A jury watched CCTV footage yesterday showing a former soldier heaving his last, harrowing breaths in front of five police officers who neither treated him nor even spoke to him as he lay on the tiled floor of a custody room.
The five experienced officers responsible for 37-year-old Christopher Alder were convinced he was play-acting or "doing the dying swan", as one of them said. They were unmoved by the loud, rasping noises he made as he tried to breathe in his last 10 minutes of life, the jury at Teesside Crown Court was told. The gasps were evidence of his slow death by asphyxiation.
James Curtis QC, opening the prosecution against the officers, said: "He died, visibly, for all in that room to see, and audibly, for all in that room to hear. These ... policemen ... either placed him there or ignored him while they talked about things such as who he was and what to charge him with." They were "lounging around, legs crossed ... apparently paying astonishingly little attention" to him.
Constables Nigel Dawson, 39, Neil Blakey, 42, Mark Ellerington, 36, and Matthew Barr, 38, and their 40-year-old custody sergeant, John Dunn, deny the manslaughter of Mr Alder, in their Hull station in 1998, and an alternative charge of misconduct in public office.
Mr Alder's two sons, aged 18 and 16, were taken from the court by his sister Janet as the video showed the officers laying their father face down on the floor, his trousers and underpants around his knees.
The officers put Mr Alder's head sideways, reducing his ability to breathe, Mr Curtis said. They also took three minutes to remove his handcuffs (still leaving one hand stuck up his back) and 11 minutes to attempt to rouse him.
By the time anyone checked his pulse or ensured his tongue was not obstructing his breathing, he had been dead for more than a minute, having been sick and swallowed both blood and vomit.
In the meantime, Mr Dawson insisted: "This is acting." Mr Blakey said: "He kept doing the dying swan." A solitary attempt at medical diagnosis failed when Constable Dawson, told by a doctor earlier in the evening that Mr Alder had a haematoma (a bruise), said that meant "a cut".
Though it was uncertain whether the men could have saved Mr Alder's life, their breach of a duty of care meant he was "deprived the initial chance to survive", the prosecution said.
Their difficult encounter with Mr Alder early in the evening might have explained their behaviour, the jury was told. The police had found him in a state of "physical hyper-ventilation" after been called out to investigate an assault, during which he was temporarily knocked unconscious by a blow to the mouth outside a Hull nightclub.
Mr Alder had subsequently flailed out at a female para-medic and spat blood at a nurse before threatening Constables Dawson and Blakey, who were called out to him at the hospital. "Calm down. One more time and we will (CS) gas you," one of the officers told him before doctors refused to treat him and police dragged him out and arrested him.
Mr Alder was able to walk unaided up the two steps into the cage of a police van and say "See you later" to a hospital security guard.
But for no apparent reason, he slumped into unconsciousness during the five-minute journey to the police station. Forensic examination revealed evidence of a heavy smear of blood in the back of the van, though medical evidence disproved any evidence that the officers had assaulted him, Mr Curtis said. The three-month trial continues today.