Alice Gross murder 'random, opportunistic', suspected killer's inquest told


The girlfriend of Alice Gross's suspected killer believed the schoolgirl resembled his ex-partner, an inquest into his death has heard.

Arnis Zalkalns was found hanged in Boston Manor Park, west London, in October, four days after the 14-year-old's body was pulled from the Grand Union Canal in Ealing.

Scotland Yard later said the 41-year-old Latvian - who had previously served seven years for murdering his wife in his home country - would have been charged with Alice's murder if he had still been alive.

At an inquest into his death at West London Coroner's Court today, coroner Chinyere Inyama recorded that Zalkalns "took his own life".

In a statement read to the court, Zalkalns' girlfriend Katerina Laiblova said she was "struggling to accept" his involvement in Alice's death.

"I'm having great difficulty accepting he had anything to do with her disappearance or her murder," she said.

"I cannot think of any motive he had.

"I can only think if he was involved in an accident. He doesn't have a bad core.

"I saw a photograph of Alice and she looked a bit like his ex-partner in that she was very thin."

The inquest heard that police believe the abduction and murder of Alice was "sexually motivated" and could have been a "random, opportunistic attack".

In a statement read to the court, Detective Sergeant Michael Hartley said: "There is a strong evidence to implicate Zalkalns in the murder of Alice Gross.

"This may go some way to explain his death.

"The abduction and subsequent murder of Alice could have a completely random, opportunistic attack formulated by Zalkalns when he passed Alice on that day."

Zalkalns was identified by his dental records after his decomposed body was found in dense woodland on October 4.

Pathologist Dr Ashley Fegan-Earl told the inquest the cause of death was consistent with hanging.

Zalkalns had served seven years in prison in his native country for bludgeoning and stabbing his wife Rudite to death.

The general labourer, who worked at a building site in Isleworth, west London, is believed to have come to the UK in 2007, but authorities here are thought to have had no record of his murder conviction.

CCTV revealed him cycling behind Alice along the tow path next to the Grand Union Canal on August 28 last year - the day she disappeared.

He was reported missing from his home in Ealing, west London, a week later.

Ms Laiblova said Zalkalns - the father to her young daughter - was "very quiet" and appeared "sad" shortly before he disappeared, but he claimed it was because he was missing his two children in Latvia.

"I always had to start the conversation with him," she said. "If he was worried he would not tell me."

She added that Zalkalns returned home from work "all wet" one night and went straight in the shower, but she believed it was because it had been raining.

Ms Laiblova said she last saw Zalkans on September 3 when she thought he gone for a bike ride.

"I woke up on Thursday morning and found Arnis had made me breakfast," she said. "I thought he had left for work."

Alice's body was found wrapped and weighted down in a shallow stretch of river by London Fire Brigade divers on September 30.

The schoolgirl from Hanwell, west London, was identified using dental records and a post-mortem examination proved inconclusive.

Mr Hartley said the efforts to conceal Alice's body had taken place over 27 hours and Zalkans had returned to the river bed on least five occasions.

In July it was revealed that Mr Inyama, the senior west London coroner, lost the 30-page police file into Alice's death on a train in November.

Police tried to recover the file, which contained evidence against Zalkalns, but concluded it had probably been "destroyed as waste".

Members of the Gross or Zalkalns families did not attend the hearing.

An inquest into Alice's death is due to be heard later this year.

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