Black soldier was unlawfully killed in custody

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The Independent Online

A black former paratrooper who died in handcuffs in police custody was killed unlawfully, an inquest ruled yesterday.

A black former paratrooper who died in handcuffs in police custody was killed unlawfully, an inquest ruled yesterday.

Christopher Alder, 37, who was decorated for his service with the Army in Northern Ireland, died with his hands cuffed behind him and his trousers around his knees, on the floor of a police station in Hull in 1998.

The inquest at Hull Crown Court was told that police officers thought he was "play-acting or asleep" and stood by laughing and joking while the computer studies student and father of two children lay dying.

Mr Alder was the seventh person to have been killed unlawfully in police custody in the past 10 years. Six of the victims have been black and the seventh was Irish.

After yesterday's verdict, the dead man's family and their solicitor called on the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to look again at charges of manslaughter against police officers involved in the case.

Five officers, all currently suspended, have been charged with neglect of duty and are due to stand trial next year.

After the inquest yesterday, Mr Alder's sister, Janet, said: "There was only one true verdict that could have been given and it was given. I give my compliments to the jury, and let's hope now we get a proper prosecution."

Mr Alder's death was the first in police custody to be captured by closed-circuit television cameras. The footage, watched twice by the inquest jury, captured his harrowing last 12 minutes of life in the charge room at the Queen's Gardens police headquarters in Hull in April two years ago.

Officers were seen joking and in high spirits as Mr Alder lay before them - his body slowly being starved of oxygen as he gasped for breath - then panicking as they realised that he was dying. The officers did not touch, question or attempted to rouse him in the 12 minutes he lay before them.

The jury of five men and three women agreed with a Home Office pathologist who told them that Mr Alder died of asphyxiation owing to the position in which he lay.

The former paratrooper's death came less than 30 minutes after he was discharged, apparently quite fit, from Hull Royal Infirmary, where he had been admitted with a head injury after a scuffle outside a night club. He was arrested for breach of the peace after refusing to leave hospital grounds and was helped into a police van.

Five minutes later, he arrived at the police station apparently semi-conscious and incapable of walking.

The family's solicitor, Ruth Bundy, said that the CPS should examine the jury's findings and consider manslaughter charges against the five Humberside police officers.

John Crosse, Assistant Chief Constable of Humberside Police, said the verdict was "a factual finding" and that the inquest's role had not been to "attribute blame for the killing of any particular party". The officers' trial would do that, he said.

The National Civil Rights Movement and the campaign group Inquest called on the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to examine how deaths in police custody are investigated. "The present procedure where, effectively, police investigate themselves is not acceptable. It's time for an independent body to be established," said Mark Barlow, of the National Civil Rights Movement.