Alice Gross: why did police not know about killer’s past?

Family says questions over why authorities were unaware of Arnis Zalkalns's murderous past must be answered

Arnis Zalkalns

The family of Alice Gross, the schoolgirl who was murdered in west London last August, has asked a coroner to investigate why police didn't know about her suspected killer's past.

Prior to his arrival in the UK, Latvian Arnis Zalkalns, the chief suspect in the case, was jailed in his home country for murdering his wife. In 2009, after he moved to the UK, he was also arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in London.

Gross vanished in August 2014 and her body was discovered in the River Brent a month later. Soon afterwards Zalkalns was found hanged in nearby woodland. The Crown Prosecution Service has confirmed that if he had not killed himself Zalkalns would have been charged over the death of the schoolgirl.

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Now, the human rights organisation Liberty, representing Gross's family, has asked the coroner to consider the role of the authorities in Alice's death, the BBC reports.

A spokesman for Liberty said: "It appears the British authorities were not aware of [Zalkans'] conviction.

"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."

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.

Detectives have insisted that even if they had known about Zalkalns' conviction in Latvia prior to Alice's death, it is "very unlikely" that he would have been deported.

Alice Gross: why Zalkalns would have faced murder charge

27 January

Arnis Zalkalns would have been charged by police for the murder of 14-year-old Alice Gross had he not died last year, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has said.

Zalkalns, a Latvian builder and convicted murderer, became a "person of interest" soon after Alice disappeared on 28 August, when she was last seen on CCTV walking along the Grand Union Canal towpath in Hanwell, west London. Her body was discovered in the River Brent a month later.

Zalkalns, who went missing shortly after her disappearance, was discovered dead in a "densely overgrown" area of Boston Manor Park, a 20-minute walk from where Alice was found.

After studying Scotland Yard's investigation into Alice's death, the CPS has announced that there would have been sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction, and therefore enough evidence to charge Zalkalns with murder if he was still alive.

"There is no eye-witness evidence," said Tim Thompson, deputy chief crown prosecutor for CPS London. "The scientific evidence does not link Arnis Zalkalns directly to Alice's death. Nonetheless the evidence as a whole gives rise to a circumstantial case that would clearly meet the full Code test [for Crown Prosecutors]."

Here is a summary of the evidence found:

  • CCTV suggests that Zalkans would have overtaken Alice as she was walking on the tow path on 28 August. The footage suggests that he must have stopped for at least 80 minutes, and when he reappeared on camera his appearance indicated that he may have been in the water.
  • Zalkans returned to the tow path that evening, the following morning and again the following evening.
  • DNA found on a "well-preserved" cigarette butt found metres from Alice's body has been matched to Zalkalns.
  • DNA evidence also "strongly" suggests that Zalkalns was in contact with Alice's body.
  • One of the bags used to conceal Alice's body matched a roll of bags seized from Zalkalns' workplace. Both the roll and the bag in the river were spattered with paint.
  • Alice's sister is confident that an iPhone cover hidden in Zalkalns' garden belonged to Alice.

Alice's family said they were "confident" in the conclusions of the police investigation and thanked officers for their support and professionalism.

"Although we now have certain information about how Alice died, we are still left with a number of serious unanswered questions about what the authorities knew or should have known about the man who is believed to have killed our daughter when he came to the UK," they said.

"Alice believed in the free movement of people and so do we. For her sake we are determined to ask these questions responsibly and sensitively. For that reason we have asked Liberty to help us and we look to the forthcoming inquest into Alice's death to help us find answers to these questions."

Alice Gross: Arnis Zalkalns dead but case not yet closed

07 October

The body found in woodland area in west London on Saturday is that of Arnis Zalkalns, the Latvian builder suspected of murdering teenager Alice Gross, police have confirmed. His corpse was found in Boston Manor Park, a 20-minute walk from where the body of 14-year-old Alice was discovered last week. Following a post-mortem examination, Scotland Yard said his death was "consistent with hanging" and that there was "no evidence of any third-party involvement". Alice – described by her parents as a "sweet and beautiful" daughter – was last seen alive on 28 August walking along the Grand Union Canal towpath towards her home in Hanwell, west London. Her disappearance prompted one of the most complex Metropolitan Police search operations undertaken in recent times. But while the bodies of Alice and prime suspect Zalkalns have been found, the case is not yet closed.

Here are seven questions being raised about the investigation:

When did Arnis Zalkalns die?

The body was "badly decomposed" by the time police found it, suggesting it had been there for a number of weeks, says the Daily Mirror. Zalkalns went missing six days after Alice disappeared. After 3 September, he was not seen again by his partner and young child, and he did not access his bank account nor use his mobile phone. Police suspected he might have returned to his home country, although his passport was left at his house in Ealing. Friends and family told police he was behaving normally in the days before and after Alice went missing but that his disappearance was completely out of character.

What do we know about Arnis Zalkalns?

The 41-year-old was a prime suspect in the investigation. He was seen on CCTV cycling along Brentford Lock on his way home from work at around 4pm, 15 minutes after Alice had walked the same route. Detectives believe he was likely to have come across her as they were both going in the same direction.

Zalkalns is believed to have come to the UK in 2007 after he spent seven years in prison in Latvia for murdering his wife Rudite. BBC correspondent Damien McGuinness, who has seen the court documents about the 1998 murder case, says Zalkalns was assessed as mentally stable and had known what he was doing when he murdered his wife and buried her in a shallow grave. During his confession, he told police that his wife claimed she was a lesbian and started going out without him. When she did not return home one night, Zalkalns – an experienced welder – made a metal pole and an eight-inch knife, which he later used to bludgeon and stab her to death. He was also arrested but not charged in 2009 on suspicion of drugging and molesting a 14-year-old girl. The investigation has found no evidence to suggest that Alice and Zalkalns knew each other.

How did Arnis Zalkalns get into the UK?

Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to examine how Zalkalns was allowed to live in Britain without security services being made aware of his criminal past. Under EU freedom of movement rules it is the UK's responsibility to work out which immigrants might pose a threat, but the case has triggered calls for the EU to keep a database of criminal convictions so offenders can be easily identified at borders, says The Sunday Times.

Why did it take police so long to find Alice Gross's body?

Alice's body was found 33 days after she went missing and was discovered close to where her rucksack was found on 2 September. Scotland Yard said "significant efforts" had been made to hide the body on the river bed. The search for Alice involved the largest deployment of Scotland Yard resources since the 7/7 bombings, with 600 officers, as well as police dogs and divers, searching 10 square miles of open land and 3.5 miles of canals and rivers. Additional staff were drawn in to deal with more than 630 calls from the public, and hundreds of hours of CCTV was seized and viewed. Detectives will need to establish when the body was placed in the river and whether it was placed in the area where it was found or if it had moved with the current.

Why did it take so long to find Zalkalns body?

Zalkalns was found a month after he was reported missing by his partner in a park that had already been searched during the extensive hunt for Alice. Police admitted that the "densely overgrown" spot where Zalkalns was found had not been searched by police previously, but had been identified as an inaccessible area for a further specialist search. "The recovery required a substantial removal of forestry to enable access for forensic teams," the Metropolitan Police said. One resident who had lived in the area for 23 years told The Independent: "There will be people who have lived here as long as me who don't even know that area exists."

Was the murder planned?

The answer is unknown at this stage. However, Professor David Wilson, a criminologist at Birmingham City University, told the Daily Telegraph that the way in which Alice's body had been hidden, reportedly in a plastic bag and under logs of wood away from CCTV cameras, suggested planning. "The police investigation will be looking at the possibility that this was a carefully orchestrated operation by someone who has scoped out the area, rather than a random, opportunistic act," he said.

What will police do now?

Alice's post mortem examination was inconclusive, with further tests needed to establish her cause of death. While Zalkalns was identified as a suspect, Scotland Yard is yet to present proof that he murdered the 14-year-old. Police say they are still searching for evidence to establish the "full circumstances" surrounding the crime and have appealed to the public for more information. They are said to be searching for a teenage boy who might have spoken to Zalkalns before he died. A shopkeeper in Ealing claims he refused to serve cider to the teenage boy and afterwards a man who he believes was Zalkalns entered the shop and bought it for him.

Alice Gross investigation: police find body in River Brent

1 October

Police investigating the disappearance of missing schoolgirl Alice Gross have found a body hidden in the River Brent.

The body is yet to be formally identified, but Scotland Yard has launched a murder inquiry, reports The Guardian. Police say "significant efforts" were made to hide the body, which was found yesterday evening.

Alice was last seen on 28 August walking along the Grand Union Canal towpath towards her home in Hanwell, west London. The search for the 14-year-old has been the largest Metropolitan Police search since the London 7/7 bombings, with hundreds of officers trawling ten square miles and more than three miles of canals and rivers in London.

In a statement, Commander Graham McNulty, who has been leading the investigation, confirmed that a body had been recovered from the water. He described the discovery as a "significant development" and said that Alice's family had been informed.

"We are unable to make a formal identification at this stage, but clearly this news is devastating for everyone involved in the search for Alice," he said. "At this time my thoughts are with Alice's family and friends. I would ask you to respect their privacy and allow them space.

"This is now a murder investigation and I need the public's help to find whoever is responsible."

Police thanked the local community for their patience and urged anyone who may know something that might help the investigation to come forward.

Convicted murderer Arnis Zalkalns, 41, from Latvia, remains the prime suspect. Zalkalns was captured on CCTV cycling past the same spot where Alice was last seen just 15 minutes later on 28 August.He then went missing on 3 September.

The Metropolitan Police is working with officials in Latvia to trace him, but currently do not have enough evidence to issue a European Arrest Warrant. Zalkalns served seven years in prison for stabbing his wife to death.

Alice Gross: police under fire for delays in hunt for suspect

22 September

Scotland Yard has come under fire for reportedly waiting four days to ask Latvia for help in hunting down the main suspect in the disappearance of teenager Alice Gross.

Alice was last seen on CCTV walking along the Grand Union Canal towpath in south-west London on 28 August. Arnis Zalkalns, a convicted murderer from Latvia, was captured on CCTV cycling past the same spot 15 minutes later. He was reported missing by his girlfriend the following week.

It is possible that Zalkalns returned to his native country as early as 4 September, reports The Times, yet police only contacted Latvia for assistance over the weekend.

His passport was left at home, but Latvians have said he could have travelled back by coach using his national identity card.

According to the Times, Latvian police have privately expressed "frustration" at the failure of the British police to ask for assistance earlier.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, also questioned why the officers had not sought a European arrest warrant. He pointed out that one was issued immediately when the parents of five-year-old Ashya King took him out of an English hospital to seek cancer treatment abroad.

Vaz also condemned "shocking" revelations that Latvian criminals are able to move to Britain while still on probation and are supervised only over email.

Scotland Yard has described its investigation into Alice's disappearance as the biggest search operation since the 7/7 terrorist attacks on London in 2005. The search is being led by the Met's homicide command, although police maintain there is no reason to believe Alice has come to harm.

Zalkalns, 41, moved to Britain in 2005, despite being convicted of murdering his wife by stabbing her through the heart. He was also accused of drugging and molesting a 14-year-old girl in London in 2009, although the accusation was subsequently dropped.

A Met spokesman said the force was "maintaining a close and productive relationship with the Latvian authorities" but said it was not prepared to give a "running commentary on the specifics of our active investigation".

Missing girl Alice Gross: suspect has murder conviction

18 September

Police are seeking a Latvian builder in connection with the disappearance of London teenager Alice Gross on August 28. The prime suspect, Arnis Zalkalns, has not been seen for weeks and has a previous conviction for murder.

The 14-year-old schoolgirl was last seen on CCTV walking along the Grand Union Canal towpath in Hanwell, west London. Zalkalns used the same route to get to work – and was recorded by CCTV cameras at 16.00 BST on August 28 cycling along Brentford Canal, 15 minutes after Alice walked that route.

Given Alice was on foot and Zalkalns was cycling, detectives think it likely the 41-year-old Latvian overtook her as they were both going in the same direction along the canal i.e. north. They were filmed passing Brentford Lock, the BBC says.

Now it has emerged the builder served seven years in a Latvian jail after being convicted of murder in 1998. He was also arrested in Ealing in 2008 for indecently assaulting a 14-year-old girl but no further action was taken.

Zalkalns, who is 5ft 10ins, stocky and brown-haired (worn in a distinctive ponytail), according to the Guardian, has not been seen since 3 September, one week after Alice vanished. A reward of up to £20,000 is being offered for information relating to the schoolgirl’s disappearance. So far police have received 100 calls offering leads.

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