Justice Denied: Death in Custody

A system that has to be just and fair enough to defend the rights of individuals is a major source of injustice and corruption in itself. This series of five fact-based documentaries takes us to the real world of the so-called justice in the UK. Here we see and hear the stories of five individuals who have been subject of miscarriages in the United Kingdom. Each episode focuses on ordinary, victim people who, through misfortune or mere bad luck, had to resort to the civil or the criminal justice system in order to seek redress but have been let down. At the end of the day, we get beneath the veneer of the judicial structure of the UK, which seemingly appears efficient and accessible, but in reality, suffers from endemic shortfalls.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: Britain has been rocked by scandal upon scandal from its police force. The organisation has repeatedly been found wanting when it comes to stamping out corrupt and criminal behaviour in its ranks. My name is Michael Doherty. I’m a civil liberties campaigner and founder of Justice Now. I seek to bring about fundamental change to the systems of police accountability in the UK. This is Janet Alder. In 1998 her brother died on the floor of a police station in Hull, in the North of England. 16 years later, no one has been held accountable for his death despite there being an inquest, a trial, disciplinary hearings, a 2nd investigation, and even a government admission of guilt. Police station CCTV shows the final moments of Christopher Alder’s life.

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “They do absolutely nothing to help him. He's just dying on the floor.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Ruth Bundey, Janet Alder’s Lawyer: “That journey from the hospital to the police station is a very very grey area.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: They've just not done an investigation, they'd not investigated the Humberside Police at all.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty, Host of program: This is where our story begins. In 1998 a man named Christopher Alder was involved in a scuffle outside this nightclub and then called 'The Waterfront'. Christopher was punched in the face. He fell to the ground, and banged his head and was knocked unconscious. His injuries were nasty but treatable, and he regained consciousness shortly afterwards. The assault happened at around 2 am. 2 hours later, he would be lying dead, on the floor of a police station.”

Narration: Christopher's sister - Janet - has been the driving force behind an effort to find out exactly what happened to him that night.

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: The nightclub staff placed him in the recovery position, tended to him and someone had phoned an ambulance.”

Narration: His life did not seem to be in any immediate danger but he was taken to hospital for checks. It was a short journey in the ambulance of just 1 mile.

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “The doctor had a look at his injuries and he'd received a blow to the mouth where he'd lost 1 tooth and 1 tooth was bent back 10 degrees. He had a haematoma, the size of a fifty pence piece of swelling on the back of the head.”

Narration: This is Hull Royal Infirmary, the hospital where Christopher's night went from bad to worse. The police attended to see Christopher as a complainant - as the victim of an assault. He was examined by a doctor and his injuries were diagnosed. The plan was to X-ray his head and keep him for observation.

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty, Host of program:“Unfortunately, Christopher was uncooperative and staffs were unable to treat him. The police blamed this behavior on alcohol rather than his injuries, an opinion that was reinforced when the hospital authorized his release.”

Narration: Years later, a Healthcare Commission report would find the doctor's decision to be flawed. He'd had no idea how severe the injury was, therefore it was foolish to discharge Christopher that night.

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “Their version of events was he walked in between them out and the hospital staff contradicted that by saying he was physically dragged backwards with his feet trailing. Once outside he's stood up, he's fully compos mantis and he'd been told by the hospital staff that if he calmed down he could walk back into the hospital and be treated. The police said well if you try and walk back in we're going to stop you. They decided to arrest him to prevent a breach of the peace.”

Narration: The Police radioed for a van to come and transport Christopher to the police station.

Another journey of about 1 mile

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SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “On a supposed journey to the police station Christopher comes out fully unconscious with his trousers and boxer shorts down to his knees with only 2 buttons open, his belt missing, and he had more severe injuries. One massive big injury to his lip, he had a cut above his eye and he had an additional tooth missing, and he is fully unconscious.”

Narration: So how did this happen? He could have fallen during the journey, or had a fit triggered by his head injury. But another theory centers on the difference between the story told by the police officers, and the story told by the gate-man at the police station.

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: The police said that Christopher was actually alone in the back of the van. But as they got to the civilian gate-man there was only 1 man in the van and 1 in the car, so the question is where is the other third police officer. As I say by the time they get to the police station door there's 3 police officers stood at the back of the van. So the implication of that witness was that there might have been another officer in the back of the van with Christopher. He said he couldn't be a hundred percent sure but that was the impression.”

Narration: Ruth Bundey has worked with Janet as her lawyer since before the inquest into Christopher's death.

SOUNDBITE [English], Ruth Bundey, Janet Alder’s Lawyer: “That journey from the hospital to the police station is a very very grey area and an area that has always worried Janet and others involved in this case as to what exactly happened.”

Narration: Whatever did transpire between Christopher leaving the hospital and arriving at the police station, he was unquestionably in a worse state by the time he appears on CCTV at the Queen's Gardens police station. Here we see him dragged in and laid on the floor, at this point still breathing.

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: All I were told is, your brother's died in police custody, we don't know how he died, it's on CCTV footage but you can't see it just now. Then just before the inquest, the coroner decided it was crucial that the family saw the CCTV footage so it wouldn't come as a shock to us within the inquest.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Ruth Bundey, Janet Alder’s Lawyer: Although I had walked her through what she was going to see, nothing could properly prepare her for what she did see”

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “And they just put him on the floor. On his front, with his hands cuffed behind his back, his buttocks are showing. His trousers to his knees and he's just gasping for his life. He's just heaving and heaving. You can hear rasping noises. As if there's something stuck in his throat or something and the police officers are just stood about, talking about charging him with more severe charges. Saying that they can't just have him there for a section 5, and it's not going nowhere and they'd better take him back to the hospital, and he's there for 11 minutes and nobody does anything. They don't cover him up. They do absolutely nothing to help him and he's just dying on the floor. And it is not until Christopher has breathed his last breath that somebody then realities he's not making any more of those noises. And that's exactly what's said “he's not making any more of those noises lads”. It's only then that they decide to put him in the recovery position and try CPR.”

Narration: The paramedics arrived, the same ones that had tended to Christopher at the Waterfront. For 30 minutes they tried to revive him, but gave up at 4.36 am. Christopher was dead. Humberside police began an investigation into the assault outside the nightclub, in their view it was this which had lead to his death. The man who punched Christopher was called Jason Paul. He was quickly arrested, but Janet was not told about this development in the case.

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “He wasn't allowed to see anybody; he was taken out of our town and put in completely different town for a month in a bail hostel. And later I was to find that Jason Paul took the Humberside Police to caught for wrongful arrest, they'd actually tried to charge him to deflect any criticism of their own behavior.”

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

Narration: The police should rightly investigate all angles when dealing with an unexplained death, but just 1 day after Christopher died, a pathologist declared that the blow from Jason Paul was not the cause of death. Paul's release triggered a new approach to the case. It was only at this point that the police seemed to seriously consider that they could be responsible. The officers who had been present when Christopher died were finally suspended. It was Humberside police who investigated Jason Paul, but it was West Yorkshire police who investigated the Humberside police about their responsibilities on the night of Christopher's death.

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “The West Yorkshire Police were supposed to be the independent force. They were supposed to be questioning the actions of Humberside Police, and they allowed the van to be cleaned, they allowed Christopher's clothes to be destroyed, they allowed his tooth to be destroyed, the police officers' clothing to be dry cleaned and returned, no exhibits were done on the blood or fingerprints and basically they'd just not done an investigation, they'd not investigated Humberside Police at all.”

Narration: It then fell to the Crown Prosecution Service to decide if any charges should be brought against the 5 officers. Eventually, they were charged with misconduct in a public office. What this charge means, is that they "neglected their duty .... Without reasonable justification" Christopher Alder was a paratrooper, decorated for his services to his country. After leaving the army he returned to Hull, the city of his birth, to make a new life for himself.

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: Christopher was 37 years of age, he was training to be a computer specialist even up to the day of his death, he still had a lot of life in him, he was a very jovial person, a bit of a comic, he'd support anybody and he was a defender of the weak, definitely a defender of the weak.”

Narration: 2 years after Christopher's death, the inquest began. The cause of death had still not been established.

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty, Host of program:This is where the inquest into Christopher's death was held, back in the year 2000. The press took great interest in this process, and fully expected that blame would be laid at the feet of the police. Unfortunately, the officers responsible for Christopher on the night of his death were able to avoid answering any questions that would hold them accountable.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Ruth Bundey, Janet Alder’s Lawyer: “At any inquest no witness has to answer a question if they would thereby incriminate themselves and lay themselves open to proceedings being taken against them.”

Narration: But just because the police remained tight-lipped didn't mean that there was no incriminating evidence presented at the inquest.

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “We were shocked to learn that the foresnic scientist who had been asked to see what blood exhibits there were about had been shown a range of photographs by her barrister, and she said “this is not the scene that I went into, some of those blood spots weren't there, what I can see here weren't there when I went in.” So he then asked her whether it had an effect on her ability to decide if Christopher had been assaulted in the van and she said “oh yes of course it has, because I'm going into a scene that's not the correct scene, it's been changed.””

Narration: The fact that neither Christopher's clothes, nor those of the officers had been analysed was another barrier to finding out the truth. Without ALL of the evidence the forensic experts had not been able to draw a full conclusion. The cause of death was much debated at the inquest, with various medical experts being called on each side.

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “Professor Crane came along and he recognised that Christopher had additional injuries and there was the possibility of an assault or him falling in the van and he said it were clear to see, you didn't need to be a rocket scientist. Just look at the video, that man cannot breathe and he can't breathe due to the fact that the police laid him on the floor, left him on his front and gave him no medical attention, didn't attempt to roll him over, didn't attempt to put him in the recovery position, of course he's going to die. But what the CPS had done was they brought in another medical expert who said it could very well have been he could have had a cardiac arrhythmia, there was evidence but we can't rule it out.8”

Narration: This led to yet another expert rebuttal, from a heart surgeon this time.

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “She said “Listen, even if that man had died of a cardiac arrhythmia, which I don't believe he did because he was a 37 year old, fit, ex paratrooper, but even if he did, if they'd given him basic medical attention, taken him to the hospital then we would have seen how long he would have lived for. That's the only way you could decide something like that. That enabled us to get the unlawful killing verdict.”

Narration: At the end of the inquest the jury reached the verdict that positional asphyxia was the main cause of Christopher's death. In other words: the position in which he was laid on the floor caused him to suffocate.

SOUNDBITE [English], Ruth Bundey, Janet Alder’s Lawyer: The outcome of the inquest was fantastic; it was exactly what the family hoped for. The jury were thoroughly engaged during the inquest, they asked the most pertinent questions themselves. They didn't let anything slip and then they came back with the unlawful killing verdict which was a real high point, perhaps the only high point since 1998 that there's been in this case.”

Narration: The next step was a criminal prosecution. In 2002 the police officers involved finally stood trial. The first interesting thing about this, was the evidence that was NOT used.

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty, Host of program:This is William Wilberforce, one of Hull’s most famous sons. He’s credited with bringing an end to the slave trade in Britain. The monument overlooks the police station where Christopher died. It's amazing to think that racism may have played a part in his death.”

Narration: Janet always suspected that there may have been a racial element in the police's negligence, and indeed an audio recording from the police station did pick up racist language being used. But the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to use this evidence at trial.

SOUNDBITE [English], Ruth Bundey, Janet Alder’s Lawyer: “The evidence of racist language and opinion was discovered so late that everyone was scurrying around at the trial trying to get different experts to listen carefully to the words used and decide what the words actually were and the connotations actually were and in the end it was a shambles. That should all have been done years before.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: This was police officers in the custody suite after Christopher's death mocking a black man that was dead on the floor and the CPS basically disregarded it.”

Narration: The 2 charges that the officers were facing were ‘Misconduct in a public office’ and ‘Gross Negligence manslaughter.’ To gain a conviction for the manslaughter charge, the CPS had to prove that the police had caused Christopher's death.

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “Normally the CPS would go with the evidence that would support their case. What happened here was they presented evidence that conflicted itself. So they presented evidence to say that Christopher would have died, as well as producing evidence to say that he would have lived, which is the evidence me and my solicitor had got. The judge said “what are you trying to ay here, you haven't made a clear case, you cannot put that in front of a jury because it conflicts itself, throw it out and these police officers have been acquitted on that charge of manslaughter.””

Narration: The trial would soon collapse completely. It was a huge disappointment to Christopher's family. Janet certainly felt that justice was not done, and that the CPS had failed to put their full effort into winning the trial.

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “I always felt at the beginning of this case that this case was set to fail. It basically proved me right and once again since this case did not get past the halfway stage, which I believe the CPS was well aware it would not, those police officers were once again able to evade answering any questions whatsoever. We had to watch 5 police officers walk away with the unlawful killing of my brother.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Ruth Bundey, Janet Alder’s Lawyer: “Looking back it's hard to see how it could not have failed, partly because of the medical evidence muddle, partly because I'm still horrified today to find that even by the start of the criminal trial nobody from the Crown Prosecution Service had viwed and listened to all the evidence that was available from CCTV relating to the custody suite. There had been years for CPS to properly prepare that case and it just wasn't done.”

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Narration: After the trial, the 5 officers involved went through a police disciplinary on a charge

of neglect. They were acquitted of any wrongdoing and were allowed to take early retirement due to stress. Years passed before there was any further development in the case. But in 2004 television provoked a new chapter.

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty, Host of program:It was a documentary like this that revived interest in the case. It provoked an outcry from the public that could not be ignored.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “It took a long time for me to get my head around showing Christopher's death on television to the public for the world to see. It was through this that the Home Secretary then had a knee jerk reaction and said that there should be a review into all the evidence again by the new Independent Police Complaints Commission”


The hefty report that the IPCC produced echoed Janet's complaints and suspicions through the years but did not offer anything new or surprising.

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “They produced a document saying that these officers are guilty of the most serious failings, but absolutely nothing else has happened to them. They've produced a document and that's basically it, just saying that these police officers have failed Christopher Alder and that's the end of it.”

Narration: This refusal to follow through was nothing compared to the inaction that would follow. Back in 2003, Janet had taken her case beyond Britain's shores to the European Court of Human Rights. 8 years later the Government replied to the European Court with a very unexpected statement. It was a complete admission of guilt. They apologised to the Alder family as well as paying compensation and legal fees. The government admitted that there was no "effective and independent investigation" and that 3 articles of the convention on human rights had been breached: "Article 2: the right to life." "Article 3: the prohibition on torture" and "Article 14: the prohibition on discrimination" It was a huge admission for the Government to make and a victory for Janet's perseverance.

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “They'd been fighting me for 14 years. All the way, to make out as if I were crazy, as if I were going on about nothing, as if I were a grieving sister that wouldn't let it go.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty, Host of program:“Were you surprised at the UK's full admission in relation to human rights violations?”

SOUNDBITE [English], Ruth Bundey, Janet Alder’s Lawyer: “Had they not done that, all the issues would have been up for grabs again. All the issues would have been ventilated and I'm quite certain that this government did not want that so in a way I think it was the worst possible outcome.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “I really expected the government to come out and say right now we will thoroughly investigate. But I haven't heard anything. Absolutely nothing. They've basically admitted that they've failed to do what's right and that has been the end of it. I'm in total shock.

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty, Host of program:“Has any good come out of the Christopher Alder case?”

SOUNDBITE [English], Ruth Bundey, Janet Alder’s Lawyer: “Investigations that they have carried out for the IPCC – 2 in particular - into deaths in custody have been excellent. The families themselves would say so and one very senior officer at one of these 2 inquests was to say in the witness box “Well we at Humberside have a lot to make up for after the Christopher Alder case.” I think some good has come out of it, but in terms of justice for Christopher Alder – zilch.”

Narration: In the year 2000, after the inquest and the verdict of unlawful killing, Christopher's family decided that the time was right to bury him. People came from all over Britain to pay their respects. There was a procession that went past the Wilberforce memorial and the police station where he died.

SOUNDBITE [English], Michael Doherty, Host of program:“The family brought Christopher here, to Hull Northern Cemetery to bury him and lay him to rest. But years later a horrible truth would emerge.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Janet Alder, Christopher Alder’s Sister: “I thought we'd laid him to rest and given him the best funeral that we could, for somebody who they were hoping would have no significance, his death was known and it was heard about and it was not forgotten. And then, I was shell shocked yet again when 11 years later I was told it wasn't my brother we'd buried but a 77 year old woman. How can anybody possibly make that mistake? I don't believe myself that it's a mistake. I think it's a punihsment to me personally for fighting against the system.”

Narration: Despite an investigation there is still no explanation for how these bodies came to be mixed up. The Christopher Alder case is now 16 years old and has reached a strange impasse. The state has acknowledged that the police were at fault, but there is seemingly no will to pursue a new prosecution. This has now gone on for so long that one of the five police officers involved has died. The tireless efforts of Janet and the rest of Christopher's family have given them just a glimpse of justice, but real accountability still eludes them.

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