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 141.

    113.The Rockabilly Red
    "This was part of his sentence."
    Incorrect I'm afraid, the courts do not sentence people to deportation. When a foreign national is given a prion sentence, the UKBA is informed. It is then an administrative decision for them about whether the person should be deported. Any appeal made against that decision is made to an immigration tribunal, not a criminal court.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    If the UK public wasn't paying so much in tax for Health Tourism to the NHS, educating classes where there are 7 languages spoken ring-fencing overseas development maybe we could have used those cost savings on proper border control. Unfortunately people from outside the UK believe the UK has a blank cheque book and can pay for everything- well...something has to give and they need to learn that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    The death of this man is a tragedy that should never be repeated.

    However, in order to prevent repetition it may be that all deportees forcibly removed from the UK leave in shackles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    To those criticizing the BBC:;
    NOT to report the jury's verdict in a case of public interest would suggest editorial bias, begging the question of possible influency by an interested party .
    The correspondent's comments point to the legal implications of the jury's findings and related information by qualified organizations.
    You may think the jury was wrong, but don't blame the Beeb.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Next time put the deportee in chains on a ship and send him home by himself.

    He can't put a ship in danger and can get off if he feels like it at the other end.

    Won't have to be "restrained" then will he?

    And we will not be sued for anything.

  • Comment number 136.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    @131 Steve Taylor.

    I think in the long run, that wont be the case, once the lawyers have taken their "pound of flesh".

  • Comment number 134.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    His head was bent forward because he was probably trying to spit at or bite his escort. Just look at the Fly on the Wall American prison documentarys on Discovery. In the US he would have been Shackled in Both Leg and Arm irons and if he was a Spitter or a biter a facial mask too. I do not think it Correct that he was on a Commercial Airliner. He should have been in a Cell in the Hold.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    We cannot have a culture of anything goes because people are being deported. Otherwise,we can as well give knives to the guards and allow them to stab prisoners if they resist. We call ourselves a civilized society don't we? Remember, it could be your son or somebody you know held in a foreign country for probably being convicted of a drunken brawl. Would you be happy if they died like that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    130. Dove

    "Why was this man deported by security sub-contractors and not official representatives of the Police or the U.K Border Agency?"

    Because it's substantially cheaper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Why was this man deported by security sub-contractors and not official representatives of the Police or the U.K Border Agency?

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    127.Andy Pandy Dream on Ukipy fantasist.
    You people have no grasp on reality do you.
    Well the ballot box doesn't lie does it? It's no good being deluded and behaving like an ostrich because YOU don't like what they say. There are more people in the UK than just YOU thank goodness - otherwise we'd be up the swanny without a paddle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    There have been some very interesting responses to this story. But lets leave the specifics out of this because we know too few of them.

    1. This prisoner should never have been deported on a civilian airliner with paying public passengers - it puts THEM at risk.
    2. Never devolve responsibity for actions such as deportation to none governent organistations.
    3. Some deportees will do anything.

  • Comment number 127.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    It is really disappointing when people bring the issue of race and liberalism in this case. A jury with access to all the evidence and a coroner with medical training arrived at a conclusion. That a man ought not to have died and the causation of death was from an illegal action. In this fora, we don't have any evidence except our thoughts and biases. Why then is the issue of race being raised?

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Whilst the loss of life is regrettable if the security guys had left the guy alone what would of happened if he had kicked off during mid air?

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    121. Let's wait for the ECHR to get in on the act and then we're truly finished.
    Our one saving grace here is that the ECHR works at a snails pace and before they have come close to any sort of decision hopefully the EU and ECHR will be in the UK's rear view mirror.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    What really concerns me is that this man was non compliant and refused to go passively onto the Aircraft. What happens if he had kicked off whilst at 30000 feet enroute to the Lavatory and say held a Woman and child hostage. Pehaps he should have gone on a cargo aircraft in a cell in the Hold ?. What about the Rights and Safety of the other 300 or so people on the aircraft ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    117. jese

    If he was a criminal yes. Same as the British drug runners on death row.


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