Christopher Alder, a 37 year old father of two and ex-paratrooper, choked to death in police custody in 1998. Sgt John Dunn and Pc’s Matthew Bar, Nigel Dawson, Neil Blakey, and Mark Ellington have all been exonerated by the Independent Police complaints Commission. The commission reports that the system had failed Mr Alder and his family, but falls short of holding the officers involved to account.
Mr Alder was involved in a scuffle outside a Hull city centre hotel. Suffering from a serious head injury, he was taken to hospital where it was claimed that he had been aggressive towards hospital staff. However, According to Dr Graham Cook who gave evidence in the recent IPCC investigation, Mr Alder’s ‘aggressive’ behaviour was likely to be caused by concussion, which he had received as a result of the head injury.
The Police were called and he was later taken to the nearby Queens Gardens Police Station. There he spent the last few moments of his life treated as sub-human whilst he was handcuffed, left half naked on the floor choking on his own blood and vomit which visibly surrounded his mouth.
In 2004, there was a BBC screening of CCTV video revealing the horrendous way in which he suffered and the cruelty and neglect of all the officers concerned. As Christopher Alder lay dying on the floor officers were clearer heard to be chatting and joking around him. Recordings of the incident have revealed that the officers concerned were imitating monkey noises and making jokes concerning a banana.
At an earlier inquest lasting seven weeks, a jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing, citing 'positional asphyxia'. Despite the verdict, the Crown Prosecution Service initially insisted that manslaughter charges would not be brought. After the family's lawyers submitted fresh medical reports, the CPS changed its position. Controversially and as Ligali reported in 2004 (Rough Justice, No Justice, Injustice), the officers involved were cleared of manslaughter and misconduct and were not required to testify.
Falling short of the family’s requests for a public enquiry, the Home Secretary at the time, Jack Straw, instead ordered a review of the case to be conducted by the IPCC.
Hopes that the findings of the long awaited IPCC investigation would reveal the full circumstances around his death and make the appropriate recommendations, were shattered earlier this week. Although the report was termed ‘damning’ by much of the mainstream media, for Mr Alder’s family, campaigners and many other Africans in the UK, the report was universally condemned as inadequate, disingenuous and highly disappointing.
The main findings of the IPCC report into this tragic event included the acknowledgement of a breakdown in communication between the police and health services, a poor antiquated police disciplinary system, and ‘unwitting’ racism by police officers leading to ‘disgraceful’ behaviour.
In the 400-page report, Independent Police Complaints Commission chairman Nick Hardwick 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… 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". The report also recommended that a full apology be given to Mr Alder’s family on behalf of the police.
Almost immediately, Chief Constable Tim Hollis, who was not with the force at the time of Mr Alder's death, said; "The time is...right for me publicly to apologise to Christopher Alder's family for our failure to treat Christopher with sufficient compassion and to the desired standard that night…. The failure of the officers to explain to the IPCC their actions, including noises recorded on the video before and after Christopher's arrival in the custody suite, appears to have contributed to the IPCC view regarding unwitting racism."
Offering his sympathy to the family, Sgt John Dunn, said: "I'm not a racist. Who, in their right mind, as custody sergeant who has put in the video, would start making monkey noises?"
Mr Alder’s Sister Janet, who has been campaigning incessantly for justice over the unlawful killing of her brother rejected their findings and stated that ‘Humberside police have fought against me for eight years. For them to apologise now is far from sufficient’.
Regarding the IPCC’s findings of unwitting racism Janet Alder claimed ‘I don't think when the actual police officers [on duty that night] were making monkey and chimp noises that was unwitting’.
Although there have been many actions against the police for African deaths in police custody, not a single police officer has yet been successfully prosecuted. Typically, John Savage, the chairman of the Humberside Police Federation, said: "The officers concerned categorically deny that they were in any way neglectful of their duties or that their handling of the situation was influenced by race. They also deny that any of them were guilty of racism, unwitting or otherwise."
Christopher Alder: Killed in police custody
Historic police corruption at all levels
Yet instead of taking responsibility and accounting fully for the events surrounding Mr Alders death, four of the officers involved in the incident had been granted retirement on medical grounds.
In December 2004, Humberside Police Authority confirmed that the officers were being retired on 'medical grounds' and each would get a lump sum of between £45,000 and £66,000 on top of their annual police pension. The decision to retire the officers was made by suspected ‘paedophile’ Colin Inglis, as chairman of the Humberside Police Authority.
Inglis is no stranger to controversy. He was suspended from both the Labour Party and his job as Humberside Police Authority chairman in June 2005 following an investigation over claims of child abuse made against him by a former children's home resident. He has denied the allegations, claiming they are politically-motivated and made maliciously because he is 'openly gay'. However earlier in 2004 the IPCC was reported as investigating allegations that Humberside Police failed to properly investigate Inglis when the child abuse allegations first arose in the 1980s, and then subsequent investigations which ran between 1996 and 1998, and 2005.
It is widely suspected that Humberside Police Authority approved the ‘ill-health’ retirement to enable the officers to avoid the Christopher Alder IPCC investigation. The IPCC has no powers or legal grounds to intervene and prevent the retirement of officers. It is because of this they were unable to secure the cooperation of the officers in order to obtain a further account of events. PC Blakely is the only officer still serving with the Humberside force.
Following publication of the report, it was also revealed that Barrister Laurence Lustgarten, a senior member of the IPCC has been suspended over allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour.
Susan Atkins, the Independent Police Complaints Commission's Chief Executive also suddenly announced that she is leaving her £90,000 a year post following a management reorganisation. She will serve three months notice. Atkins, was responsible for the launch of the IPCC following her appointment in February 2003. She has responsibility for the operational set up and management of the new Commission in such a way as will enable it to meet its statutory duties, delivering greater openness and accessibility for complainants and increasing the confidence of the public and police in complaints procedures.
According to Janet Alder, the officers have been ‘paid off’.
The IPCC website states; “The IPCC's job is to make sure that complaints against the police are dealt with effectively. We set standards for the way the police handle complaints and, when something has gone wrong, we help the police learn lessons and improve the way they work.”
Hardwick said; “I think the public would be appalled if they knew how inadequate and old fashioned the police discipline system is.”
But Gordon Clark, former Deputy Chief Constable of Humberside Police, who was responsible for disciplinary matters in the force at the time of the death of Christopher Alder has also rejected IPCC criticisms "in the strongest terms".
He said: "The criticism is not supported by the facts, it is at best opinion. At no time did I obstruct the disciplinary process… this was a tragic and serious matter. My job was to consider the culpability of the officers involved… The IPCC criticism is not, I believe, evidence based and this causes me to suspect that they have a certain agenda from the outset, especially given that the criticism was drawn up before they even condescended to speak with me. I sincerely regret that Christopher died while in the custody of Humberside Police but totally reject the criticisms made of me."
No transparency, no accountability, no justice
The 'pensioning off' of culpable officers appears to be a common practice in UK policing. Officers implicated in the high profile cases of Steven Lawrence investigation and in the shooting of Jean Charles de Menzies, have also taken extensive sick leave and early retirement.
In a similar but more recent incident in 2002, Kwame Wiredu, a young African man, was dragged into Stoke Newington Police Station where he was left laying on floor for over half an hour. He was complaining of severe pains and was visibly distressed, however the officers involved ignored his pleas claiming they thought he was faking his illness. He subsequently died.
In the inquest that followed, the jury had found that the entire system had failed Mr Wiredu. Yet Jonathan Goldberg, counsel for the Mets Commissioner Ian Blair, in an attempt to absolve police responsibility, claimed that Mr Wiredu had bought the death on himself.
Last November another young African man was brutally attacked and racially abused by armed police believed to be from Tottenham police station. Fortunately, he was able to align himself with a community organisation that was able to offer practical and moral support and raise awareness of the great injustice.
Incidents of police brutality, racism and mistreatment against African people are commonplace, although relatively few receive any public and media attention. Furthermore, according to the IPCC’s own research, a significant proportion of African people are reluctant to file reports against the police. The lack of media attention and public knowledge of these shocking and disturbing incidents, are issues that need to be highlighted. Community self-empowerment through organisation, which was at it’s height during the 1970s, was an effective tool in fighting for justice and accountability.
The issue of police accountability has been a concern that was high on the social and political agenda since the 1960s. After years of debate, the government conceded by introducing the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act which contained measures to supposedly increase police accountability. Conversely, the Act also gave the police increased powers.
However, the measures for increasing the accountability of the police have clearly failed. Innocent African people are still being killed, assaulted (See the Institute for Race relations website http://www.irr.org.uk) , mistreated and racially abused by officers who are immune to accountability and prosecution.
Professor Ben Bowling, a leading Criminologist based at Kings College London claimed in a BBC television interview, that he was ‘concerned’ about the IPCC’s report findings into Mr Alder’s death. He confirmed that racism in the police exists at both a personal and institutional level. Professor Bowling also suggested that little progress has been made since the Macpherson Report, which had identified the British Police as ‘institutionally racist’.
Unwitting Racism – The perfect ‘get-out’ clause
Shortly after its publication, Lee Bridges of the Institute for Race Relations accused the Macpherson Report of ‘downplaying’ the issue of institutional racism in the police (See ‘Lawrence Enquiry – Incompetence Corruption and Institutional Racism’, in the Journal of Law and Society, Vol.26 no.3 (September 1999) pp298-32.
). Although Macpherson branded the Metropolitan Police as institutionally racist, he also suggested that it was a form of ‘unwitting’ or ‘unintentional’ racism that permeated the police.
In his analysis, Lee Bridges also questions the government’s commitment to ‘anti-racism by its decision to put further restrictions on the rights of victims of police racism.
In light of the recent fatal police shootings such as Jean Charles de Menzies and the less publicised shooting of Azelle Rodney, African people in Britain are becoming increasingly concerned about the increase in police powers and the decrease in accountability.
Ken Fero of the United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC), speaking after the Azelle Rodney killing, claims ‘Unfortunately we’re going to see a lot more deaths because of recent events than we have over the past few years. I would say they have a licence to kill at the moment’. He adds that ‘Any police officer that takes any action that results in a death of a member of public is going to know they can get away with it.’
Furthermore, and to the detriment of the minority communities in the UK, Cressida Dick of the Metropolitan Police (and also implicated in the events that led to the fatal shooting of Mr De Menzies) suggests that ‘racism will never be eradicated from the police’.
External LinksUnited Family and Friends CampaignBBC - Police condemned over mans murderInstitute for Race relations
Janet Alder and Leon Wilson: Family Campaign for Justice
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