Six week inquest into death in police custody of Christopher Alder concludes

Before HM Coroner Mr J C Saul

Hull Crown Court

Monday 21 August 2000

Following seven weeks of evidence the jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing and said that the death of Christopher Alder was due to positional asphyxia. The inquest was heard at Hull Crown Court before Coroner Mr J C Saul.

The inquest was the first where there was video evidence shown of a young man dying on the floor of the custody suite of a police station. Since the inquest, the family have met with the Home Secretary (who will be seeing the video) to urge him to institute a public inquiry into Mr Alder’s death.

Christopher Alder, a 37-year-old black man who was a former paratrooper decorated for service in Northern Ireland, died on 1st April 1998 after being arrested and taken to Queen’s Gardens Police Station, Hull. He was arrested at Hull Royal Infirmary where he had been taken after an altercation outside a night-club. He was taken in a police van to the station. He was supported into the custody suite and after 13 minutes police officers called an ambulance. However, despite resuscitation attempts Mr Alder died.

From video evidence shown to the jury it was demonstrated that he died after being left unconscious, face down on the floor of Queen’s Gardens Police Station Custody Suite for 11 minutes. Mr Alder was partially dressed and clearly injured.

Aside from removing the handcuffs when he was initially brought into the police station the four police officers present in the custody suite did not touch Mr Alder in the 11 minutes he lay dying on the floor despite his condition. Rattles of his breath were also clearly heard on the video.

The jury heard that Mr Alder had been involved in an altercation outside The Waterfront nightclub during which he had been hit in the mouth and had fallen to the floor. He was taken to Hull Royal Infirmary where he was seen by a doctor. Mr Alder was confused and uncooperative at the hospital and was unable to be treated. Police officers forcefully removed him from the premises. Both in and outside the hospital, the police drew a CS Spray canister and threatened to use it on him. Once outside, Mr Alder complained that he wanted to return to see the doctors. According to police officers he was still being abusive and they warned him that if he did not leave he would be arrested. He refused to leave and was arrested for breach of the peace and handcuffed behind his back. Mr Alder was then put into the back of a police van and conveyed to the police station.

On arrival at the police station evidence was heard that he was found motionless in the police van. Video then showed him being dragged into the police station custody suite and placed face down on the floor. Officers were heard to speculate that he was faking illness. Five police officers have been suspended from duty and are awaiting trial accused of misconduct in public office. As a consequence they did not answer any questions about the incident, exercising their right not to incriminate themselves under the Coroners Rules.