Monday 26 September 2016

Alice Gross: Coroner demands checks on foreign suspects after finding teenager was 'unlawfully killed' by Latvian builder

Steven Swinford

Published 05/07/2016 | 07:43

Undated handout photo issued by Metropolitan Police of Alice Gross.
Undated handout photo issued by Metropolitan Police of Alice Gross.
Undated handout file photo issued by the Metropolitan Police of Arnis Zalkalns, the prime suspect in the murder of schoolgirl Alice Gross, who was discovered hanged in dense woodland just four days after the teenager's body was pulled from a river, an inquest has heard

Police are failing to carry out checks on foreign suspects, a coroner has warned after an inquest found that teenager Alice Gross was "unlawfully killed" in a sexually-motivated attack.

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Arnis Zalkalns, who killed the 14-year-old in 2014, was allowed into Britain despite having previously served a prison sentence for murdering his wife in his native Latvia.

Her family last night said that the Government is ultimately to blame for gaps in Britain's borders which allow "foreign murderers and dangerous criminals" to enter the UK.

Zalkalns was arrested in Britain in 2009 for an alleged sexual assault but police failed to ask Latvian authorities if he had a criminal record.

During an inquest it emerged that even today criminal record checks are still not carried out on a fifth of foreign suspects who are arrested in London.

The Home Office also admitted during the inquest that foreign murderers and sex attackers could be allowed to live in the UK even if their previous convictions are known.

Ros Hodgkiss, Alice's mother, said: "I would blame those who perhaps in the Government didn't make this a high enough priotity at the time.

"I think in this instance although there was this understanding that there was this gap with foreign murderers and dangerous criminals I think it wasn't given a high enough priority."

CCTV still of Arnis Zalkalns in a west London corner shop Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire
CCTV still of Arnis Zalkalns in a west London corner shop Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire
CCTV still of Arnis Zalkalns in a west London corner shop Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire
The location where Alice Gross' body was discovered on the bed of the River Brent, near her home in Hanwell, west London Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire
The narrow void in Arnis Zalkalns' garden where Alice Gross' iPhone case was found Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire

Alice disappeared from her home in Hanwell, west London, on August 28 2014. Her body was found on September 30 after Scotland Yard conducted its biggest search since the July 7 London bombings.

Zalkalns was found hanged in a park a few days after Alice's body was discovered weighted down with bricks and logs in the River Brent. Police said the 41-year-old would have been charged with her murder had he lived.

It subsequently emerged that he came to Britain in 2007 after serving a seven-year sentence for killing his wife. As an EU national he underwent no background checks on arrival and was completely unknown to the British authorities.

Fiona Wilcox, the coroner, said she is likely to recommend to the Home Office that police should make "mandatory" checks on foreign nationals after they are arrested.

Dr Wilcox said: "It is highly likely that I will be making a regulation 28 report addressed to the police and the Home Office which I will raised a list of concerns. Systems will change, improvements will be made and such deaths will be prevented."

Alice's sister Nina Gross, said: "I feel that it is sometimes forgotten that Alice was a real person; a kind and loving sister who deserved so much to live a full life.

"Life is broken and cold without her. Regardless of whether legal responsibility can be attributed to the State for Alice's death, I believe the State failed Alice and our family. Alice was not tragic, but what happened to her was."

Changes have been made since Alice's killing to ensure that when a foreign national is now arrested, the Metropolitan Police automatically perform a background check in his or her home country.

However the Metropolitan Police admitted that it is not possible to carry out checks on all foreign nationals because some EU nations do not have a criminal record database. In other parts of the country the checks are not mandatory.

Steve Rodhouse, the Metropolitan Police's Deputy Assistant Commissioner, said that even if the force had been aware of Zalkalns' previous conviction when he was arrested in 2009 it could not have started deportation proceedings.

He said: "We recognise that had we carried out that check in 2009 then it would have meant that our investigation into Alice's disappearance may have identified him as a suspect slightly sooner.

"Sadly, in reality nothing would have changed as all the evidence strongly points to the fact that both Alice and Zalkalns were dead prior to them being reported missing.

"Over the last two years we have put significant effort into making sure that when we arrest foreign nationals, checks for previous convictions are carried out in as many cases as possible, making sure we can deal with them as effectively as we can UK nationals."

David Cheesman, the Home Office head of policy on international criminal records, said during the inquest there was "no guarantee" violent offenders would be refused entry or deported if past crimes were discovered.

Telegraph.co.uk

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