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 181.

    173.Annibale It may be difficult for you since this person was foreign try to find some basic human decency next time you say a man deserves to be removed from his family after 2 years in jail and then killed.
    My wife is foreign, so playing the cheap race card won't wash. He died and wasn't killed. I know what you are doing here, making it deliberately sound like his death was premeditated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    @174. Andrew MacGregor
    He was being forcibly deported, and his family was staying in Britain, it was either that or drag them to a poverty stricken country with him.

    I assume when someone puts you in that position because of where your from or your skin colour you will be completely fine with it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    #104 harbourmaster

    --and with this blog on ´Whole-life Tariffs´


    --the vitriol is no less frightening (and sickening).

    --what the heck is happening to Britain ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    170.riff77 Lots of people suggesting transporting deportees in the cargo hold. The cargo spaces of aircraft are not pressurized. People would die during the journey.
    That's not true- how do you think they transport animals like horses etc? They have special pressurized compartments for this. Now there are no more excuses left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    When criminals struggle their hardest there will always be times when some are harmed because they have to be restrained. It is an inevitable consequence.

    The solution may be to purchase a special aircraft (old military transport) specially for purpose.

    We have been too soft, too long. Criminal? Not born here? Deport them, Every time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    168. Paul
    Let the purest amongst us......Death is not an end this man deserved. WE have let him down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    170. riff77

    "Lots of people suggesting transporting deportees in the cargo hold. The cargo spaces of aircraft are not pressurised. People would die during the journey. "

    This must be why my pets always die when I take them abroad! I think you may need to check your sources on that one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    @171 He wasn't removed from his family then was he? He was deported because he was deemed not welcome or not eligible to stay. That is fair and reasonable. This country has policies, protocols and procedures. The only failing was by the staff carrying out the procedure. I'm not sure ehy we should be forced to accept someone who has been through all avenues and failed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    171. Akkarrin
    @168. Paul
    It may be difficult for you since this person was foreign but do try to find some basic human decency next time you say a man deserves to be removed from his family after 2 years in jail and then killed...
    Well said.

  • Comment number 172.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    @168. Paul
    It may be difficult for you since this person was foreign but do try to find some basic human decency next time you say a man deserves to be removed from his family after 2 years in jail and then killed...

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    Lots of people suggesting transporting deportees in the cargo hold. The cargo spaces of aircraft are not pressurised. People would die during the journey.
    Ask why prison officers (not g4s custody officers)have been using similar restraint techniques in enclosed spaces for years, and have never caused a death by positional asphyxia, yet it happens in police custody suites and during deportation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    OK, let me get this right. If we can allow this kind of action, then why not just give the guards a gun and instruct them to put a bullet in the back of deportees head if they resist?

    The path to barbarism and anarchy will just be down the road. We will truly have joined Mugabe's thugs competing for gore. I thank those jurors and the coroner who have have stood up to be counted

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    167.Steve You would have to be a saint to take that on the chin
    Steve, I believe it's better to think that a SAINT would not have committed a crime of violence in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Come on people. This man had lost all. Home, wife, 5 children. You would have to be a saint to take that on the chin...If he fought, it was against all odds in utter desperation. Think-What was he going through. How sad that this man could not (or was poorly advised) claim a right to a family life under the Human Rights Charter. He did not deserve this end, nor his poor children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    161. Paul
    Whinging about being the insulted party unfortunately doesn't make you right.
    Agreed. It is my original point that blaming immigrants for Hitler is like blaming battered wives for their husbands beating them up that makes me right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    #159 free thinker

    "Your helpless resorting to insults shows just how spot on my analogy is."

    -- and where are the ´Free Thinkers´?

    --at one time there were many on London streets.


  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    152. Andy Pandy

    "How's the minimum wage guarding going?

    Are you at work now?"

    Sorry Andy but HYS removed my answers to you. It seems that they're on the side of the condescending and sanctimonious tonight.

  • Comment number 163.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    If feet to waist to hand shackles where not banned by the EU this wouldn't have happened,it takes at least 5 people to ATTEMPT to restrain a violent adult with minimum harm.you are told not to take people to the floor,ridiculous!it's the safest place for everybody.We have to get real about this issue,that way all in this issue can be safe.


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