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Inquest on murdered Alice Gross to look at police and Government 'failures'

Published 11/12/2015

Builder Arnis Zalkalns is believed to have killed Alice Gross in a sexually motivated attack (Metropolitan Police/PA)
Builder Arnis Zalkalns is believed to have killed Alice Gross in a sexually motivated attack (Metropolitan Police/PA)

The inquest of murdered schoolgirl Alice Gross will examine whether failures by the British Government and police contributed to her death, a coroner has ruled.

The 14-year-old's family requested that the inquiry examine how Arnis Zalkalns, who is believed to have killed the west London teenager, was able to live unchecked in Britain despite serving a prison sentence for murdering his wife in his native Latvia.

Builder Zalkalns is believed to have killed Alice in a sexually motivated attack and then dumped her corpse in August last year. Her body was found on September 30 after Scotland Yard conducted its biggest search since the July 7 bombings.

Zalkalns was found hanged on October 4 and police said the 41-year-old would have been charged with Alice's murder had he been alive.

Her family's lawyer, Rajeev Thacker, asked at a pre-hearing in October for the full inquest to probe whether her death was the result of any failure by authorities to implement statutory safeguards to protect the public under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights - the right to life.

Sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice, Coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox ruled that line of investigation would be allowed when the inquest starts before a jury in June.

She said: "I have had the opportunity to consider at length the submissions of Mr Thacker and I accept them. I judge that now I have had the opportunity to consider the papers properly that on its face this is an Article 2 case."

In the October review Mr Thacker told the coroner that the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 allows the creation of "violent offender orders" for monitoring the behaviour of individuals convicted abroad considered to pose a risk to the public.

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 also provides for multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPAs) to assess and manage the risk posed by dangerous sexual and violent offenders in England and Wales.

The Home Office also has the power to exclude, remove or deport an EU national on public health and security grounds.

The full inquest will take place before a jury in June and Dr Wilcox said today that witnesses would be called to determine "how he (Zalkalns) came to be in the country in the first place, given his convictions for murder and firearms offences".

The inquest will also look at "the systems that were in place at the time, and whether appropriate checks were carried out".

She said that evidence would be heard about "what should have happened, what did happen", adding: "As to what lessons can be learned, that is a matter for me, not the jury, but I will take some learned evidence before the jury on that as well."

Katerina Laiblova, Zalkalns' girlfriend, could be called to give evidence to the inquest about his mental state prior to his death, Dr Wilcox said today.

But the jury will not look in detail at Zalkalns' own death, she said, as that has already been covered by a separate inquest.

The pre-inquest hearing for Alice in October heard that, in 1998, Zalkalns was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the murder of his Latvian wife, and at the time of his release had served around seven years.

In 2007 he travelled from Latvia to the UK, and in 2009 was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault on a teenage girl. He was not charged.

At the time of his alleged offence it appeared he was still subject to some kind of supervisory or probation arrangement in Latvia, that hearing was told.

There will be another pre-inquest hearing in April.

In a statement, Alice's parents, Ros Hodgkiss and Jose Gross, said: "It has taken us a long time, but we are pleased that the new coroner, Fiona Wilcox, has ruled in favour of an Article 2 inquest that will be heard in front of a jury.

"This jury will be able to explore the systems that were in place when Zalkalns, a convicted murderer, came into the country and whether or not there were any failures on the part of the Home Office or police.

"We are pleased at the range of information that the coroner is willing to put in front of the jury.

"We are also pleased that the coroner will be able to make recommendations to prevent this kind of thing happening again.

"Finally, it is only because of the Human Rights Act that we have been able to ask the coroner to investigate these questions."

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