Why the Jimmy Mubenga trial matters. By ex-Chief Inspector of Prisons Lord Ramsbotham

Open Democracy – DAVID RAMSBOTHAM 21 March 2014

On Thursday the Crown Prosecution Service announced that three former G4S guards, Stuart Tribelnig, Terry Hughes and Colin Kaler, would stand trial for the manslaughter of Jimmy Mubenga on a BA plane in October 2010. Long before Mubenga’s death, Lord Ramsbotham was among those who warned repeatedly that Home Office contractors used dangerous methods of restraint.

When, in 2012, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that it had decided not to bring any charges against the three G4S detainee custody officers, under whose restraint Jimmy Mubenga, who was being returned to Angola, died in an airliner at Heathrow, I described the decision as ‘perverse’.

I did so because, at the time, I was chairing a National Independent Inquiry into Enforced Removals, during which we had been told that the restraint techniques used on Jimmy Mubenga, had also been used by G4S staff in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre, resulting in the death of 15 year old Gareth Myatt in 2004. 

Gareth Myatt died aged 15 under restraint by G4S guards in 2004The Coroner at Gareth Myatt’s inquest had both condemned the techniques, and instructed the Home Office to issue a warning about their use.

In the report of our inquiry, which I gave to the Home Secretary in December 2012, I explained that we, and the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, had also been told that the Home Office continued to require plainly inappropriate, pain-compliant, Prison Service restraint techniques to be used by detainee custody officers, not having bothered to find out that these had been rejected both by NHS special mental hospitals and such as the Liverpool police on Mersey ferries.

Warnings dismissed: Outsourcing Abuse (Medical Justice, 2008) Foreword by RamsbothamFurthermore, in 2008, on behalf ofMedical Justice and other organisations, I had given the then Home Secretary a dossier of 78 cases of injuries inflicted during enforced removals, long before Jimmy Mubenga was unlawfully killed. Therefore I hope that, now that the CPS has changed its mind, and the three G4S employees are to be charged with manslaughter, the Home Secretary will do the same, and, at last, take firm action to ensure that Home Office enforced removal processes and procedures are made not just fit for purpose, but no longer something of which a so-called civilised nation should feel ashamed.

The CPS change of direction came the day after Channel 4 news had disclosed another appalling case involving the death of someone during Home Office immigration procedures. Alois Dvorzak, an 84 year old Canadian citizen, in transit from Canada to Slovenia, having landed at Gatwick, was removed from his flight to Slovenia by officials and taken to Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre.

Alois Dvorzak died aged 84, handcuffed by GEO Group guards, Harmondsworth 2013As he was both elderly and frail, and neither claiming nor seeking UK nationality, the doctor at Harmondsworth tried to alert both the Home Office and the Canadian High Commission to his plight, saying that he ought to be released, so that he could continue his journey to his family. However, for reasons that Ministers have yet to explain, Mr Dvorzak was in handcuffs when he died, in the Harmondsworth Health Care Centre, three weeks later.

Lord Reid, when Home Secretary, famously said that the then Immigration and Nationality Directorate was not fit for purpose. What these two cases prove is that neither was its successor, the UK Border Agency, and nor, yet, is there any proof that the new arrangements, announced by the Home Secretary last year, are any better.  The overall situation is not helped by 500,000 uncompleted cases, which are swamping the under-staffed immigration bureaucracy.

This backlog has not just arisen, but has built up over a number of years, and represents a millstone around the Home Secretary’s neck, which will impede any progress for years to come.  But what all this makes abundantly clear, as many people and organisations involved with the immigration and asylum process have been trying to get across to successive Home Secretaries for years, is that, if there is not to be more avoidable damage, such as the tragic deaths of Messrs Mubenga and Dvorzak while in the care of Home Office contracted staff, urgent remedial action must start now.