20 years since Christopher Alder died in police custody at Queens Gardens Police Station, Hull
Assemble 1 pm Saturday 31st March 2018 (Easter Saturday)
Queen Victoria Square, Hull
Called by the Justice for Christopher Alder Campaign
20 years ago Christopher Alder died in custody in Queens Gardens Police Station, Hull. He was a fit and active 37 year old black man who had served as a paratrooper in the 1980’s.
He died slowly, surrounded by police officers, and on camera in the early hours of 1st April 1998. The custody suite video records him being dragged in unconscious from a police van in the back yard and placed face down with hands cuffed behind his back, and his trousers and shorts pulled down. His belt is missing and there is mud on his legs. The tape records his breathing getting slower and more laboured as his life slips away. Police officers can be heard laughing and joking and later on monkey noises can be heard nearby. Eventually Christopher’s condition cannot be ignored any more and paramedics are called but it is too late to save him. Eleven minutes have elapsed since he was dragged in.
Christopher’s death had followed a night out at the Waterfront Club near his home and an altercation outside the club with a man he knew called Jason Paul, which culminated in a punch which knocked Christopher down, striking his head on the cobbles. An ambulance is called and Christopher is taken to Hull Royal Infirmary for treatment. He is conscious but disturbed by his head injury and the situation he is in. Police officers who have come to the hospital to follow up the assault on Christopher and take a statement end up arresting him and dragging him out backwards to be taken away in a police van. Christopher, at this point, is lucid and standing and speaks to the hospital security guard before stepping unaided into the police van. The police claim the journey of a few minutes duration to Queens Gardens was uneventful and uninterrupted, but Christopher’s unconscious condition and disarrayed clothing on arrival suggest otherwise.
From the moment of Christopher’s death a police cover-up kicks in. The officers involved are able to confer amongst themselves and by the time Jim Elliott from the Police Complaints Authority, arrives on the scene on the morning of the 1st April they have a story for public consumption. The version of events they give out is that Christopher must have died as a result of the punch in the street and that his death in police custody was unforeseen and in no way the responsibility of any police officer. Later that day Jason Paul goes to the police to find out what has happened and is arrested on suspicion of murder and is sent out of Hull to a bail hostel in York for a month. Subsequently he is freed without charge (not even assault) and he is eventually compensated for wrongful arrest.
Meanwhile the police stage an elaborate pantomime of looking for Christopher’s missing tooth outside the night club. Years later unreleased police station video appears to show the tooth being picked up from the custody suite floor after his death.
It also emerges in the course of the inquest, that the police van in question was cleaned out on the afternoon of the 1st April, and recent blood stains which were seen on the morning of the 1st had disappeared by the time the van was properly examined forensically. It also emerges that Christopher’s clothes were destroyed in the weeks after his death. Superintendent David Holt of West Yorkshire Police, leading the police investigation of the death, admitted at the inquest to ordering the destruction of the clothes rather that preserving them in evidence bags pending future enquiries and court cases. Other mysteries, still unexplained, were the question of why Christopher’s flat was taped off like a crime scene for days after his death, and his computer hard drive was analysed. Why? And the question of CS gas canisters, and whether any had been discharged? It appears very likely from the subsequent exchange of empty canisters that at least one was used. Plus there is the question of why the uniforms of those police involved were sent to be cleaned as soon as possible? Two of them went to hospital for treatment for minor injuries, which were never explained.
At no point were the scenes relevant to Christopher’s death treated like crime scene nor was potential evidence preserved for proper forensic analysis.
Also not adequately explained was the crucial question of why Christopher’s body was removed to Sheffield for the post mortem which was attended by 11 people, including senior police officers. No family members were present or legally represented as was their right. This would not have happened if it was believed that Christopher’s death was just the unfortunate outcome of a fight in the street.
Years later Christopher’s heart was found in a drawer at the Sheffield Pathology laboratory despite a request from the Alder family that all the body should be returned for burial. Why did this happen?
About 2 weeks after his death Christopher’s sister, Janet, is notified at her home in Burnley. The policeman who calls late in the evening to give her the news gives a vague and confusing version of what may have happened. Janet then travels to Hull the next day to find out more and the hostile and defensive reaction of Humberside police officers to her questions convince her that she is not being told the truth and when they follow and watch her in central Hull she is certain they have something to hide.
Janet then tells this story to sympathetic friends and supporters in Burnley and by July 1998 the “Justice for Christopher Alder Campaign” is launched. It carries Janet’s quest for the truth and justice out into the world – to Hull and the rest of Britain and to campaigners and trade unionists that will support her.
Neville Lawrence, Stephen’s father, meets Janet and makes a statement backing her in October 1998.
From the beginning the press and broadcasting media take a great interest in the case. The immediate outcome of the campaigning is that five police officers are suspended and charged with “misconduct in public office”, a relatively minor charge, but proceedings are adjourned until after the inquest.
The inquest, in July and August 2000, was unusually long, hearing more than 70 witnesses and involving detailed questioning of pathologists and forensic witnesses but the police officers facing charges all declined to answer questions about what had happened. Citing rule 22, which allows anybody charged over a death to refuse to answer questions put to the them at an inquest. The inquest was a major event in Hull and was attended by many friends and relatives of Christopher and many supporters of Janet’s campaign for the truth.
The coroner sat with a jury of Hull citizens and when the jury gave its verdict that Christopher had been unlawfully killed, it made the front pages of several national newspapers. It should have followed that the unlawful killing verdict would lead to a renewed investigation and a serious attempt to bring those responsible to justice. This did not happen.
It’s true that Janet Alder’s vigorous campaigning did push the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) into adding gross negligence manslaughter charges to the indictment against the 5 police officers already charged with “misconduct in public office”. But when the case came to court in 2002, it was sent to Middlesbrough, inconveniently far for the Alder family and the witnesses, and it was out of the focus of a lot of the mainstream media. Also the move to Middlesbrough virtually guaranteed an all–white jury.
In the event the case was badly presented by the CPS with deliberately conflicted expert witnesses and no attempt to put racism, institutional or otherwise at the heart of the case. Not surprisingly, the judge threw the case out at the halfway stage, and the 5 defendants walked free having still not answered any questions in public about the death of Christopher Alder.
Later the European court found in Janet’s favour – Christopher Alder had been unlawfully deprived of his right to life – a damning indictment for the British legal system.
It should also have followed that when the inquest verdict in 2000 cleared the way for the Alder family to go ahead with a public funeral for Christopher in November 2000 it would be an event that commemorated Christopher properly and give the family some sense of closure. Not so. In 2011 Christopher’s body was discovered in a Hull morgue; the wrong body having been sent to the funeral in 2000. The body of Grace Kamara, aged 77, had been sent instead. The body swap could not have been accidental but no-one has been charged with anything in relation to this prevention of a lawful burial.
Not only was the alleged racist motivation of some of those involved in the burial process not followed up, but also it emerged that Christopher’s body whilst in storage between 2000 and 2011 had been exhibited to police trainees when they went to the mortuary as part of their training. No-one has been charged in relation to this. It also became clear that the non-burial of Christopher’s body was known as a fact or a rumour to a number of people in Hull, including some who were of enough standing to have blown the whistle and got the whole issue exposed. The body swap only came to light because the family of Grace Kamara insisted on seeing the body before burial.
Another outrage that came to light in 2011 was the fact that was admitted by Humberside police that Janet Alder and some of her supporters had been under surveillance during the inquest in 2000.
Police disciplinary proceedings are pending on this, but no criminal charges have been brought against them for treating a grieving relative at an inquest like a criminal suspect.
The injustice of Christopher Alder’s death in the custody of Humberside police is still unresolved, as are the injustices visited on Janet Alder in her campaign for Justice:-
- The cover-up of evidence
- The flawed police investigations
- The failed prosecution by the CPS
- The institutional racism of the CPS in their dealings with Janet
- The swapping of Christopher’s body (probably at the morgue)
- The surveillance of Janet and her supporters
- The failure to identify racism in individuals and institutional racism in all the organisations dealing with the case.All these are still unresolved issues, which is why the 20th Anniversary of Christopher’s death will be commemorated by a protest gathering at 1pm on Saturday 31st March 2018 ( Easter Saturday).
NO JUSTICE NO PEACE