night. Public confidence in the police will only be regained when the rule of law is seen to apply equally to those in uniform.

The full text of the report is available from the Home Office website at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk .

Background:

Christopher Alder, a 37 year old black man who was a former paratrooper decorated for service in Northern Ireland, died on 1 April 1998 after being arrested and taken to Queen’s Gardens Police Station, Hull. He was arrested at Hull Royal Infirmary where he had been taken after a fight outside a nightclub. He was taken in a police van to the station. He was supported into the custody suite and after 13 minutes police officers called an ambulance. However despite resuscitation attempts Mr Alder died.

INQUEST has been working with Christopher’s sister Janet Alder and her lawyers since shortly after his death. Following seven weeks of evidence the jury at the inquest held in 2000 into his death returned a verdict of unlawful killing and said that the death was due to ‘positional asphyxia’.

From video evidence shown to the jury it was demonstrated that he died after being left unconscious face down on the floor of Queen’s Gardens Police Station Custody Suite for 11 minutes. His trousers were around his knees, he had been doubly incontinent and blood formed a pool around his mouth. Apart from removing the handcuffs when he was initially brought into the police station the four police officers present in the custody suite did not touch Mr Alder in the 11 minutes he lay dying on the floor despite his condition. Rattles of his breath were also clearly heard on the video.

The jury heard that Mr Alder had been involved in an altercation outside The Waterfront nightclub during which he had been hit in the mouth and had fallen to the floor. He was taken to Hull Royal Infirmary where he was seen by a doctor. Mr Alder was confused and uncooperative at the hospital and was unable to be treated. Police officers dragged him from the premises. Both inside the hospital and outside the police drew a CS Spray canister and threatened to use it on him. Once outside Mr Alder complained that he wanted to return to see the doctors. According to police officers he was still being abusive and they warned him that if he did not leave he would be arrested. He refused to leave and was arrested for breach of the peace and handcuffed behind his back. Mr Alder was then put into the back of a police van and conveyed to the police station.

On arrival at the police station evidence was heard that he was found motionless in the police van. The video then showed him being dragged into the police station custody suite and placed face down on the floor. Officers were heard to speculate that he was faking illness.

Failure after failure occurred in the police investigation held under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority. The death was never treated as potential homicide and the custody suite never sealed and preserved as a scene of crime. Crucial blood staining was wiped from the custody area and van. No proper enquiry was ever made as to why Christopher’s trousers were around his knees with mud on them and on his thighs. The clothes of the police officers who had been involved with him were not the subject of any examination report and sent for dry cleaning. The clothes, and tooth, of Christopher Alder himself were destroyed.

Five police officers were suspended from duty and after the inquest there was a subsequent trial for manslaughter. Having listened to submissions at the end of the Prosecution case, the Judge at Teesside directed on 21st June 2002 that the police officers could not safely be convicted on the evidence on either count that they faced, and the Jury must therefore enter not guilty verdicts. As a consequence the officers have never answered any questions about the incident, exercising their right not to incriminate themselves under the Coroners Rules at the inquest and because of the failure of the prosecution.

Christopher Alder’s called on the then Home Secretary David Blunkett in April 2004 to hold a public inquiry into his death. Following the BBC1 Rough Justice programme Death on Camera screened in April 2004, which contained the video evidence of Christopher’s death on the floor of the custody suite in Queen’s Gardens Police Station, David Blunkett asked the Independent Police Complaints Commission to review lessons to be learnt from the death. The IPCC delivered its review to parliament on 27 March 2006.

The need for this Inquiry is all the more pressing following the successful civil case against Humberside Police which concluded on Friday 27th January 2006, when Jason Paul, arrested on suspicion of the murder of the Christopher Alder, and subsequently charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent upon him, was awarded damages against the police. His jury found that his arrest and charge arose because Humberside Police Officers wanted to deflect potential criticism away from the police, over the death.

Notes to editors:

INQUEST is the only non-governmental organisation in England and Wales that works directly with the
families of those who die in custody. It provides an independent free legal and advice service to bereaved
people on inquest procedures and their rights in the coroner’s courts.

Further Information
Ruth Bundey, Harrison Bundey Solicitors
Deborah Coles, Co-director, INQUEST

http://www.inquest.org.uk
office 0113 237 4047
office 020 7263 1111

DAMNING REPORT ON THE DEATH OF CHRISTOPHER ALDER FALLS SHORT OF FAMILY’S DEMAND FOR PUBLIC INQUIRY

National Civil Rights Movement:

Christopher Alder

Christopher Alder died in custody in Hull Police station on April 1 1998. He was conveyed there for a breach of the peace, but on arrival was found to be unconscious. Police officers, who claim he appeared to be ‘asleep’, allegedly dragged him from the van with his hands handcuffed behind his back, and placed him face down on the station floor, where he died. A video film recorded the last 11 minutes of his life. He lay on the floor of the police station making rasping noises indicative of respiratory distress. These eventually cease.

The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) announced in October 1999 the names of five police officers to be charged in relation to the death of Christopher Alder in Hull police station. The five officers from West Yorkshire Police are PS Dunn, PC Barr, PC Dawson, PC Blackley, and PC Ellerington. They have all been charged with ‘misconduct in public office’.

The Crown Prosecution Service took 15 months to come to its decision, whilst the officers were suspended on full pay. Janet Alder, the sister of the deceased, and the National Civil Rights Movement, supporting her campaign, welcomed the prosecution but are deeply dismayed by the long delay. Janet said: ‘The Lawrence Inquiry was meant to change everything, but I have had to fight every inch of the way. I won’t give up till the whole truth is out in the open – until then, Christopher cannot be buried with the dignity he deserves.’

The police dragged him out and in the process his trousers and his boxer-shorts ended up down his legs. They dragged him into the police station, put him on the floor.

There is video evidence of this where Christopher is left there gasping for breath every ten to twelve seconds. The police do nothing about this.

They are seen walking about getting on with their everyday business. One police officer even says that he is play-acting, that he has been awkward all night. Every ten to twelve seconds Christopher is gasping for breath. They are walking about, doing their business and subsequently Christopher dies after 10 minutes.

It was too weeks later that the police in Burnley actually came to my house and told me that Christopher had died in police custody. Police custody could mean ‘stood next to a policeman’.

I felt totally isolated having no family there, did not know who to turn to. Over the weekend I just collected my thoughts as to what I was going to do. I decided to go to Hull to meet with my other brother and go to the police station and find out what was going on.

The first policeman I talked to was sat chewing gum back in his chair and hands behind his head and he said to me ‘your brother went to a nightclub, had a fight and due to the fight he died in police custody.’

Christpher Alder’s sister, Janet’s testimony given at the NCRM launch meeting, March 1999.

 

Links: BBC ReportIPCC Report (1.1mb pdf)IPCC Statement (20k pdf)
IPCC: Review of Events Relating to the Death of Christopher Alder Published

For Immediate Release
27 March 2006 

Review of Events Relating to the Death of Christopher Alder Published

Nick Hardwick, Chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, today presented the findings of his review into the events leading up to and following the death in police custody of Christopher Alder in Hull on 1 April 1998.

Review findings

Christopher Alder, a black man aged 37, died on the floor of the custody suite at Queen’s Gardens police station in Hull during the early hours of 1 April 1998. His last minutes of life were captured on cctv. They are shocking and distressing pictures. The grief and anger occasioned by his death stands in contrast to the manner of it – unnecessary, undignified and unnoticed.

Since that time there has been a lengthy inquest, a criminal trial, a police disciplinary hearing and other related legal proceedings. There have been two police investigations. Seventeen doctors and pathologists considered the cause of Mr Alder’s death. There has been extensive media interest.

The whole process has taken eight years.

Speaking about the findings of his Review, to the media in central London, Nick Hardwick said:

“There is no doubt in my mind that the events leading to and following Mr Alder’s death represent very serious failings by many of the individuals and organisations involved – but the process that followed did not hold any individual responsible for these failings. No individuals have been held responsible – yet all of those involved, family and police officers alike, have, to a greater or lesser extent, been punished by the process itself.”

“I do not want there to be any doubt about my findings. The most serious failings were by the four police officers who dealt with Mr Alder throughout his time in the custody suite. I believe they were guilty of the most serious neglect of duty. I do not believe, as has been alleged by some, that any of these officers assaulted Mr Alder. Nor can it be said with certainty, such are the contradictions in the medical evidence, that their neglect of Mr Alder, as he lay dying on the custody suite floor, caused his death. However, all the experts agreed that, at the very least, the officers’ neglect undoubtedly did deny him the chance of life.”

He continued:

“If the lack of common sense and common decency displayed by the officers who watched Mr Alder die is typical of how any police officer would react, it is a disturbing comment on the police service as a whole. However, I do not believe this is the case. There is no excuse. Far from being typical of most police officers, their behaviour has disgraced police officers and the police service as a whole. Their failures were personal and individual.”

In addition to these primary individual failings, there were other mistakes. Others who had responsibility for Mr Alder on that night did not fulfil their duties adequately. Very serious errors of judgement were made in establishing the discipline tribunal as a result of which errors were made in the handling of the disciplinary tribunal itself.

There were also significant failings in the two police investigations into Mr Alder’s death.  Some of these errors contributed to the suspicion and myths that have bedevilled this case for so many years.

He criticised the refusal of the five Humberside Police officers directly involved in Mr Alder’s death to cooperate with the Review. He said:

“I think they owed it to Mr Alder’s family, their colleagues in the police service, and the wider public on whose behalf they served, to account fully for their actions on the night of Mr Alder’s death.

“They have not done so and any future justification or comment they make will be less credible because of it.”

Systemic failures

The IPCC’s Review also found three major systemic failures that go beyond the responsibilities of the individuals involved. Although these have been the subject of other reviews and much has changed since that time Mr Hardwick says that the same problems still reoccur too often.

Racism

Mr Hardwick said: “I believe the failure of the police officers concerned to assist Mr Alder effectively on the night he died were largely due to assumptions they made about him based on negative racial stereotypes. It was not within my terms of reference to consider to what extent these behaviours were typical of the force as a whole either then or now and I have not done so.

I cannot say for certain that Mr Alder would have been treated more appropriately had he been white – but I do believe the fact he was black stacked the odds more heavily against him.

I believe the recommendations of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry need continued attention and powerful leadership in all police forces.”

Interface between healthcare professional and the police

The Healthcare Commission, at the request of the IPCC, carried out an investigation into the care and treatment given to Mr Alder prior to his death.

The IPCC fully endorses the recommendations they make in their report.

Mr Hardwick said: “I hope a high priority will now be given to establishing a national protocol between health and police services to ensure that transfers of responsibility for care are more effective in future. The IPCC and the Healthcare Commission are committed to working together to monitor this.”

Discipline

The case of Mr Alder represents a major failure of the police discipline system.

Mr Hardwick said: “I think the public would be appalled if they knew how inadequate and old fashioned the police discipline system is. Last year, Bill Taylor set out widely supported recommendations for the reform of the police disciplinary system and I am pleased that work has begun to implement these.”

Conclusion

Mr Hardwick said: “Despite the failure of the officers to cooperate with the IPCC’s Review I believe this report sets out a full, impartial and independent answer to the questions that Christopher Alder’s family and others have asked about his death.”

He said his “grim conclusion” is “not that Mr Alder mattered enough to those who dealt with him on that night nearly eight years ago for them to conspire to kill him – but that he did not matter enough for them to do all they could to save him.”

Mr Hardwick ended by saying his thoughts were with Mr Alder’s family:

“As we approach the anniversary of Mr Alder’s death, this will be a particularly difficult time for them.  I recognise the grief and anger they feel and do not believe there is some facile or easy process that will assuage their feelings.  The family of Mr Alder are entitled to feel that justice has not been done and has not been seen to be done.  Nothing can put this right.

“However, eight years after Mr Alder’s death and despite so much grief, pain, anger and confusion it remains the case that no-one seems prepared to accept responsibility for what went wrong.

“That at least should now change.  The failure of those officers on 1 April 1998 was disgraceful.  That should have been said eight years ago.  The Chief Constable of Humberside Police should offer an unreserved apology for the force’s failings in relation to the death of Mr Alder and he should do it now.”

-ends-

Notes to Editors:

1.The IPCC’s report is published in full on The Stationary Office site. The Healthcare Commission’s report is published on the Healthcare Commission’s website.

2.On 20 April 2004, the Home Secretary, wrote to Nick Hardwick requiring the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to undertake a Review of the events leading up to and following the death of Christopher Alder. The Review was carried out under Section 79(1) of the Police Act 1996.

3.The terms of reference of the Review were:

  • To identify and take account of the concerns of the family of Christopher Alder in respect of his death;
  • To consider the circumstances surrounding his death;
  • To produce a report on the evidence surrounding his death that will include a view on whether or not the approaches taken at the criminal and disciplinary proceedings may, or may not, have been different had the investigation been conducted in a different way; and
  • To make any recommendations for the benefit of policing that may arise from the Review.

For Further Information Contact:

Rachael Collins, IPCC Press Officer on 020 7166 3142 or the out-of-hours duty press officer on 07717 851157.

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