Police powerless to arrest suspect
British detectives have no power to arrest a convicted murderer who is the prime suspect in the disappearance of teenager Alice Gross if he has managed to flee abroad.
Scotland Yard Commander Graham McNulty said today that the force would need to be "charge ready" to apply for a European Arrest Warrant, and has not done so because this would stop officers being able to interview the suspect.
This means that British officers have no power to arrest convicted killer Arnis Zalkalns if he is found in his native Latvia or elsewhere. Authorities there have already said they cannot arrest the 41-year-old without the international warrant.
Mr McNulty said: "We are not at the point of charge which means we can't apply for a European Arrest Warrant, which means we would not be able to arrest someone abroad at this point in time."
He confirmed that an international letter of request has been sent to Latvia to obtain information about Zalkalns, but would not say whether officers have asked to question him, or whether they have submitted similar letters to any other country.
British officers have travelled to the Baltic state this week to glean more information about the general labourer's family and friends.
He served seven years in prison after he was convicted of bludgeoning and stabbing his wife Rudite Zalkalns to death in his native country.
Mr McNulty said: "In a murder investigation you would focus on the family of a suspect. Here we've got a missing persons investigation, and we are going to find out background information.
"If they (the suspect) want to contact family and friends it's an opportunity for us to go and pick up that sort of information."
A review is now being carried out of the early stages of the investigation into Alice's disappearance, after Scotland Yard came under fire for delays in identifying Zalkalns as a risk and asking Latvia for help.
Mr McNulty said that in the first two days following Alice's disappearance on August 28, officers focused on family and friends, contacted her school, and carried out searches, and then on August 31 the murder squad became involved in the investigation and carried out house to house inquiries. The next day a police team headed by a senior officer reviewed the case.
On September 3 Zalkalns went missing, and this was reported to the police on September 5, but it was not until information came back from Interpol that officers realised he had a conviction for murder.
It took another 12 days before investigators found that he had been near the spot where Alice was last seen.
As part of the investigation they looked at dangerous and registered offenders in the area but the Latvian was not one of them.
Mr McNulty said: "This individual was not somebody who had convictions in the UK, not somebody who we had a significant amount of intelligence about at all."
Zalkalns was accused of indecently assaulting a 14-year-old girl in the UK in 2009, but the case was dropped because the victim would not support a prosecution and there was a lack of other evidence.
"In this case we had nothing. We hadn't got him implicated in anything," Mr McNulty said.
Despite the delays, he claimed Alice's family are supportive of the police probe.
"They are in a really difficult position but they are understanding of the framework in which we have to operate.."
Alice, 14, was captured on CCTV on August 28 walking alongside the Grand Union Canal in west London back towards her home in Hanwell and has not been seen since.
Zalkalns was caught on camera cycling the same route around 15 minutes behind the teenager. He vanished on September 3, six days after Alice was last seen and after murder detectives took over the investigation into her disappearance.
Tomorrow, four weeks on, detectives will stage a reconstruction along the route that Alice walked.
The force is carrying out a search which is the biggest use of such resources since the July 7 bombings, with investigators so far having scrutinised 9.6 square miles of open land, 3.4 miles of canals and rivers, and more than 30 properties including houses, derelict buildings, outbuildings and empty houses.
Zalkalns, who works at a building site in Isleworth, west London, is thought to have come to the UK in 2007, but authorities here apparently had no record of his murder conviction.
The general labourer is white, 5ft 10ins and stocky, with dark brown hair that he normally wears tied in a pony tail.
A reward of up to £20,000 is being offered for anyone who has information that leads detectives to find Alice.
Police have said that Zalkalns "potentially poses a risk to the public" and have asked anyone who sees him not to approach him and to dial 999.