Jimmy Mubenga: A death waiting to happen?

One of the volunteers is leant forward in the study Academics found this hold was potentially fatal - picture shows volunteers in the research

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The jury at the inquest of a man who died on a plane while he was being deported from the UK in October 2010 has returned a verdict of unlawful killing. The case of Jimmy Mubenga raises questions about how force can be used in immigration removals.

Jimmy Mubenga was being deported to Angola after serving a two-year prison sentence for assault occasioning actual bodily harm. He had appealed against deportation because he had been settled in the UK and his wife and children would be left behind.

There was a struggle between Mr Mubenga and three G4S security guards who had been employed by the then UK Border Agency to manage his departure from the country.

They restrained him, placed him in handcuffs and forced him into his seat. What happened next was the crucial question at the inquest.

The coroner, Karon Monaghan QC, told the jury there was no medical doubt that Mr Mubenga had died from "cardio-respiratory collapse" - but the question was how.

Mr Mubenga was escorted on to the flight by three guards from G4S - Terry Hughes, Colin Kayler and Stuart Tribelnig, the senior member of the team. They had all been taught how to use handcuffs and force.

Mr Tribelnig told the inquest that Mr Mubenga went to the toilet and then came out and lunged at him.

Start Quote

Based on the evidence we have heard, we have found Mr Mubenga was pushed or held down by one or more of the guards. We find that this was unreasonable force. The guards would have known that they would have caused harm to Mr Mubenga, if not serious harm”

End Quote Inquest jury

The guards said that as Mr Mubenga continued to fight against them, kicking out, he forced his own head and torso downwards as part of his resistance.

But Rosa Da Silva, a passenger sitting nearby, was among many who gave a different account in a statement that was read to the inquest.

"I could not see the black man's face because the security men had pushed his head forward but the man was screaming out," she said. "The security men was standing over him and trying to push him down or keep him down.

"The black man was screaming out. It was muffled but I could hear him say, 'Help, help, I can't breathe. You are killing me.'"

The commotion went on for about 15 minutes before Mr Mubenga went quiet. Mrs Da Silva thought that the security men had calmed down the detainee. Minutes later, the plane returned to the terminal and paramedics rushed on board.

The three security guards were arrested following the death. But almost two years later the Crown Prosecution Service said that there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone with gross negligence manslaughter.

'Carpet karaoke'
Jimmy Mubenga Jimmy Mubenga: Unlawfully killed

At the inquest, the guards said they had been told in training that someone could die from "positional asphyxia" if their head and torso were forced down to their knees while they were seated.

Ian Duckers, the G4S driver who took the team to the plane - but did not board the plane and witness the struggle - said that he had been warned in his training that "carpet karaoke", forcing someone down so their screams cannot be heard by other passengers, was not allowed.

But was this a death waiting to happen? Have the authorities failed to properly assess the use of force on immigration removal flights?

Campaigners say that, two years before Mr Mubenga died, they warned the UK Border Agency of the dangerous use of force during immigration removals.

Medical Justice, a charity that provides clinicians to independently examine immigration detainees, looked at 300 cases of people facing immigration removal.

It found in a report that 42 people of them had their heads forced downwards by security officers in a way that made it difficult for them to breathe.

Dr Naomi Hartree of the charity says that to this day expert concerns have not been addressed because there is no proper guidance on which restraints to use in confined spaces such as planes.

"What we have seen so far is that even after our own 2008 report these kinds of problems are still going on.

"People are continuing to say that their head is forced downwards to their knees. This is not something in the past, it is something that is continuing to happen.

"This is another death waiting to happen."

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Positional asphyxia can result from any restraint position in which there is restriction of the neck, chest wall or diaphragm, particularly in those where the head is forced downwards towards the knees. Restraints where the subject is seated require caution”

End Quote Use of Force Training Manual

Nine months after Mr Mubenga's death, experts from Coventry University produced a report that underlined that concern.

They published the results of a detailed experiment in which 40 volunteers were restrained in the controversial seated position.

The volunteers experienced breathing problems and some became alarmed and distressed. Those with larger waists suffered the worst lost of oxygen. The scientists concluded that the position, coupled with prolonged restraint, could be fatal.

The guidance for immigration removal teams is the Use of Force Training Manual, developed for use in prisons.

The manual includes a clear warning about the risks of positional asphyxia - but a great deal of the detail on special restraints has been redacted from the public version of the document.

New guidance

The cross-party Home Affairs Committee also raised its own concerns in a report, saying that it was "not persuaded that head-down restraint positions are never used, even though they are not authorised".

This inquest verdict is extremely serious. The Crown Prosecution Service has already said it will review its decision not to prosecute anyone over the death.

But it will renew calls for the Home Office to fully review how deportations are managed. Anecdotal and ad hoc reports of injuries are now backed up by the full force of an inquest jury declaring that someone was unlawfully killed.

Legal campaigner group Liberty went to court to try to force the publication of the redacted parts of the Use of Force Manual. It argued that nobody could know if restraint techniques for removals were safe if nobody knew what they were.

The Home Office won the court battle after arguing that publicising the techniques could help people to avoid restraint. In court it stressed that private security guards who are employed to enforce removals know about the risks.

Well since then, the Home Office has begun to look again at how deportations can be enforced.

It has asked prison service officials to come up with "bespoke training" for immigration removals. The Home Office maintains that the techniques in the existing manual are safe, yet the bespoke package will include specific guidance on how to control someone once on board an aircraft. The results will not be known for many, many months.

Dominic Casciani, Home affairs correspondent Article written by Dominic Casciani Dominic Casciani Home affairs correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    if he was such a loving family man, how come his wife and kids wernt going with him? maybe only loving if it meant staying in the UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    This is what happens when you hire out state responsibilities to private fly by night companies like G4S. Lets not forget this lot failed to deliver on the Oylmpics and have a poor record all round, why have G4S got any state contracts. Yes he should have been deported but not treated like Cattle and restrained by untrained goons. Ingeus, A4E G4S Ingeus how this bunch are still going amazes me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    The man should have left the country without needing deportation. When that need arose he should have cooperated with the men doing a job his actions made necessary. By hysterically & violently resisting a lawful deportation he brought about his death. This is not the first time a deportee has died during violent resistance but we cannot stop deportations because deportees might adopt this tactic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    36.H3000 Various comments saying: "if he hadn't resisted he'd still be alive" etc.
    No-one deserves to die when being deported..Jimmy included. But this guy was convicted of a crime in a country that welcomed him. Ive been in the UK from my birth and never convicted of anything. He then endangers a plane which is a 10 year sentence and/or 10,000 pound fine??? Are we glutton for punishment?

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    (2) They also fail to acknowledge the difficulty faced by those who have to deport such individuals, who do not only actively resist deportation but also have a history of violence. The transporting officers not only have a duty of care towards the detained person, but also to themselves and others on the aircraft.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Various comments saying: "if he hadn't resisted he'd still be alive" etc.

    1. If you had fled a situation and were being returned to it - and separated from your children - would you resist?

    2. The fact that had Jimmy Mubenga not resisted he would still be alive hardly even begins to make it acceptable that when he did choose to resist he was treated in such a fashion as caused his death.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    @10 Can i ask what study, think tank, statistics, 'intelligence' you base this information on? Or are you confusing personal opinion with facts?

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Isn't it funny how everyone blames the guy who died?

    Despite the fact that the security guards LIED about what happened to protect themselves despite there being a myriad of witnesses that saw them use ILLEGAL force to restrain him.

    CPS should prosecute these people for lying to an inquest at the very very least.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Looking at the image, how many planes have a single seat with a gangway either side? I suspect none.
    This guy attacked someone doing their lawful duty, they have a right to protect themselves and the public from any harm, at the expense of the offender.

    Unlawful killing does not mean murder, it can mean manslaughter too, For Murder, it has to be premeditated, I.E. intended.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Last time I looked, the deportation guards got about £7/hr. The ones guarding your cash get £11/hr. Obviously the government considered that the lives of deportees is less valuable than your cash, when accepting the tender. You get what you pay for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    (1) I find it laughable that the Media only portray certain aspects of scenarios such as this, for example; "a good man, a good friend, a loving husband" yet fail to mention a criminal history since being in this Country, as well as underlying medical issues that may have had an influence on the death.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I have been involved with several repatriations and in over half the cases the deportees claimed sickness, struggled, one tried to swallow a pen, one even tried to undress. In each case they were trying to delay their expulsion and in each case the security team dealt with them firmly and reasonably - but not violently, even with screams of 'I'm being murdered' and kicks and blows aimed at them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    @22 we don't have free health. we're taxed to fund it. it's only free to those that don't contribute

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    25. Henry Tudor
    "Surely you cannot defend that. I have been trained to restrain violent adults & can tell you two of basics of the training:

    - People suffocating can speak.
    - Listen to people who say they cannot breathe"

    Valid and important points - but even more reason for them not to be transported on passenger flights where they have an audience that some will try and "perform" to

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I cannot believe that the G4S guys intended to kill this deportee and I am sure that had he not resisted he would still be alive. I never thought I'd say this, but had he boarded the plane in the same manner Abu Qatada did several days ago this wouldn't be a story.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    "23. freindleonewhocares

    Isn't it starnge how accidents never happen now,it is always someone's fault!!"

    The man said 'Help, I can't breathe. You are killing me.' They ignored a dying man.

    Surely you cannot defend that. I have been trained to restrain violent adults & can tell you two of basics of the training:

    - People suffocating can speak.
    - Listen to people who say they cannot breathe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Safely with care and due attention and reasonable force where required, but they must be removed.There must be no excuses from our government agencies and alike. The asylum system is a simple mechanism for those who want to come to the UK overcome immigration rules. We must withdraw from it
    I am very sad that this gentleman died and my condolences to his family.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Isn't it starnge how accidents never happen now,it is always someone's fault!!
    If this illegal person had not struggled against the inevitable no doubt he would still be alive.Time to stop this silly blame game and face reality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Incredible. Already comments such as 'put them in a box, and send em back' Most come to look for a better life and do what they can for their families. And yes, even so, illegal immigrants should be sent back as the home office rules. They are not animals. Look at what we have, free health , welfare, jobs.. This is attractive to developing nations. We need to deal with it humanely and with respect


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