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Deaths in police custody

The announcement after 15 months of investigation that no one would face charges following the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests, took many by surprise.   Footage of the moment when Tomlinson was struck by a police officer was broadcast around the world.  It was clear for all to see, yet the Crown Prosecution Service felt that they could not mount a successful prosecution due to the conflicting autopsy reports which meant there was insufficient evidence to link the cause of death directly to the actions of the police officer.   There was worse to come; the time taken for the CPS to arrive at their decision meant that the six-month time limit within which charges for common assault must be brought, had long passed.  There was now no possibility of bringing any criminal charges against the police officer involved.  

Speaking on Question Time last week, the union leader Bob Crowe described the CPS decision as shocking.  He went on to say that in the last fifty years, there had been over a thousand deaths in police custody and yet not one police officer had ever been successfully prosecuted.  I was reminded of the one case of a death in police custody that has stayed with me ever since the shocking image of his final moments were broadcast in a BBC television documentary in 2004.  The man was Christopher Alder and he was 37 years old.In April 1998, Alder was arrested for breach of the peace at the Hull Royal Infirmary where he’d been receiving treatment for a head injury after a fight.  He was taken to the Queens Gardens police station and it was here that he died in a pool of blood, while lying face down on the floor.   The whole event was captured on CCTV and a number of police officers could be seen chatting and laughing nearby while Christopher Alder lay gasping for breath, a few feet away.  It would be ten crucial minutes before any of them even noticed that something was wrong and by then it was too late.   Christopher was dead.  What adds to the horror of this case is that for some inexplicable reason, Christopher Alder died with his trousers around his ankles.

Charges were brought against five Humberside police officers after an inquest jury’s verdict of unlawful killing.  However, they were soon acquitted on the direction of the judge in light of conflicting medical evidence as to the actual cause of death.