The inquest into the death of Alice Gross is another example of the Human Rights Act delivering truth, justice and reform
Yesterday the inquest into the death of 14-year-old Alice Gross concluded. Thanks to Article 2 of the Human Rights Act, it addressed not only how Alice had died, but broader questions around what our authorities knew – or should have known – about her killer.
This meant serious inadequacies in the system for sharing information on high-risk offenders across Europe were dragged into the light for the first time – and yesterday the inquest jury returned an extremely powerful narrative verdict.
Alice was murdered by a man who travelled to the UK from Latvia with very serious violent and other offences on his record, about which the UK authorities knew nothing. He arrived in 2007, was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in London in 2009 – at which point his criminal record was still not discovered – and was released without charge. He murdered Alice on 28 August 2014, and committed suicide shortly afterwards.
Unsurprisingly, the jury concluded that Alice had been unlawfully killed. But – despite the best efforts of the Home Office and Metropolitan Police Service – they went on to describe a number of important background factors which were relevant to Alice’s death. These included:
- that there were inconsistent levels of cooperation between UK and foreign authorities concerning the sharing of criminal records of high-risk foreign national offenders travelling across borders.
- that there had been no Home Office or police policy requiring a foreign background check on a foreign national upon arrest.
- and that there was limited awareness within the police that officers could undertake such a check, or of its potential value.
The Coroner told the court she was likely to make a number of formal recommendations to the Home Office and/or police, including that the Home Office work with its overseas partners to improve the sharing of relevant information about high-risk travelling offenders, and that a contingency plan be set in place to ensure these measures are maintained once the UK leaves the European Union.
Alice’s family have been clear that no-one deserves to be treated differently based on their nationality. Violence and crime, like love and compassion, do not observe racial or national boundaries.
Instead, they have drawn vital attention to a loophole in our system which means that the rules which apply to serious British offenders – allowing them to be monitored where necessary – are not applied to foreign national offenders who settle in the UK.
They have argued that, for those who have committed serious violent and/or sexual offences abroad, such convictions must be made known to the UK authorities when that person travels here. That way the UK authorities can decide what to do. They might refuse admission, or they might wish to supervise the person in the community.
This case has never been about impeding rehabilitation or stopping former offenders moving on with their lives. It is about the rights of victims and the state’s obligation to protect them. The measures the Gross family wish to see apply as much to a dangerous UK national travelling abroad as they do to a dangerous offender coming here from abroad.
There are three things we should take away from this case.
First, it was only the Human Rights Act (and Article 2, the right to life, in particular) that enabled any of the background systemic matters leading up to Alice’s death to be examined at all.
To secure an Article 2 inquest, the family had to threaten the previous Coroner with judicial review.
Secondly, as a direct consequence of the new Coroner’s decision to hold the inquest in accordance with Article 2, all the above matters came to light and resulted in what the family hope will be very strong recommendations which will help prevent future deaths.
Yet another example – like the Hillsborough and Deepcut inquests before it – of the HRA’s power to deliver truth, justice and reform when the state fails.
Finally, in the midst of their extraordinary loss, anger and bewilderment, this small grieving family was still able to recognise the potential impact of this case on race relations and xenophobia in this country.
They asked their perfectly reasonable questions, secure in the knowledge that they were absolutely right to do so and urging at every point that those with a lazy anti-immigration or xenophobic agenda refrain from exploiting their grief.
What an extraordinary example they have set. We have no doubt that Alice would be extremely proud of them.