Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/344/5734
"A Lonely Death With No Dignity"
CHRISTOPHER ALDER is one of 81 black people who have died in police custody since 1990 in England and Wales. Christopher's death, however, is unique - his final eleven minutes was shown to millions in BBC's Rough Justice programme.
In April 1998, Christopher suffered concussion and head injuries after a fight, outside the Waterfront nightclub. He was taken to Hull Royal Infirmary by ambulance for treatment. At the hospital Christopher was calm and rational one minute and aggressive another. Dr Nat Cary said his behaviour was consistent with head injuries.
The hospital phoned the police, who arrested Christopher for breach of the peace. Christopher, his hands handcuffed behind his back, was led into the back of a police van. He was then driven to Queens Gardens police station.
Millions saw Christopher's last eleven minutes. Policemen dragged him onto the floor and left him face down, with his hands manacled behind his back and his trousers around his knees. We heard his breathing become erratic and stop. After Christopher's death, another camera recorded someone making "monkey sounds" and laughing.
Five police officers watched Christopher die without helping him. They didn't even progress his arrest. Dr Cary believes proper attention would have saved Christopher's life. A radio phone-in following the programme heard one listener say her neighbour was ashamed to be a policeman.
West Yorkshire Police investigated Christopher's death. Crucial evidence was lost or destroyed. The uniforms worn by the policemen were dry-cleaned. The police van was partially cleaned. An internal police enquiry found the officers blameless.
Christopher's case shows the need for deaths in custody to be treated as a scene of crime with the investigation under the control of democratically elected representatives of a complaints board.
However a coroner's court returned a verdict of unlawful killing. In criminal proceedings the Crown Prosecution Service presented several causes of death. The judge stopped the trial.
Janet Alder, Christopher's sister, demands a public enquiry. Home Secretary David Blunkett hopes an investigation by the Police Complaints Commission will be enough. Readers should write to their local MP supporting Janet's call for a public enquiry.
Socialists call for police forces to be democratically controlled by elected representatives, with responsibility for policing policy.
Janet said Christopher died a lonely death with no dignity, no respect. Janet's campaign shows there will be no justice until the police are democratically accountable to the community they serve.
In The Socialist 24 April 2004:
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