27 Jan 2015

What we know about the murder of Alice Gross

Alice Gross, 14, went missing in August 2014 and her body was found in the River Brent after a five-week search. On Thursday a review hearing will be held, ahead of a full inquest.

Alice went missing in London on 28 August 2014. After a month of intensive searching, her body was found on 30 September. The search for her was the largest deployment of Metropolitan Police officers in a search operation since the 7 July 2005 London bombings. It involved 600 officers from eight forces.

The prime suspect was Latvian convicted murderer Arnis Zalkalns, who went missing from Ealing, London, on 3 September. On 1 October, police launched a murder inquiry after the Alice’s body was found in the River Brent the night before.

On 4 October, police announced that they had found a badly decomposed body in dense woodland in Boston Manor Park during their search for Zalkalns. Police confirmed two days later that the body was that of Zalkalns. The cause of death was hanging.

CCTV footage

Alice was last seen alive walking along a towpath, while Zalkalns was caught on CCTV following her on his bike. Despite the search, it was more than a month before her body was found near her home in Hanwell, west London.

CCTV evidence suggested that Zalkalns would have passed Alice on the towpath at about 4.10pm, when he stopped for at least 80 minutes, police said. When he reappeared on camera, Zalkalns’ appearance indicated he might have been in the water and his trouser legs were rolled up, police said.

CCTV footage showed him buying beer in a nearby shop later that evening before he cycled on a different bike to the area where Alice was last seen. He returned on a further two occasions and had searched Alice’s name online as reports of her disappearance emerged.

Zalkalns was last seen in a shop in south Acton in the early hours on 4 September when, carrying a heavily laden rucksack, he bought food and water.

DNA evidence

Scotland Yard revealed evidence on Tuesday which it says “points firmly” to the Latvian builder being responsible for the 14-year-old’s abduction and death and the extraordinary lengths taken to hide her body in the River Brent in west London.

Zalkalns’ DNA was found on Alice’s shoe and a cigarette butt at the crime scene, her iPhone case was discovered buried in his back garden, and one of the bags used to conceal her body matched a roll of bags found at his workplace, the force said.

Speaking at Scotland Yard’s headquarters today, Detective Chief Inspector Andy Chalmers said the cause of Alice’s death was asphyxia, caused by a larger body lying on top of her smaller body.

“We believe the most likely motive was sexual,” he said.

Mr Chalmers said “great efforts had been made to carefully and deliberately hide the body”.

‘Unanswered questions’

Alice was found tied in a foetal position, wrapped in bin bags, which had been weighted down with a bike wheel and bricks and covered with six sections of a tree trunk in a pyramid formation, police revealed.

Fire crews were needed to remove the heavy tree trunks placed on top of Alice’s body, which was naked apart from one sock. Most of her clothes have never been found.

Zalkalns, who had previously served seven years for murdering his wife Rudite in Latvia, is believed to have come to the UK in 2007, but authorities here are thought to have had no record of his murder conviction.

Scotland Yard has insisted it was “unlikely” that Alice’s life would have been saved had the force known about Zalkalns’ murder conviction before her death.

Police have also spoken to a woman, who initially refused to provide a statement, following an alleged assault by Zalkalns in 2009 when she was 14.

In a statement, Alice’s family said there remained “serious unanswered questions” following her death, after her suspected killer was allowed to move to the UK in 2007 despite being convicted of murdering his wife.

A review hearing ahead of a full inquest into Alice’s death will be held at west London coroner’s court on Thursday.