The family of schoolgirl Alice Gross have spoken out in favour of freedom of movement rules after an inquest concluded their daughter was "unlawfully killed" in a sexually-motivated attack.
The 14-year-old is believed to have been killed in 2014 by builder Arnis Zalkalns who had moved to the UK in 2007 after serving seven years jail for murdering his wife in his native Latvia.
Following the verdict, Alice’s family - father Jose Gross, sister Nina Goss and mother Ros Hodgkiss - called for careful, targeted reform of the system for exchanging information about high-risk offenders across Europe, after the inquest into their daughter’s death exposed serious inadequacies.
Alice’s parents said: “Like Alice, our family is in favour of freedom of movement and all the good things it has brought to our lives.
“We do not believe that any citizen deserves to be treated differently based on their race or nationality.
“Our only concern has been to ensure that there are fair and proportionate rules governing the movement of serious criminals within Europe, whether that is a Latvian coming to the UK or a dangerous UK citizen travelling abroad.”
As an EU national, Zalkalns underwent no background checks on arrival and was completely unknown to British authorities. However, changes have now been made so that when a foreign national is arrested, the Metropolitan Police automatically performs a background check in the accused's home country.
According to Liberty the inquest revealed that as long ago as 2006, an EU law was in force which allowed countries to exchange details of people’s criminal convictions.
Liberty said: "But it seems the Home Office did nothing to make UK police forces aware they could obtain such information.
"It was not until 2008 that the Home Office issued any guidance to police forces – but there appears to have been little or no dissemination, and police still seem to have been largely unaware of it."
In 2009 - five years before Alice was killed - Zalkalns was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in London. At that time, police did not check his Latvian criminal record. The inquest heard that many officers remained unaware of the arrangements that existed for them to obtain this information.
Zalkalns was discovered hanged in a park on October 4 and police said the 41-year-old would have been charged with Alice's murder had he been alive.
On the sixth day of the inquest at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, a jury of eight men and three women on Monday announced their “final conclusions” relating to Alice’s death.
They found that her death was “consistent with compression asphyxia”.
Alice disappeared from her home in Hanwell, west London, on 28 August 2014. Her body was found on September 30 after Scotland Yard conducted its biggest search since the July 7 bombings.
After the jury returned with its conclusions, coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox read out a list of recommendations she was “highly likely” to make to the Home Office in relation to foreign national cases.
These included that it should become mandatory for all police forces in England and Wales to perform automated Acro criminal records and Interpol warnings checks on foreign criminals, with further checks as required in individual cases.
Another was that audit systems should be put in place to see that the mandatory checks were being carried out and the warnings lists updated so that persons with serious convictions were "appropriately detained".
Last week, she told the jury that evidence given at the inquest did not support conclusions that would “imply that any actions or inactions” of the Home Office or police “caused or contributed” to Alice’s death.
During the proceedings, Alice's mother read a prepared statement to the jury in which she said the family “remain stunned” that Zalkalns was “not monitored or even known about in any way” after he came to the UK.
Alice’s family, represented by Liberty, used the Human Rights Act to secure an inquest under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to investigate what the authorities knew, or should have known, about her murderer and the systems available for authorities to find out about his background.
Liberty says that as a direct consequence of Alice’s death, there is now much better and comprehensive information-sharing about criminal convictions across Europe.
However, it said, the system “remains reactive rather than proactive".
Outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Alice's father said: “As Alice’s father, losing Alice has shattered me.
“The pain of knowing I will never see, hear or cuddle her again is unbearable. This inquest has helped me face what has happened and hopefully now I will be able to properly grieve for my beautiful, loving daughter.”
Hodgkiss said: “I still find it almost impossible to believe that our lovely daughter has been so brutally taken from us.
“I miss her every moment of every day. I have felt the need to find out as much as I can about how it is possible that she could have been killed in such a horrific way, and to try and change things so that it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
Alice’s sister Nina 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.”
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse said Monday that if police were to now arrest a foreign national "it is our policy" to check their overseas offending history.
Rodhouse said: "In 2009, that was not the case, in the Met or policing nationally, and this check was not done. However, even if we had identified Zalkalns' conviction in that year it would not have changed the outcome of his arrest."
He said police "recognise" had that check been carried out Zalkalns may have been identified 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."
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