Alice Gross murder: Police admit they missed initial chances to find her body

Alice’s disappearance on 28 August sparked the biggest police search since the 7 July bombings.

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Police missed chances to find the body of 14-year-old Alice Gross weeks before finally finding the dead teenager, senior officers admitted today.

Alice’s disappearance on 28 August last year sparked the biggest police search since the aftermath of the 7 July bombings.

Amid growing concerns for her safety, the investigation was taken over by homicide detectives a week later, and police began searching stretches of the River Brent in west London – near to where she was last seen walking along a canal towpath. 

But her body was not found until 30 September, after senior officers ordered a second sweep of the river.

“I made the decision to go back and search it a second time. And it was during that second search that Alice was found,” said Detective Chief Inspector Andy Chalmers, who led the investigation.

Zalkalns.jpg
Armis Zalkalns was reported missing a week after the disappearance of Alice Gross

A “significantly increased” number of officers were used in the second search, where they moved “anything and everything that wasn’t a physical part” of the riverbed, he added. “We really wish we’d found her earlier, we really wish we’d found her on the first search.”

 

The admission was made during a briefing at Scotland Yard, London, today, where police revealed evidence that Latvian builder Arnis Zalkalns, 41, murdered Alice.

“I am satisfied that the evidence points firmly to Zalkalns as being responsible for the abduction and murder of Alice,” said DCI Chalmers. The “most likely motive was sexual” and the cause of death was “compressive asphyxia” caused by a larger body lying on top of her, he added.

Alice’s body was naked, except for one sock. She had been tied in the foetal position and put into black bin bags weighed down with a bicycle wheel, wiring and bricks. Six sections of tree trunk which had been on the riverbank had been rolled into the river in a bid to ensure the body was never found.

web-gross-3-pa.jpg
Alice's iPhone case was found under Arnis Zalkalns' back garden patio (PA)

Zalkalns' DNA was found on Alice's shoe and a cigarette butt at the crime scene, her iPhone case was discovered under his patio and one of the bags used to conceal her body matched a roll of bin bags found at his workplace, police said.

CCTV footage showed Zalkalns cycling along the same stretch of canal towpath that Alice was on, and officers estimate he would have passed her at about 4.10pm, when he stopped for at least 80 minutes before being picked up again on CCTV. “I strongly believe during this period Arnis Zalkalns killed Alice Gross,” said DCI Chalmers. CCTV images revealed that Zalkalns returned to the River Brent three times over the next 30 hours, to conceal her body. There is no evidence that Zalkalns was responsible for any other reported offences or that he had previously met Alice, officers said.

 

Zalkalns had served seven years for murdering his wife in his home country in 1998. He came to Britain in 2007 and two years later was arrested on suspicion of indecently assaulting a 14-year-old girl near the same canal where Alice was last seen. His criminal past was not known to officers at that time, said Detective Superintendent Carl Mehta. While it would have been “unlikely” to have made any difference, as the victim would not give a statement, it “would however have led to his identification as a person of interest in the Alice Gross inquiry quicker,” he admitted. Officers claim the murder conviction was not known until last September, when they requested a check through Interpol.

Zalkalns went missing a week after Alice. He was found was found hanged in Boston Manor Park, west London, on 4 October, four weeks later.

web-gross-2-pa.jpg
A CCTV still of Arnis Zalkalns in a west London corner shop (PA)

In a statement, Alice's family said: "It remains impossible to describe the pain of losing Alice. Her death has left a hole in our lives that can never be filled.” They “are confident in the conclusions of the police investigation”.

But they added: “We are still left with some serious unanswered questions about what the authorities knew or should have known about the man who is believed to have killed our daughter when he came to the UK.”

And an inquest into Alice’s death, which opened and was adjourned last October, will resume later this year at West London Coroner's Court.

Comments