CPS will re-examine custody death case

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The Independent Online

The Crown Prosecution Service has been forced to re-examine the controversial case of the death in custody of Christopher Alder, a black detainee at a police station, after the submission of two medical reports that suggest his life could have been saved.

Both reports state that Mr Alder, 37, might have survived if he had been assisted as he lay dying on the floor of a Hull police interview room in April 1998.

The case, which has become a cause célèbre for the National Civil Rights Movement, is characterised by CCTV footage of Mr Alder's excruciatingly slow death in the interview room. It was alleged that no attempt was made to touch or rouse him in his final 12 minutes.

An inquest jury examined the details of the former paratrooper's death last year and unanimously concluded it was a case of unlawful killing – a verdict five police officers have failed to get overturned at the High Court.

The fivehave been charged with misconduct in public office. The officers did not object to the inquest proceeding, with all its ensuing publicity, before standing trial.

Expert medical evidence was offered during the seven-week inquest that Mr Alder may have suffered from a rare form of irregular heartbeat, which, allied to his distressed state, proved fatal.

Harrison Bundy, the Alder family's firm of Leeds solicitors, has said only two in 10,000 people die from arrhythmia. It commissioned a review of the evidence from Professor Jennifer Adgey, a heart specialist at the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast, who concluded that, whatever the cause of Mr Alder's collapse, he could have been revived.

But the most unexpected development in the case has been an unsolicited report by one of the inquest's expert witnesses, Janet Porter, an accident and emergency procedure consultant. The report by Ms Porter, who represented the emergency services at the inquest, reaches the same conclusion as Professor Adgey's.

The CPS confirmed that it was examining the new reports.All such active cases were "constantly under review", a spokesman said. "If anything new comes in, we will examine it."

Case officers must balance the new evidence against that submitted at the inquest by a Home Office scientist who testified that Mr Alder was most probably rendered unconscious by arrhythmia brought on by acute alcohol intake, the inhalation of his vomit, positional asphyxiation and his excited and aggressive state.

Another Home Office pathologist is now understood to have advised the CPS that arrhythmia cannot be ruled out. If necessary, Mr Alder's heart may be analysed. His body was buried without it, a fact that Mr Alder's sister, Janet, claims was a cause of distress to the family – though the heart is potentially material now.