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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.