Campaign for justice by family is finally vindicated

Relatives of black paratrooper welcome verdict of 'unlawful killing' as police officers await trial charged with misconduct
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The Independent Online

The indignity of Christopher Alder's death - face down, in handcuffs, his trousers down around his thighs - has made him an emblem of what civil rights campaigners believe to be the black experience of police custody.

The indignity of Christopher Alder's death - face down, in handcuffs, his trousers down around his thighs - has made him an emblem of what civil rights campaigners believe to be the black experience of police custody.

His sister Janet's indignation stems from the simple fact that it took Humberside Police 14 days to inform her of it Even then, she claims, the accounts she received were contradictory. By one, her 37-year-old brother had sat down in a custody suite at Queen's Gardens police station in Hull then keeled over. By another, he had keeled over at a desk in the same room. By another, he was unconscious when removed from the police van.

Christopher was no angel. He has received a three-month prison sentence for assaulting an officer after his arrest on suspicion of theft. He was parted from Kelvin, 14, and Leon, 17, sons from a failed marriage in Hampshire.

But he was motivated. He joined the Parachute Regiment, served in Germany and Northern Ireland, where he won honours, and received a good commendation when he left after five years, in 1981. He found labouring jobs, worked as a security officer, undertook an administration course then a computer course.

He was in his natural domain - the Waterfront nightclub in Hull where, his friends say, people would watch him dance - when the events that led to his death began. A row with a man over whom he spat beer. A fight which left him temporarily unconscious. Abortive attempts for treatment in hospital. His arrest on public order offences and a journey to police headquarters in a van which he began apparently well and ended half conscious, his blood on the walls.

Ms Alder enlisted all available help to understand why he died - seeking out Richard, the younger brother she had not seen for four years, and lobbying Jack Straw, the Home Secretary. She was offered the support of Stephen Lawrence's father, Neville. Anti-racism rallies in Telford and Sheffield picked up her cause.

Then criminal charges of misconduct in a public office, a rare common-law offence that brings a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, were brought against five officers - constables Nigel Dawson, Neil Blakey, Mark Ellerington, Matthew Barr and Sgt John Dunn - last July.

Yesterday's verdict of "unlawful killing" after a seven-week inquest was seen by the family as vindication of their long campaign for justice. Yet the overwhelming evidence disproved the notion that Mr Alder could have been subjected to racist conduct or assault.

The East Riding coroner Geoffrey Saul concluded there was "no evidence that what happened... had anything to do with the colour of Christopher's skin". It was by their inactionthat the officers were damned.

The Home Office pathologist Dr John Clark, though uncertain of the precise cause of death, told the jury that Mr Alder might have lived had officers moved him.

Last night, some statistical evidence placed the Home Office under considerable pressure to explain a 10-year pattern of deaths in custody. "Here we are again with yet another healthy black man dying this way," said Helen Shaw, the co-director of the campaign group Inquest. "We want the Home Office to look at the video and review the way these deaths are investigated."

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