Wife-murderer is prime suspect over Alice Gross

Alice Gross was last seen on a west London towpath. Picture: PA
Alice Gross was last seen on a west London towpath. Picture: PA
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A LATVIAN builder named as the prime suspect in the search for schoolgirl Alice Gross was convicted of murdering his wife, police said yesterday.

Scotland Yard said it was looking for Arnis Zalkalns, 41, after he was identified in CCTV on the towpath where Alice went missing.

Toms Sadovskis, a Latvian state police spokesman, confirmed that Zalkalns had served a custodial sentence after he was convicted of killing his wife in his country in 1998. Mr Sadovskis said he was unable to confirm any other details related to the case.

It also emerged that he was arrested on suspicion of indecent assault on a 14-year-old girl in London in 2009, but no further action was taken in that case.

Zalkalns went missing a week after Alice was last seen on 28 August, when she was spotted on CCTV by the Grand Union Canal in west London.

However, Scotland Yard said they had no evidence suggesting Alice, 14, who suffered from anorexia, has come to harm.

Detective Superintendent Carl Mehta, of the Met’s Homicide and Major Crime Command, said: “This is not a murder inquiry in the sense that we don’t have any evidence or information to say that Alice is not alive.”

Scotland Yard said it was their understanding that there was no record in the UK of Zalkalns’ murder conviction.

Police were told about the conviction in the “last few days” but were unable to provide further details at this stage, Mr Mehta said.

Zalkalns, who works as a labourer at a building site in Isleworth, west London, is thought to have come to the UK in 2007 and lives with his partner and their child.

He became a “person of interest” on 12 September but had come to the notice of police before that, Mr Mehta said.

Police first appealed to the public for help in tracing him on Tuesday after establishing that he cycled along Brentford Lock to go to and from work.

He was seen there on CCTV at 4pm on 28 August, 15 minutes after Alice walked the route.

Detectives believe he is likely to have seen the schoolgirl as they were both going north along the canal towpath.

Since Zalkalns was last seen at his home in Ealing on the evening of Wednesday, 3 September, he has not accessed his bank account or used his mobile phone. His passport was left at his house. His friends and family have told police that his disappearance is out of character.

Asked if he posed a threat to the public, Mr Mehta said: “I think given what we are finding out about his history, clearly he potentially poses a risk to the public. I would ask if anyone sees him not to approach him, but to immediately dial 999 and contact the police.”

A reward of up to £20,000 is being offered for anyone who has information that leads detectives to find Alice.

Forensic searches continued yesterday at Zalkalns’ home address in a suburban road in west London.

Two officers looked under bushes and searched recycling boxes as police vans continued to arrive yesterday afternoon.

A local woman said that she was “very scared” to find out that a convicted murderer was living nearby.

The 65-year-old retired legal executive, who gave her name as Shirin, said: “I’m really surprised the Border Agency doesn’t check people’s background before letting them in.”

It is understood border officials can deny foreign nationals entry into the UK if information is received that they pose a threat to the public. Without that information, however, nationals from EU countries are unlikely to be refused.

The entry of an EU national who has served a custodial sentence for murder would be judged on a “case by case” basis.