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 61.

    If such a violent man was trying desperately to escape Angola maybe the UK justice system has a lot to learn from the Angolans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    various despicable comments denigrating the deceased should bear in
    mind that G4S committed an unlawful killing in public. If we deplore deaths in UK police custody due to unacceptable police behaviour & zeal, then such bloggers should be consistent with foreign offenders.

    numerous G4S internal memos were exposed about their inadequate staff & unacceptable practises. They are legalised thugs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    what do you do to deportees who fight the officers trying to remove them?

    let them stay?

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Perhaps in future they should all be sedated prior to departure. Strikes me that the risk of injury or deal whilst in the process of removal is no greater than the risk these people undertake sneaking into the country illegally. If they can't leave quietly then steps need to be taken to ensure that the risks in removal are reduced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Why do the press and courts always care more about perpetrators than victims. Of course it is not right that he died BUT he was proved to be a violent individual and what exactly where the guards supposed to do. Common sense suggests that the sad ending should be the end of it. For those who want justice to be done, perhaps you would like to accompany the next violent individual being deported.

  • Comment number 56.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    There is an Australian man about to be deported for a lot less than what Mr Mubenga has done- swimming in the Thames in front of the Oxford-Cambridge boat race. Two points about this:

    - No-one can accuse the UK government of being racist.

    - Lets see if this Australian starts lashing out on the flight home requiring to be restrained.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    None of them are going to go gracefully, are they?! If they kick, struggle, lash out etc., what are their escorts to do? Say "Please...."?! Can you imagine the furore if Abu Qatada had resisted? We're damned if we do, damned if we don't! The ECHR together with PC are crippling our ability to govern our country as we should.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.


    Huge private firm G4S boasted expertise & competence, they have a remit to operate with dignity & without subject's lost of life, even if they're troublesome. The 3 staff responsible for unlawful public killing had cynical facebook postings.

    G4S proved incompetent during Olympics, lots of other examples.

    The sinister blackwater company modus operandi comes to mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    48. Hens Legs

    They're regulated by the SIA

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    He should have had more sense than to resist a lawful arrest. It seems to be a certain type of hysterical person who ends up in this situation. All the same close scrutiny is always welcome in an open justice system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    He was struggling then and had been done for ABH? Am i dreaming, can you imagine Angola affording him any rights at all?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    no sympathy for him
    he should not have broken our law in the first place
    secondly he should have gone quietly then he would still be alive now
    the man was a criminal with no thought or respect for British law.
    the world is better off without his type
    perhaps next time they will sedate the deportees till they get to their destination

  • Comment number 48.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Mr. Mubenga should not have died

    Theres blame all round here & sympathy for all sides

    Deportees try every trick to stop/delay

    Guards have difficult job, it is stacked against them.Being extra careful means never deporting anyone

    More needs to be done to stop incentives for people playing system. How many get married/have children when they know they are facing deportation? spouses can fly too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Foreign criminals should be booted out. I suspect that many if not most do all they can to avoid this and that we to an extent have to accommodate this behaviour as a civilised society. As long as they get the boot in the end and are treated humanely as the situation allows then our conscience should be clear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    rather him than innocent members of the public on the plane getting injured/killed because of his actions

    maybe if these people want to behave like wild animals, they should get locked in a cage in the hold on the aircraft. Then theyre feel to punch and kick the metal bars to their hearts content.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    (3) Would it not be the case that the media would vilify the officers if a detainee was to escape due to poor restraint, and go on to attack a member of the public or worse still the pilot?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    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.... ...had he boarded the plane in the same manner Abu Qatada did ..this wouldn't be a story.

    EXACTLY!! Deportees know that kicking up a fuss could stop airline acceptance, feigning sickness might delay removal.

    It's common knowledge - on both sides!

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    If a situation has the potential to need state-sanctioned violence, should those roles be outsourced?

    Responsibility cannot be outsourced.

    (Possibly just as well that G4S could not fully staff the Olympics - what might have happened to a litter-bug?)


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