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Jimmy Mubenga: What happened on BA flight 77

Jimmy Mubenga died in the care of G4S security guards whilst on a British Airways flight because he was being forcibly deported from London to Angola. G4S are set to take over parts of policing which are to be privatised as well as hiring out private police custody suites. They were also privately contracted by the UK government to provide security for London 2012 Olympics. 

Based on interviews with four witnesses on the plane, a fifth (Jimmy Mubenga’s wife) who spoke to Jimmy by phone and a brief police statement, the Guardian had pieced together an approximate sequence of events. See here for audios of statements, full reports a sequence of events which led to Jimmy’s death.

The decision that no G4S guard will be charged for the death of Jimmy Mubenga  has prompted this latest article from Paul Lewis and Matthew Taylor for the Guardian.


Jimmy Mubenga decision prompts fresh questions over investigations

Case once again raises concerns over quality of investigations into deaths following use of force by state agents

The most powerful security firm in the world gave the impression thatJimmy Mubenga had simply taken ill once the British Airways flight had taken off from Heathrow. G4S made no mention that three of its guards had forcibly restrained the detainee in his seat as, according to witnesses, he complained he could not breathe, crying for help and shouting: “They’re going to kill me.”

“We can confirm that a detainee became unwell whilst being escorted on a flight on 12 October 2010,” G4S said the following day, adding he had been taken to hospital, where he had died. The Home Office issued a similar statement.

In fact, BA flight 77 had not left the runway before Mubenga, a 46-year-old father of five, collapsed after being forcibly restrained in his seat. The investigation was being left to detectives based at the airport, who quickly interviewed passengers as they boarded the postponed flight for a second time.

Days later, following an investigation by the Guardian, which tracked down passengers on the aircraft who expressed concern about the way Mubenga had been restrained, the Metropolitan police’s homicide unit took over the inquiry and arrested three guards on suspicion of manslaughter.

Following the arrests, ministers implemented the first ever temporary moratorium on the use of force to deport foreign nationals. Within six months, Mubenga’s case prompted four G4S whistleblowers to give written evidence to parliament about the potentially lethal techniques used by guards at G4S, warning guards had been playing “Russian roulette with detainees’ lives”.

On Tuesday, 21 months after Mubenga’s widow and five children first heard about the circumstances of his death, the Crown Prosecution Service service announced it would not be bringing any charges against the three guards responsible for his restraint.

Mark Scott, the family’s solicitor, said the family were “devastated” that the “circumstances of Mr Mubenga’s death and the people restraining him will not be called to explain their actions in criminal proceedings”.

“The evidence is that Mr Mubenga died after crying for help whilst under restraint. This is not capable of being determined behind closed doors without a full examination of the witnesses and the medical evidence.”

The monitoring group Inquest, which has documented 950 deaths in custody in the last 22 years, but not a single manslaughter conviction, immediately described the decision as “shameful”.

“It once again raises concerns about the quality of the investigations into deaths following the use of force by state agents and the decision-making process of the CPS,” said the group’s co-director, Deborah Coles. “The impetus now must be for a far-reaching, effective and prompt inquest, with the full involvement of his family.”

The CPS gave a detailed account of its decision-making, saying it could not rule out that the death had been caused by “a combination of factors such as adrenalin, muscle exhaustion or isometric exercise”.

It said Mubenga had died from “cardiorespiratory collapse after being restrained by security guards”. However, in order to bring a prosecution Gaon Hart, senior crown advocate in the CPS special crime division, said it would need to prove Mubenga was held in a “severely splinted position” – bent over with his head either on or below his knees and his diaphragm restricted – for a sufficient period of time to show that the actions of the security guards were more than “a minimal cause” of his death.

Hart added that there were “conflicting witness accounts” about the manner of the Angolan’s restraint, although counsel found there had been a “breach of duty” in the way Mubenga was held.

Passengers tracked down by the Guardian at the time of his death said Mubenga had been in severe distress as the plane waited to take off. Ben, a 29-year-old engineer, said: “You could hear the guy [Mubenga] screaming at the back of the plane,” said Ben. “He was saying: ‘They are going to kill me’.”

Another man Michael, 51, a US citizen, said: “The first thing I saw was the stewardesses running forward. One of them was almost in spasms she was shaking that bad … I saw three men trying to pull [Mubenga] down below the seats. All I could see was his head sticking up above the seats and he was hollering out: ‘Help me’.”

He added: “For the rest of my life I’m always going to have that at the back of my mind – could I have done something? That is going to bother me every time I go to sleep. I didn’t get involved because I was scared I would get kicked off the flight and lose my job. But that man paid a higher price than I would have.”

Another passenger, Kevin Wallis, a 58-year-old engineer, said that as Mubenga resisted, he heard one guard say: “He’ll be alright once we get him in the air.”

Andrew, a 44-year-old from eastern Europe, recalled seeing two men pushing down on Mubenga, who was consistently calling for help. Andrew heard cries of: “Don’t do this,” and: “They are trying to kill me.” He added: “In the beginning his voice was strong and loud, but with the time passing by the voice was losing its strength.”

Tuesday’s CPS statement said were “conflicting witness accounts of the manner in which Mr Mubenga was restrained. No witness had an unrestricted or uninterrupted view of what happened, and there is no overall clear picture of what happened in that key window of time to be able to convince a court that Mr Mubenga was held in the ‘severely splinted’ position for a sufficient period of time.”

In February 2011 four G4S whistleblowers submitted evidence to the home affairs select committee stating the company had been warned repeatedly by its own staff that potentially lethal force was being used during removals.

They said that G4S managers were repeatedly told that refused asylum seekers who became disruptive on flights were being “forced into submission” with their heads placed between their legs.

The technique, which is strictly prohibited because it could result in a form of suffocation known as positional asphyxia, was nicknamed “carpet karaoke” by G4S guards.

G4S said recently that although it had requested the details of the allegations it had not received any specific information. “We would obviously be keen to investigate these allegations but have not been able to conduct a review or take any action without seeing the evidence,” said a spokesman.

On Tuesday the CPS said that while there were shortcomings in the training G4S had provided its guards, there was insufficient evidence to bring a charge of corporate manslaughter against the company that has come under severe criticism in recent days for its bungled handling of Olympic security.

Hart said he was planning to write to the UK Border Agency, the National Offender Management Service and G4S to highlight the concerns about training raised by the experts in the case.

G4S said in a statement on Tuesday that the care and welfare of those in its custody had “always been its top priority”.

“A death in custody is both tragic and unacceptable. It will be for the UK Border Agency, working with the current contractor to assess whether a review of the existing guidelines on control and restraint may be appropriate.”

In May 2011 a new security company – Reliance – took over the Home Office removals contract from G4S. The three guards arrested in relation to Mubenga’s death remained suspended but, along with other staff, were transferred to the new firm.

A month later it emerged that one of those under investigation used his Facebook page to post a apparently mocking photograph of two Asian men, assumed to be detainees, on an aircraft. Under the image a number of his Facebook friends - including other guards accredited by the Home Office to escort detainees - posted a string of racist and offensive comments. Two serving guards were suspended as a result.

Mubenga spoke to his wife of more than 15 years for the last time as he sat between two private security guards at the back of BA flight 77 at Heathrow at around 7pm on October 12. He told her he was sad, adding: “I don’t know what I am going to do, I don’t know what I am going to do,” before hanging up.

After waiting for a decision from the CPS for almost two years, Makenda Adrienne Kambana, said: “We are distraught my husband has been taken away from me and my children have lost their father. He was crying for help before he was killed. We can’t understand why the officers and G4S are not answerable to the law as we or any other member of the public would be.”

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