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Last Updated: Monday, 27 March 2006, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Long shadow of a custody death
By Cindi John
BBC News community affairs reporter

As a highly-critical report into the death of Christopher Alder is published, the BBC News website looks at the background to what has become one of the UK's most controversial custody death cases.

Christopher Alder's son and sister at demonstration
The Alder family has mounted a long campaign for a public inquiry

During a night out in April 1998 Christopher Alder, 37, was injured in a scuffle outside a Hull hotel and went to the Hull Royal Infirmary for treatment.

The former paratrooper was subsequently arrested at the hospital by police officers for an alleged breach of the peace and taken to Queens Gardens police station.

The father-of-two died while lying face down and unconscious in a pool of blood in a police custody suite, as a group of officers stood chatting nearby.

Following Mr Alder's death, five police officers - Sergeant John Dunne and Constables Martin Barr, Neil Blakely, Nigel Dawson and Mark Ellerington - were suspended from duty and charged with manslaughter and misconduct in a public office.

Another man, Jason Paul, was charged with grievous bodily harm after voluntarily contacting the police as a witness to events outside the hotel.

Acquittals

Charges against Mr Paul were later dropped and in January 2006 he was awarded 30,500 damages against Humberside Police.

A jury said it was "more likely than not that the police charged (Mr Paul) with causing GBH with intent to deflect potential criticism of the circumstances of Christopher Alder's death".

From the start, campaigners said Mr Alder's death was further evidence of the problem of a disproportionate number of black men dying in police custody.

Christopher Alder
CCTV footage of Mr Alder's death was shown in a BBC documentary

An inquest jury's verdict in August 2000 that the Falklands war veteran was unlawfully killed appeared to add ammunition to their case.

But, like the killing of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, it is perhaps the lack of a conviction of anyone in connection with Christopher Alder's death which has helped keep the case in the public spotlight.

The five Humberside officers went on trial at Teesside Crown Court in April 2002, but two months into the case the judge ordered the jury to acquit the officers of all the charges.

Mr Justice Roderick Evans said there was conflicting medical evidence about why Mr Alder became unconscious and what had killed him.

An independent hearing subsequently cleared all of the officers of neglect of duty allegations. And in December 2004 it emerged that four of the five officers had been allowed to retire.

Family campaign

After the officers were acquitted Christopher Alder's family began a campaign to get a public inquiry into his death.

In April 2004 they allowed the BBC to screen CCTV footage of Mr Alder's death in a documentary, Death on Camera.

Demonstration outside Home Office

It showed police officers laughing and joking as Mr Alder lay dying nearby on the police station floor. It was more than 10 minutes before officers realised the seriousness of the situation and went to his aid.

Mr Alder's sister, Janet, said it had not been an easy decision to allow the footage to be shown but the family felt "ordinary people need to know what's gone on."

But later that month the then-Home Secretary David Blunkett ruled against a public inquiry. Mr Blunkett said an inquiry could not be triggered by TV footage of material which was already known during the judicial and inquiry investigations.

He did, however, order the Independent Police Complaints Commission to review the circumstances of Mr Alder's death.

But the Alder family rejected the review as "meaningless".

"We believe special powers are needed here to open up everybody's involvement, that is the Crown Prosecution, the PCA , Yorkshire police and Humberside police and those police officers," Janet Alder said following the announcement of the review.

Publication of the report was due last year but was delayed when new evidence came to light. The IPPC's review findings were handed to the government in February.


SEE ALSO:
Custody death inquiry call
05 May 04 |  Humber
Man cleared over custody death
27 Jan 06 |  Humber


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