Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/344/5734
The Socialist 24 April 2004 |
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"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
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
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.