Officers to stand trial over death of former paratrooper

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The Independent Online

A High Court judge ruled yesterday that five police officers must stand trial for manslaughter over the death of Christopher Alder, a black former paratrooper decorated by the Army who died in their custody on a police station floor.

The judge approved an application to bring the new charge against the Hull officers, to the delight of Mr Alder's family who were forced to unearth their own criminal evidence when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) ruled that there was insufficient evidence to charge the officers with anything more serious than misconduct in public office.

Six months ago, The Independent revealed that medical reports commissioned by Mr Alder's family's solicitors had forced the CPS to re-examine the case. Within a month it had changed its original opinion about the weight of evidence and declared it would be seeking a voluntary bill of indictment for manslaughter, a legal process in which a High Court judge is asked to add the new charge to the existing indictment.

The bill was granted yesterday after a day-long hearing at Teesside Crown Court, in Middlesbrough, before Judge Mr Justice Evans, who said a manslaughter application was "in the public interest".

The officers, 40-year-old custody sergeant Nigel Dawson, and PCs Neil Blakey, 42, Mark Ellerington, 36, John Dunn, 40 and Matthew Barr, 38, will now face manslaughter and misconduct charges when they return to Middlesbrough to stand trial on 10 April.

Mr Alder, 37, died in the charge room at Hull's Queens Gardens police HQ, in the early hours of 1 April 1998. The fitness fanatic and father-of-two left the Parachute Regiment in 1983 after service in Northern Ireland – for which he received a medal – and Germany.

He had been treated at Hull Royal Infirmary after an altercation outside a nightclub in the city, was arrested for breach of the peace when he refused to leave the hospital grounds, and was transported to the police station by patrol van. All five officers are currently suspended.

Mrs Alder's solicitor, Ruth Bundy, of the Leeds firm Harrison Bundy, said yesterday: "The manslaughter charges have been added and the family are preparing for the trial."