This year marks the tenth anniversary of the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan. Duggan is one of many people who have died or been seriously injured in interaction with British police, but since 1969 no official in Britain has been convicted of murder following a death in custody, and only two have been found guilty of manslaughter. In “Those Left Behind” we meet British families of different generations who have lost loved ones through police brutality.
Christopher Ibikunle Alder’s life came to an abrupt end at the age of 37.
The former British Army paratrooper lost consciousness after being attacked outside a Hull nightclub in March 1998 and regained his responsiveness when transported to the Hull Royal Infirmary. Police officers, who were first called to the club and later admitted to the hospital, described the father of two as “very drunk” and apparently healthy enough to be arrested.
Alder was forcibly removed from the hospital and taken to the nearby police station. At some point during the trip he became unresponsive again and was dragged into the detention room with his legs and feet dragging across the floor. Lying face down in a pool of his own blood – he was later heard to make gurgling noises – the officers believed he was feigning unconsciousness. The soundtrack of the CCTV footage shows the officers making monkey noises. When Alder fell silent, police began attempting resuscitation, but he was pronounced dead on the scene.
A medical examiner’s jury concluded in 2000 that the budding computer programmer had been illegally killed, but five police officers were acquitted of allegations of manslaughter and misconduct in public office. In November 2011, the government formally apologized to the Alder family before the European Court of Human Rights, saying they had violated their duty to “preserve lives and ensure that no one is subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment”.
But an apology made 13 years later offers little comfort to Christopher’s family, including his younger sister, Janet. Janet was in London for a weekend to attend a screening of Ken Fero’s film Ultraviolence, an investigation into deaths in police custody in the UK. Janet took the time to speak to me about her brother’s case.
As we walked to a park near her Waterloo hotel, Janet’s exuberant energy almost believed in the cruel and destructive turns her life has taken since her brother’s death – one that included the police monitoring her and two Confused bodies, leading to Christopher’s remains being kept in body bags for “training” purposes, and the Alder family unwittingly bury a Black woman named Grace Kamara in place of Christopher.
VICE: Let’s go back to the beginning – what was it like growing up in your family?
Janet Alder: My mother and father came from Nigeria during the Windrush days. Mom was much younger than my dad and had five children who were very close to each other. I think she suffered from postnatal depression every time she had a child – something I had myself. She exhibited strange behavior, and they kept her in a mental hospital all the time to be treated with electric shocks.
My father must have seen enough of this and allowed her to return to Nigeria. He thought it would be best for us to stay here, so we were raised on the foster system in Hull. I have four brothers. There was Emmanuel, who died of COVID-19 not so long ago; Richard; Christopher who was killed; and Steven, who is in a mental hospital. We’re having a hell of a good time.
I mean this is taken lightly. How was your relationship with Christoph?
Me and Christopher were the same age; There was only a year between us. Most of my memories come from my childhood, like in our children’s home when we had difficult times. When we went to school we were the only black family and when there was racism my brother stood up for me. My family could physically fend for themselves and I think that was their way of fighting racism. Christopher was the one I ran to all the time and he protected me when I couldn’t protect myself.
That sounds like a clearly special bond. Where did you stand in life in 1998?
By then I had more or less teamed up. For the first time in my life, I made decisions on my own instead of just getting into situations. I’d just got a really good job, and then the bomb: there was a knock on the door.
I was out with my friends I think and there was a knock and it was a cop alone. He asked if I was Janet Alder and I said yes. “It’s about your brother Christopher,” he said. He died in police custody. Police custody could mean that he was sitting next to a cop. ”I said,“ Oh my god. Look, we’ve had a bad life. What’s going on? “He said he didn’t know, he got the message by fax with two lines on it. I told him to get out. My brother died in police custody and they sent a policeman to my house to tell me
It was like someone threw a massive big stone in my mouth and it just didn’t fit my stomach. I just cried all weekend. I never slept for weeks. My life has just changed. Everything has changed. I got a really good lawyer and got support from some friends.
Eventually we got the paperwork – the autopsy reports first. I read and thought, ‘There’s nothing here that says Christopher shouldn’t be walking around’ by now ‘. ” I read on and learned how they burned his clothes, the police officers’ clothes were dry cleaned and returned, they did not have blood swabs. They were basically trying to say that they didn’t know how he died, that it wasn’t conclusive. I’m just thinking, ‘Well, you know how Tutankhamun died, but you don’t know how my brother died?’
You wouldn’t let me see [CCTV] Video because I would be too loud to the press. Whenever I found out something, I just told the press. So for two years they had psychological control of my family’s emotions because we couldn’t see the recordings of Christopher’s death. But shortly before the examination, they let us see it. As we watched, I focused on what the police were doing, how they were reacting. I didn’t want to focus on Christopher, I just didn’t want to do it.
We tried to get the Crown Prosecutor [Service] and they said they couldn’t find any evidence of police wrongdoing. From then on it just went on. So much has happened over the years. I knew they were spying on me and that came out in 2012 and then we took them to the European courts. [Humberside Police has admitted to unauthorised surveillance of Janet Alder and her barrister.] So, I said all of this with no questions asked!
Honestly, you answered questions on the left, right, and center so thanks for sharing. My next question would be what kind of support have you received from friends?
All of my friends have left. At first people were all over me which was overwhelming. It felt like an invasion of privacy, plus I’m a pretty proud person. But over time they dispersed.
[At this point, we walk over to a different part of the park.]
You know something I think the tree behind us is an alder. Yes, it is.
This is such a godsend.
Right where have we been
Well, I would like to dwell on how you’ve got along over these decades.
It was difficult and I couldn’t have done it without the support of the common people who gave me a little strength. There were times when I would be out every two or three days doing campaigns, fundraising, and speaking at various events to raise awareness about what happened to Christopher.
Tried to relax a little, I guess, and – not getting my life back because you never get those 23 years back, but I knew I was feeling bad and needed to recover. I had to go away and do it in my own time. That means you have everything in your head. You have to try to streamline everything that is going on. But, I thought, at least we buried my brother. And then, in 2011, we found out that we hadn’t buried Christopher.
How did that happen?
I got a call from the police who wanted to meet me, so I arranged to meet them at a nearby cafe. They said they wanted to tell me the truth and give me a full picture. As it turned out, they don’t know how the bodies were exchanged. They tried to come up with all sorts of excuses as to why Christopher was in six body bags.
Yes, one on top of the other. It was a real ordeal from the start. They showed contempt for Christopher long after his death.
With that in mind, what would Christopher Justice look like for you, if anything?
Too late for me justice Justice is something you do with a meaning in the beginning. What I want is some recognition and awareness of the youth in the future and just to try to make this happen again.
That is absolutely fair. What are your fondest memories with Christopher?
When we danced, especially in discos. Before, everyone crowded around and everything. I used to be really proud. He was also a comedian and super sensitive. Neighbors in Hull always mentioned how he would help them and girls said, “He really protected me.”
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