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 341.

    Again, I can only reiterate my own personal experience of working with the officers involved. They were always completely professional and would have reacted to the situation as they saw fit.
    They were doing the job that all of us want done but none of us want to acknowledge.
    Don't turn them into scapegoats just for doing the dirty work that we would all rather turn a blind eye to

  • Comment number 340.

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

  • Comment number 339.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.


    You're right, the jury weren't there.

    But the masses of witnesses called to the trial WERE there, and clearly their evidence/affidavits did not wholly suggest a trio of officers simply "doing their duty"...

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    OK. I accept what you're saying but my point is that these guys were trying to do a thankless task under the most extreme pressure.
    In my experience deportees are given vastly more 'freedoms' than any of us could ever hope for.
    The jury have heard the 'facts' but again they weren't there.
    I am an apologist for no one but I stand by my original comment. The officers involved were doing their duty

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    @335 The Jury knew the circumstances and they could have returned a verdict of justifiable homicide but they didn't. They said it was unlawful killing. Of course you weren't there and only know what you have read in the papers or seen on TV and the net but you know better. Like I said Juries are the basis of our freedoms because they base their opinions on the evidence. What are yours based on?

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    Then let's hope the jury don't live anywhere near some of the vile, rapists, murderers, kiddy fiddlers, drug dealers etc that these guys try to remove from our country on a daily basis.
    Mubenga was a violent criminal. Hence the reason for his deportation. Nobody would have wished for him to die but make no mistake, he knew exactly what he was doing when he created a disturbance on the

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    The only comment that matters here is the Jury's. They heard all the evidence and their verdict was unlawful killing. Some of the posters on here might not like it but they don't know what happened and their opinions are based on ignorance and prejudice. Not a good combination. I trust the jury, that's the British way, that's what protects all our freedoms, anything else is mob rule.

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    Dear Mr Spam
    Did you forget what you had written in the first paragraph of your comment before writing the last line?
    He would have been treated in a respectful, civilised manner all the time he was behaving in a similar fashion.
    He would also have been 'fed and watered', given access to a mobile phone to speak to his family/solicitor etc.
    Handcuffs would only have been used once he 'kicked off'

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    When dealing with violent criminals it is inevitable that some get harmed whilst being restrained - and their conduct is what leads to the application of force in the first place.

    Try dealing with a hard-case who is struggling violently and see how you do before blaming these security staff. There is no way they intended to kill that criminal.

    Criminal? Not born here? Deport them every time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    All the comments here show no regard for the fact that he lost his life. He may have resisted deportation, but that doesn't give security officers the license to use extreme and disproportionate force against him. When Thatcher plotted a coup against one of our governments, we didn't treat him the way you treat our own in your country. We let him go. I bet my life the UK would've killed him too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    Like everyone else who has posted a comment so far I was not there on that aircraft that day so can only speculate as to what exactly happened.
    However, unlike everyone else I can speak from experience of working alongside the three G4S guards involved.
    They were all very experienced in their respective duties and I know that they would only have used force appropriate to the situation

  • Comment number 329.

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

  • Comment number 328.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    Regardless of this mans violent reaction he had a right to due care & diligence, which was obviously lacking.
    The G4S personel over reacted to a situation caused by their OWN negligence in risk assessment of transfer/deport of a man who was just released from a violence prison sentence.

    HELLO, why was he initially not cuffed, WHO authorised non cuffing?

  • Comment number 326.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    324. palaestraminfutilitate

    And what is wrong with "EDL fans" then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    @319. Little_Old_Me
    @317. a_responsibility_to_awe

    can't reconcile why anyone in civilised Britain would disagree with both your comments, perhaps there are trolls, internet media management or EDL fans.

    safeguards are necessary against excessive actions by police or private security firms, otherwise we reap the whirlwind like the troubles or inner city riots.

    & I'm not even a libby lefty.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    If they weren't using brute force in the first place

    Yes, you'd much rather people walked away and cried when a criminal is violently resisting restraint.

    You treat criminals as victims, regardless of the fact they've done wrong and quite often are violent themselves, to their victims and to those escorting them.

    They get what the deserve. End of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.


    The judiciary often make rulings that quite frankly don't' add up - see miscarriages of justice.

    So, how about you stop making excuses for offenders who happen to be private security staff?

    If they weren't using brute force in the first place they wouldn't be investigated & be in court - ergo they'd be ignored.

    Just because you believe otherwise doesn't make it right.


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