22 Nov 2011

Government apologises over Alder cell death

The UK apologises for serious failings after the death of Christopher Alder who died in police custody. Mr Alder’s sister tells Channel 4 News it ends “13 years of government lies and failure”.

Christopher Alder

The apology follows the violation of articles two and three of the European Convention on Human Rights, which relate to ensuring the right to life and freedom from torture or degrading treatment whilst in custody.

But the government insisted that reforms since Mr Alder’s death are sufficient enough to prevent a similar case in the future.

Authorities also admitted to “the lack of an effective independent investigation,” and went on to acknowledge that racism played a part in Mr Alder’s treatment in police custody.

The Alder family will receive £25,000 from the government in a “voluntary” compensation payment, and a £6,500 payment for legal fees.

But the verdict has left Christopher’s sister Janet “unsatisfied.”

“The government has failed us, we’ve had inquiries, investigations, and only now after 13 years of lies has the government said sorry,” Ms Alder told Channel 4 News.

“Nobody has been held accountable for Christopher’s unlawful and racist killing, but if we can try prevent this kind of thing in the future then at least something good can come from it” she added.

‘Flawed investigation’

Falklands veteran Christopher Alder, 37, choked to death while handcuffed and lying on the floor of a police station in Hull, in the early hours of 1 April, 1998.

The initial investigation into his death was carried out by a neighbouring police force rather than an independent body. Blood samples, officers’ clothing and Mr Alder’s clothing were all destroyed without being tested.

The text of the apology to the ECHR 
"The government of the United Kingdom regrets the occurrence of the actions which have led to the bringing of the present application, in particular the treatment in custody of the applicant's brother, Mr Christopher Alder, and the anguish that this treatment and his death have caused to his family."
"The government accepts that the lack of an effective and independent investigation in this case constitutes a violation of the procedural obligations in articles 2 and 3 of the Convention.
"Further, the government accept that the treatment that the applicant's brother received in police custody amounted to a substantive violation of article 3 with 14 of the Convention."

In March 2006 the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) concluded that – despite flaws in the original investigation and findings of “quite obvious neglect of duty” and “unwitting racism” – no further action could be taken against the police.

Five Humberside police officers were cleared of manslaughter and misconduct charges in 2002 and cleared of disciplinary offences in 2003.

Read more: Family 'sickened' at Alder body mix-up
Government apologises over Alder cell death.

‘A symbolic victory’

Corinna Ferguson, the legal officer for Liberty whuch took Janet Alder’s case to the European Court of Human Rights, told Channel 4 News that the apology was a “symbolic victory”, and would provide a “catalyst for better responses in the future.”

She said that although the government has implemented reforms since Mr Alder’s death, more needs to be done.

“There needs to be more accountability in these situations and in future the IPCC must take much stronger action when human rights are breached in such a way.

“The offence of misconduct in public office is completely inadequate in these circumstances – as demonstrated by the fact that these officers were somehow cleared of it. Sadly admissions and apologies will matter little if such tragic cases keep occurring.”

Janet Alder’s UK solicitor, Ruth Bundy, told Channel 4 News she will consult with the family as to the family’s next legal steps in the British courts, but it was “too early to react” to the apology.

Body mix up

Earlier this month South Yorkshire Police were called in to investigate how Mr Alder’s body was mixed up with the body of a Nigerian woman at a mortuary in Hull.

A Hull pensioner of Nigerian descent, Grace Kamara, was buried in his place in 2000. She is understood to have died from natural causes in 1999 but her burial was delayed.

The mix-up was only discovered when her friends and family were recently granted permission to identify the body. But they discovered Mr Alder’s remains were in her place in the mortuary.

The investigation continues.