15 years after local man Christopher Alder, 37, was unlawfully killed the latest news is that police spied on members of his family. An investigation has been launched by the IPCC, Independent Police Complaints Commission, following allegations that police placed the sister of ex-paratrooper Christopher, who died on the floor of a Hull police station, under "improper" surveillance. It is the latest in a long line of allegations against British police officers. For the family of Chris it is yet one more failure of the British justice system.
The Guardian reports "Janet Alder has spent years campaigning to find the truth behind one of the most controversial deaths in police custody. Her barrister is also alleged to have been put under surveillance, raising questions over the ethics of police monitoring of lawyers. The espionage is alleged to have happened at the time of the inquest that found Christopher had been unlawfully killed in April 1998."
Home Secretary Theresa May ordered a trawl of police records following recent revelations that the family of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence were spied on by police. The search uncovered evidence of spying in the case of Christopher Alder resulting in the police force involved referring themselves to the IPCC..
Christopher Alder and his family have been let down by many people over the years.One important fact is that Christopher was black-skinned. That should not matter, but sadly in this case it proved relevant.
A former British paratrooper, and Falkland's war veteran, Christopher died in police custody in Hull, Yorkshire, in 1998. Chris attended the Hull Royal Infirmary for treatment following a fight outside a city centre nightclub. He allegedly became "hostile" at the hospital resulting in police attending the scene. It is not known if his injuries contributed to his unruly behaviour. Chris was hauled off to the cells at the Queen's Gardens Police Station which is where Chris died.
Christopher choked to death at the Hull police Station in 1998 in front of four police officers. Video footage shown on TV much later made for grim viewing.The Mail Online reported that, "By the time Chris arrived at the police station, he was unconscious and his trousers were around his knees. He was left handcuffed on the floor while the four officers looked on and did nothing. They could allegedly be heard on CCTV footage making monkey noises as he lay dying for 11 minutes. They later claimed they thought he was ‘putting on an act’."
His death left many unanswered questions and both he and his family were failed by the justice system over and over and over again. To add insult to injury it was revealed much later that his loved ones had unknowingly buried the wrong body after mortuary mistakes.
In November 2011 a terrible mix up at Hull city morgue was discovered. Christopher Alder's funeral was believed to have taken place years ago, until his remains were discovered in the mortuary. The family of Mrs Grace Kamara wanted to view her body when they collected it from Hull Mortuary. They made a shocking discovery. It was not Grace but actually the body of Christopher Alder. The one thing in common with this man and this woman was that they were both black.
During the years which followed, sister Janet fought long and hard for someone to officially admit blame. There was so much that was wrong about the death of Christopher Alder yet it seemed that the authorities wanted to sweep it all under the carpet. Janet's determination meant she did not simply fall at the first hurdle but continued her fight.
She eventually took her complaints to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Janet claimed that the treatment of her brother was a "violation of the substantive aspects of two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights - Article 3, which prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and Article 14, which prohibits discrimination". Janet also alleged "a breach of the procedural guarantees" of Article 3 along with Article 2, the right to life.
12 years ago a coroner informed the Alder family that Chris had been "unlawfully killed" Getting authorities to officially accept this and apologise was a different matter.
Seeking out a judgement from the European Court of Human Rights paid off in some small way. Finally the UK government accepted responsibility and settled a claim. It was a paltry amount for the distress that was caused to Chris and his family, just 26,500 euros (£22,770) to the family, plus 7,500 euros (£6,440) to cover legal costs and expenses. Hardly fair compensation but something.
Janet however told the BBC in 2011, "I see it as an admission that what we've been fighting for for 13 years was true and that the government had failed to hold them accountable." Yes that is true. It certainly took them long enough. Would they have done so if Janet had not been determined and contacted the Human Rights Court though?
Investigations into this man's death, the release of the wrong body and more have concluded. For Janet and Chris's family news that they were unlawfully watched by police will reopen old wounds that are proving difficult, if not impossible, to heal.
Related reading at TEK:
Christopher Alder laid to rest after 14 years
Christopher Alder, Government settles claim
Christopher Alder Hull body mix up resolved
Christopher Alder - Wrong body buried ten years ago