Officers accused of spying on campaigner ‘would have been following orders’
Two police officers accused of spying on a woman campaigning about the death in custody of her brother would have been acting on orders from higher-ranking officers, their lawyers have told a hearing.
The two officers have not been named and appeared behind screens at a Humberside Police misconduct hearing in Goole, East Yorkshire, on Monday.
They are accused of gross misconduct over the unauthorised surveillance of Janet Alder (pictured) more than 17 years ago, outside the inquest at Hull Combined Court into her brother Christopher’s death.
Mr Alder, 37, choked to death while handcuffed and lying on the floor of a police station in Hull in 1998.
Monday’s hearing at the old Goole Magistrates’ Court heard how a police surveillance team was deployed outside the inquest in July 2000 with orders relating to possible public order situations.
The officers facing disciplinary actions – referred to as Officer One and Officer Two – are accused of carrying out surveillance on July 28 2000 “without appropriate authorisation and justification” when they followed Ms Alder and her barrister, Leslie Thomas QC, and listened to their conversations.
Summarising his client’s case, Jason Pitter QC, representing Officer One, said he will not be trying to justify the surveillance of Ms Alder and her lawyer.
He said the officer does not have full recollection of the events of 2000 but said he knows through his “ordinary working practices” he would only have acted on instructions from a more senior officer.
Mr Pitter said: “He would have been following instructions given to him by those involved in the wider investigation of the events surrounding the inquest.”
He said that although there may have been failings, “the culpability lies with others, further up the chain and parts of the wider system deployed by Humberside Police Service.
“The spotlight should not be on the individual officers brought into the investigation to perform a specific task under instruction.”
Sam Green QC, for Officer Two, said his client will also not argue that the surveillance was justified.
Mr Green said: “He is at a loss to know what he was supposed to do once instructed to carry out highly sensitive surveillance.”
He said: “He believed he was carrying out lawful orders.”
Dijen Basu, for Humberside Police, told the panel that when the officers were questioned by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), Officer One refused to answer 324 pertinent questions and Officer Two refused 403 times.
He described the death of Mr Alder as “a shameful and terrible episode”.
The hearing heard how the surveillance came to light after the then home secretary Theresa May ordered police forces to search their archives following controversy over police monitoring of the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.
After the IPCC investigated the surveillance of Ms Alder, the Crown Prosecution Service decided Officer One and Officer Two would not be prosecuted.
The inquest jury in 2000 returned a verdict of unlawful killing and in 2002 five police officers went on trial. But all the officers were acquitted on the orders of the judge part-way through the proceedings.
In 2011, Mr Alder’s family were told his body had been discovered in a hospital mortuary more than a decade after they thought he had been buried.
It later emerged pensioner Grace Kamara was buried in Mr Alder’s place two years after he died.
Officer One and Officer Two face allegations that their conduct amounted to gross misconduct. They could be dismissed if the allegations are proved.
Officer One was a detective sergeant at the time of the incident and Officer Two was an acting detective sergeant.
Retired senior officer Paul Cheeseman told the hearing he did not know who authorised the surveillance of Ms Alder, despite being the Silver Commander for the operation to police the Christopher Alder inquest in 2000.
Mr Cheeseman, who was a chief superintendent with Humberside Police at the time, told the panel: “I was certainly not part of any conspiracy whatsoever.”
The former officer said he agreed with a comment he made to IPCC investigators when he said he thought the surveillance was “cock-up over conspiracy”.
He said that although he was the overall Silver Commander, he was actually on holiday on the day the surveillance took place, on July 28, 2000.
Mr Cheeseman said there was no cover-up over the surveillance of Ms Alder as the officers reported it at the time, recording on the file that there was “no product” from the operation.
At the end of his evidence, Mr Green said to him: “Somebody, somewhere in Humberside Police, retired or still serving, the authorising officer, is squirming silently, hoping their identity is not revealed.”
Speaking outside the hearing Ms Alder, 56, from Leeds, said: “My concern is not the surveillance team, it’s who further up ordered it. It’s not these two.”
She said that although the hearing is only focusing on less than two hours of surveillance, she believes she was followed by officers over a much longer period, starting in 1998.
“This is just a tiny bit of it,” she said.
“Even now I think ‘are they still surveilling me?’.”
She said: “I have always thought it’s because they had contempt for me for standing up.”
Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Fiona Hanson / PA Wire.