South Yorkshire police have admitted that officers may have been shown the body of Christopher Alder, a former paratrooper who died in police custody, in a mortuary as part of their routine training years after he was supposed to have been buried.
Alder, an ex-Parachute Regiment soldier, choked to death while handcuffed and lying face down on the floor of a Hull police station on 1 April 1998. CCTV footage showed officers laughing, joking and making monkey noises while he lay unconscious in a pool of blood. It was more than 10 minutes before police went to his aid.
An inquest found he was unlawfully killed but no one has been held accountable for his death, nor for the disclosure in 2011 that his family had been given the wrong body to bury and had actually buried Grace Kamara, 77, rather than Alder.
On the 25th anniversary of Alder’s death, his family continue to campaign for justice and for responses to key questions about his death and the subsequent mix-up of Alder’s body with Kamara’s.
His sister, Janet Alder, said she continued to experience an “emotional rollercoaster” in relation to the death. “I’d like those responsible to be held accountable,” she said.
Misconduct and manslaughter charges were brought against five Humberside police officers in relation to the circumstances of Alder’s death. All were acquitted in 2002.
A 2006 report by the police watchdog said four of the officers present in the custody suite when Alder died were guilty of the “most serious neglect of duty” and “unwitting racism”.
The force apologised for its failure to “treat Christopher with sufficient compassion”.
In October 2013, South Yorkshire police issued a statement relating to the mix-up of Alder’s body with Kamara’s, saying: “On 29 April this year, the investigation team presented a detailed and extensive investigation report to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to seek formal advice relating to a number of mortuary staff to establish if they had committed criminal offences.
“After careful consideration of all the circumstances and the evidence available, the CPS has concluded that there is no realistic prospect of a conviction for either misconduct in a public office or the prevention of the lawful burial of a body.”
This week, South Yorkshire police issued a different statement to the Guardian about their investigation into the mix-up of the two bodies. “The investigation, led by a South Yorkshire police senior investigating officer with a South Yorkshire team, identified an individual they believed should be considered for prosecution for misconduct in public office,” the force said.
“This related to the person who permitted the collection of the body from the mortuary. The individual was interviewed under caution and a file was passed to the CPS. The CPS determined that there was insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction, and the criminal investigation concluded. On this basis, their identity will not be shared.”
Allegations were made by some police officers that they had been shown Alder’s body and told his name by mortuary staff while visiting the mortuary where his body was stored as part of what was at the time routine police training.
These allegations are not referenced in the South Yorkshire police investigation report on the mix-up of the bodies.
The statement from South Yorkshire police this week added: “The investigation found that a number of student officers may have been shown a body in the mortuary, as was common practice in training at that time.”
When asked by the Guardian which body South Yorkshire police were referring to, a spokesperson said: “The investigation carried out by South Yorkshire police officers looked into whether officers may have been shown the body of either Christopher Alder or Grace Kamara as early as April 2000. The investigation found that, given the storage used, it was more likely that officers were actually shown the storage and potentially storage materials surrounding a body rather than anything which would allow them to directly identify the individual.”
Janet Alder said: “The police never treated Christopher as a human being when he was alive, and now it seems like they did not even give his body any peace in death. To hear that police had been using his body in their training exercises for years after we thought we’d buried him was one of the biggest shocks of my life. I still can’t believe it now. But the struggle for justice continues, and I believe the full truth will come out in the end.”