The tragic death of Jimmy Mubenga during his forced deportation to Angola on October 12 can have come as no surprise to the Home Office, which has been warned of the likelihood of just such an occurrence on numerous occasions in recent years.
Mr Mubenga was killed, apparently by suffocation, while being heavily restrained by three private security guards immediately prior to the departure of his scheduled BA flight.
The forty-six year old Angolan and former student leader fled his country in 1994 but was initially denied asylum. Only after a protracted legal battle was granted exceptional leave to remain in the UK. He is survived by wife and five children between the ages of 16 and seven months old.
As recently as June 2009 the Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers wrote of forced deportations that safeguards in process were ‘singularly lacking’ while noting that there was a ‘heightened the risk of ill-treatment or abuse’. Whatever the outcome of the criminal investigation now launched into Jimmy Mubenga’s death it should be clear to all that Owers’ warning has come to pass.
A more recent report, commissioned by the Home Office and intended to rebuff criticisms of the UKBA and its contractors made by lawyers and human right groups, found that the use of force by private security companies was ‘inadequately managed’, resulting in ‘failures properly to account for the use of force’. It seems instructive that the report’s author, Dame Nula O’Loan, found it necessary to reiterate that:
‘On all occasions on which force is used, officers should be required to justify that use of force by reference to the necessity, proportionality and legality of the particular use of force.’
Eye witness reports of the moments leading up to Mr Mubenga’s death pain a disturbing picture of him being forcibly restrained by three men for over forty-five minutes while the plane prepared for take off. One witness recalled how ‘You could hear this guy screaming at the back of the place. He was muffled because they were holding him down… He just then [sic] went quiet.’
Another witness recalls Jimmy Mubenga protesting that he could not breathe, Kevin Wallis said:
‘He was shouting in English, saying “I can’t breathe, get off me”. And the guys were holding him very strongly: They were saying: “He’ll be quiet once we take off”.’1
In a statement made shortly afterwards, G4S obscured its responsibility for the death, saying only that a detainee had ‘become unwell whilst being escorted’ and had ‘sadly… passed away upon arrival at hospital.’2
On October 27 in emerged that the Home Office had lifted a temporary ban on the use of force in deportations imposed immediately after the death (ostensibly) while checks were conducted on safety of restraint techniques used G4S. The ban was however only ever applied to public scheduled flights, away from the public eye on chartered removals flights, the use of force continued.3
Indeed, almost as soon as forced removals on scheduled flights restarted, authorities indicated their intention to brook no dissent from the wider public. On 31 October two students travelling from Heathrow to Nairobi were arrested and held for several hours under counter-terrorism powers for challenging the way in which a deportee on their flight was being treated.4
Despite the warnings of both state and non-state actors about the potentially fatal application of restraint methods used by Home Office contractors, and despite official acceptance of recommendations made my Dame Nula O’Loan in March of this year in appears that little has changed.
Just days after the death of Mr Mubenga the UKBA announced that G4S had lost their contract to provide deportation escorts; they were however at pains to make it clear that the decision was unrelated to the company’s record of abuse or to the death of Mr Mubenga.
In the wake of Jimmy Mubenga’s death the Home Affair Select Committee that it intends to scrutinise the use of restraint in deportations.
On 16 October the Independent newspaper reported that former Chief Inspector of Prisons, Lord Ramsbottom, was calling for the establishment of an independent inspectorate to scrutinise the private companies involved in the detention and deportation of asylum and immigration detainees.5
We urge readers to contact their local MP in support of this initiative and a full and thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding Mr Mubenga’s death that includes in its remit looking at the corporate responsibility of both G4S and the UKBA.