UK Police have admitted spying on a woman whose brother died in police custody was “inexcusable and unacceptable”.
Former paratrooper Christopher Alder died on the floor of the custody suite in Queens Gardens police station in Hull in the early hours of 1st April 1998.
The previous evening, he'd been the victim of a vicious assault outside a nightclub, and suffered head injures. Taken to hospital, he was dazed, confused, and "troublesome" towards staff, refusing to cooperate with medics. He was eventually arrested in the early hours of the following morning to ‘prevent a breach of the peace', and taken into custody.
The inquest verdict was unlawful killing. But the officers who killed Christopher - who laughed & made monkey noises as he died at their feet - were acquitted in court.— COPS (@copscampaign) July 23, 2019
The officers responsible for the "inexcusable & unacceptable" spying were cleared of misconduct.
What happened on his journey to the police station isn’t certain, but by the time he arrived at the station he was unconscious - his sister Janet says he was “CS gassed and beaten to death”. Inside, he was left face-down on the floor, a pool of blood quickly forming around his mouth — CCTV reveals this was noticed by officers present, but no attempt was made to examine him.
They would go on to dismiss Christopher's state as "acting" and "a show", make racist comments and laugh and joke together, all the while ignoring gurgling sounds emanating from his mouth. One police sergeant present, John Dunn, later alleged he'd ignored the noises because he thought Christopher was deliberately blowing through the blood to "upset" officers.After a few minutes, Christopher's handcuffs were removed — again, no attempts were made to examine or rouse him. Officers then discussed what offences he could be charged with, and whether there was any justification for holding him. After a few minutes, it was acknowledged he wasn't making any noises, and an ambulance was called — the technician who examined Christopher reported he had fixed, dilated pupils and no pulse. Medics eventually ceased resuscitation efforts roughly half an hour later.
An inquest was held in 2000, and the five officers present that fateful morning were called to give evidence, but refused to answer over 150 questions, claiming privilege against self-incrimination. The jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing, and in March 2002 the quintet were charged with manslaughter, but in June that year, the presiding judge ordered the jury to find the five not guilty on all charges.
Following their acquittal, an internal police disciplinary inquiry cleared them of any wrongdoing, and in December 2004, not long after an IPCC review of the case was launched, four of the officers were granted early retirement on stress-related medical grounds, receiving sizeable lump-sum compensation payments and enhanced pensions in the process. As of August 2018, no one has ever been held accountable for Christopher's death, despite the IPCC ruling in March 2006 officers involved were guilty of the "most serious neglect of duty".
In 2011, the Alder family received £20,000 compensation after police admitted breaching the Human Rights Act.
‘Inexcusable and Unacceptable’
Janet immediately mounted a public campaign to expose what had happened to her brother, and hold those responsible accountable. In response, the police began surveilling her and her barrister Leslie Thomas. In the process, they may have overheard legally-privileged private conversations between the pair.
For years, authorities flatly denied having spied on Janet, but in 2018 an internal investigation revealed unauthorised surveillance had taken place - two officers involved were nonetheless cleared of gross misconduct.
Deputy Chief Constable Chris Rowley has now sent a letter of apology to Janet, in which he refers to the surveillance as “inexcusable and unacceptable”, and acknowledges her “trust and confidence” in the police “will have been irreparably damaged”.
“I’d like to give you my unreserved apology for the inevitable distress and anxiety this has caused you. This was a very serious matter and it’s clear there were failings by Humberside Police. Please rest assured the force has learnt from this…We’ve accepted our actions fell far below the standards of behaviour I expect all Humberside Police officers to provide to members of the public,” he said.
To say the least, Janet considers Rowley’s mea culpa wholly inadequate.
The formidable Janet Alder insists on asking the difficult questions about how her brother was unlawfully killed by police. Those answers about the truth, justice and accountability she has been demanding since 1998. #christopheralder #UFFC20 pic.twitter.com/Frdph0qNwj— Deborah Coles (@DebatINQUEST) October 26, 2018
“I’ve had plenty of apologies over the years but very few answers. This letter seems like a rather empty gesture. The force says it has learnt lessons but cannot tell us what even went on,” she told Hull Live.
Janet will publish a book on her story later this year. Writing it has been “cathartic”, she says.
“There have been a lot of opinions and assumptions around Christopher’s death and I just want to put forward my experience. I’ve not gone into this lightly but I have no options. I feel what has happened over the years is absolutely disgusting and I have been just left to stew. I am looking for some kind of closure,” she says.
While outrageous in the extreme, Janet’s experience is by no means unique. UK police have infiltrated a variety of family justice campaigns - operatives pretend to be concerned members of the public and approach groups, offering to help with their campaigns.
In 2014, police chiefs admitted "the majority" of justice campaigns surveileld related to persons of colour, among them several young men who died in custody.
Perhaps most infamously of all, police spied on the family of Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old murdered by a gang of racist thugs in an unprovoked attack in Eltham, south London, in April 1993. A catalogue of gravely inept investigative errors, at least in part attributable to the institutionally racist local police force, meant his killers weren't identified, much less brought to justice despite their identities being widely known locally.
David Baker started his talk with a reference to police spies.— Police Spies Out of Lives (@out_of_lives) October 26, 2018
These family justice campaigns have kept fighting for justice for many years,
and have not allowed the existence of #spycops & intrusive surveillance & all sorts of other dodgy police tactics stop them.#UFFC20 https://t.co/EJE1kOhL4q
A popular campaign quickly took root, seeking to bring his killers to justice, and expose police bigotry and ineptitude — it received overwhelming support from the public, and many politicians and journalists promoted its activities.
In response, the Metropolitan Police dispatched undercover officers to infiltrate the group — among them was Peter Francis, who posed as ‘Pete Black'. He has revealed his mission was to find information about the campaign, and Lawrence's family and friends, which would discredit it and them in the eyes of the public.
"Had I found anything detrimental — and newsworthy — about the Lawrence family, the police using the media would've used that information to smear the family…The Lawrences were not unique in this. I would suggest journalists read back some of the information leaked to the press at the time about some these campaigns and seriously question where it came from and why. They should also look back at how some of the tabloids reported the Lawrence death very early on," Peter has alleged.
Stephen's best friend Duwayne Brooks, the key witness to the murder, was repeatedly arrested in the years afterward, in one instance after allegedly fighting during an anti-racist march outside the British National Party headquarters in Welling days after the murder. Although Brooks was charged, the judge dismissed the case against him - evidence in the trial was said to have come from undercover officers.
Two members of the five-strong gang that attacked Stephen and Duwayne were eventually convicted in 2002.
The family of murdered teenager Rolan Adams have just been granted core participant status at the #spycops inquiry. One of at least 18 such deaths where the police resources that should have been spent catching killers were instead used to obstruct justice https://t.co/3iWhCx5Uir https://t.co/lsKWIjC4cm— COPS (@copscampaign) July 17, 2019
Undercover operatives also penetrated the Jean Charles de Menezes justice campaign. Jean Charles was a 27-year-old electrician executed by armed police on an underground train in South London 22nd July 2005.
The Brazilian had been wrongly identified as a potential suspect in the failed 21st July bombing attack and was followed by undercover police from his home as he left for work in the morning — despite being told to stop Jean Charles from accessing the tube network, his pursuers allowed him to enter Stockwell station and board a train headed for central London.
Two officers then fired a total of eleven shots at Jean Charles at close range, hitting him seven times in the head and once in the shoulder at close range. His body was said to be "unrecognizable" afterwards.
When his innocence was quickly established, the Metropolitan Police immediately began disseminating false information in order to lend legitimacy to his killing, and raise questions about Jean Charles’ own conduct. Suggestions he’d acted suspiciously on numerous occasions while being followed, was an illegal immigrant, had wires sticking out of his rucksack, and vaulted the station ticket barriers despite police demands he stop, were just some of the entirely bogus stories circulated in the weeks afterward.
On 16th August 2005, 'Justice4Jean', was established, calling for a public inquiry into the "unlawful killing". It was infiltrated by undercover officers in order to track the progress of the campaign and construct an effective public response in advance.
The campaign eventually secured an inquest, which uncovered a vast array of serious police failings - officers involved in the shooting were also found to have repeatedly lied to investigators. However, the coroner instructed the jury not to return a verdict of unlawful killing, and no one was penalized for the killing.