Alice family seeks extended inquest


Published: Monday 6th July 2015 by The News Editor

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A coroner is today expected to decide whether the inquest into the death of schoolgirl Alice Gross should investigate wider questions around what authorities knew – or ought to have known – about her murderer.

Human rights organisation Liberty, which is representing Alice’s family, has made submissions that the case engages Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, enshrined into UK law in the Human Rights Act.

If the coroner agrees, the forthcoming inquest would not be limited to looking solely into the cause of her death, but could also consider the broader circumstances surrounding it, Liberty said.

The 14-year-old went missing in August last year and her body was discovered the following month in the Grand Union Canal in Ealing, west London.

Arnis Zalkalns, 41, a builder from Latvia who had come to the UK in 2007, had been named as a suspect in her disappearance but his body was later found hanging in woodland nearby. No-one else has been named as wanted in connection with Alice’s death.

In January this year, police confirmed they believed Zalkalns was responsible. The Crown Prosecution Service said he would have been charged with Alice’s murder had he been alive.

Zalkalns had previously been convicted of the murder of his wife in Latvia. He had been imprisoned, but was released and travelled to the UK.

A spokesman for Liberty said: “It appears the British authorities were not aware of his conviction. In 2009, he was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault on a teenage girl in London, but charges were not brought and he was released.

“Alice’s family wishes to know how it can be that – within EU member states – basic information-sharing cannot be arranged to ensure authorities are notified of the presence of people who pose a potentially high risk to the public.

“The family is aware that a system appears to exist for extracting information about foreign nationals from their home country if they are arrested in the UK, and wishes to know why – when Zalkalns was arrested in 2009 – further inquiries were not made of Latvian authorities.

“In the UK, a convicted murderer, if released, would be on licence for the rest of his or her life – meaning they could be recalled to prison if considered to pose an increased risk to the public. Serious concerns arise as to whether similar safeguards exist in relation to people who come to this country with the same type of conviction.”

Liberty’s Emma Norton, the solicitor for Alice’s family, said: “What happened to Alice appears to have come about, in part, because the authorities knew nothing about this man.

“Alice’s family want to know why this was the case. Did an information-sharing system break down? Does it even exist? Whatever the answer, they want to do something about it. It is only if the coroner rules that Article 2 is engaged that this will be possible.”

Alice’s family said: “Losing Alice has left a hole in our lives that can never be filled. But our questions about why the authorities knew nothing about her murderer, despite his previous conviction and arrest, can and should be answered. We hope the coroner will agree.

“We believe in freedom of movement and human rights, as did Alice, and we repeat our request that her death not be appropriated by those with an anti-immigration agenda.

“We live in a multicultural and multi-faith area, and our community has been extraordinary in its unity, sympathy, compassion and support for our family since our daughter was taken from us in this brutal and senseless way.”

The hearing will be held at West London Coroner’s Court.

Published: Monday 6th July 2015 by The News Editor

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