Police suspended over death in custody

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The Independent Online
THE SISTER of an apparently healthy man who died within 15 minutes of being dragged into a police station is calling for criminal charges to be brought.

The Crown Prosecution Service is examining a file on the case of Christopher Alder, 37, a former paratrooper who was found dead on the floor of a police station in Hull last year. He had been left there by officers who thought he was asleep.

A report by a Home Office pathologist, Dr John Chalmer Clark, concluded that the failure to recognise Mr Alder was unconscious was potentially "an important factor" in his death. Had he received medical attention, he might have survived, Dr Clark said.

Five police officers who were on duty that night have been suspended, and the Police Complaints Authority has passed the results of its investigation to the CPS.

Mr Alder's sister, Janet, believes he was not looked after properly because he was black. She wants to know why he was unconscious when he arrived at the police station.

Mr Alder, who had no known health problems, was arrested after a brawl outside a nightclub in Hull on 1 April. He was taken to hospital with superficial injuries, treated and discharged, then put into the back of a police van, to which he walked unaided.

According to the version of events outlined in Dr Clark's report, Mr Alder did not respond when police opened the doors of the van. They thought he was asleep, so they took hold of both his arms and lifted him out. Officers then dragged him into the station and along to the charge room. Mr Alder, who has two children and was training as a computer programmer, was placed face down on the floor, his arms handcuffed behind his back. Three minutes later, police removed his handcuffs. After another 10 minutes they checked him again and discovered he was dying. Efforts to resuscitate him failed.

Dr Clark, who conducted a post-mortem examination, concludes: "The fact that his unconscious state was not recognised as he lay motionless on the floor for at least 10 minutes, and that he was not given appropriate treatment straight away, ie basic first aid to keep his airway clear and transfer to hospital, could have been an important factor in his death.

"Had he received immediate attention, then there is certainly a possibility that his death could have been prevented."

Ms Alder said she was horrified when she read the report. "They treated Christopher like an animal," she said. "The video evidence shows he was unconscious when he was dragged into the station ... Why didn't they take him back to hospital?" She wants an inquest to be held as soon as possible, and is seeking funds for an independent pathologist's report.

The cause of Mr Alder's death was probably "multi- factorial", according to Dr Clark; a combination of drinking four pints of lager, possibly missing a heartbeat due to agitation, slight asphyxia, and being placed in a dark van on his own. Dr Clark wrote: "Most difficult, and most crucial to understand, is what happened to him in the police van between leaving the hospital and arriving at the police station. Either he became acutely unwell there, going from being normal to unconscious within a few minutes, or something else happened."

Ms Alder said: "Christopher had been discharged from hospital, so clearly there were no concerns about his health. The Home Office report says there was nothing wrong with his heart or his brain. I want to know the cause of death and I want the people responsible to be brought to justice."

Humberside Police declined to comment on the case. A Police Federation representative said none of the suspended officers had been charged.