Jimmy Mubenga: a day in the life of an inquest
May 23, 2013 — Comment
Written by Harmit Athwal
IRR News provides a snapshot report from the second day of the inquest in to the death of Jimmy Mubenga which is due to last eight weeks.
The day of the inquest started with legal issues and the choosing of the jury. This took some time as potential jurors were read a long list of names (witnesses and those involved) and they were asked about any connections to G4S, Tascor, the Home Office, the UK Border Agency, Prison Service, the National Tactical Response Unit, the London Ambulance Service, British Airways, or any of the legal firms involved in the inquest. They were also asked whether they had worked in a detention centre or prison and whether they ever had to use restraint on anyone. One of the most surprising questions put to potential jurors was whether s/he was a member of Liberty, INQUEST, Medical Justice, the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns or Stop G4S.
The jury were then told about what was expected of them and basic details about Jimmy and what happened to him on 12 October 2010. The coroner explained ‘it appears that whilst on the plane, but before it had taken off, an incident occurred involving Mr Mubenga and three detainee custody officers employed by G4S … Those officers were Mr Stuart Tribelnig, Mr Hughes and Mr Kaler. The incident that I’ve just referred to resulted in the restraint of Mr Mubenga by those three detainee custody officers.’ She went on to say: ‘Mr Mubenga was allowed to use the toilet and make a mobile phone call whilst the other passengers were boarding. The toilet door was left ajar for that purpose. When he left the toilet, something happened … it appears, from what we know so far, that a struggle ensued between Mr Mubenga and the three DCOs. Mr Mubenga was then restrained, handcuffed and placed in a seat …. We do know that the restraint continued for a time. We don’t know yet how long, but it continued for a time. It appears that Mr Mubenga was heard to shout things … At some point it appears that he fell silent and unresponsive and it became clear that something was wrong. By this time, the plane had left the stand and was taxiing towards the runway but hadn’t yet taken off. The three guards alerted the cabin crew to the fact that something was wrong and arrangements were made to get the plane back to the stand.’
Legal counsel were asked to introduce themselves. And there were at least fifteen lawyers (solicitors, barristers and QCs), spread over two rows, representing six interested parties: Jimmy Mubenga’s family; the three G4S guards who were involved in the restraint (Stuart Tribelnig, Stuart Hughes and Colin Kaler); the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice; G4S; London Ambulance Service and British Airways
Adrienne Makenda Kambana, Jimmy’s grieving widow, was then asked to enter the witness box and her prepared statement about Jimmy was read to the court by Henry Blaxland, QC, her barrister. (Read the statement here.) A picture of Jimmy was then passed to the coroner and jury. Adrienne then added a few comments, which brought jury members to tears. A statement Adrienne had given to police two months after his death in December 2010 was read. It detailed what had happened on the day he died: Adrienne was ‘constantly on the phone’ with Jimmy and they were both upset and at one point she recalled Jimmy saying whilst he was in the van going to the airport, ‘Why are they trying to finish my life?.’
The first witness was Detective Sergeant Stephen Baldwin (Specialist Crime and Operations Unit) who told the court how the police handled the investigation and the procedures followed in gathering evidence. He said the 146 passengers from the plane had been put up in a hotel and the following day had been asked to return for their flight an hour early so that police could speak to them. The procedures the police had used to obtain witness statements were outlined to the court. It was obviously difficult, as many of those who saw what happened did not live in the UK. The police devised a process of questionnaires followed up by emails and phone calls to take statements.
The police officer discussed the rigid bar handcuffs which had been used, at which point the handcuffs (wrapped in a plastic evidence bag) were produced. The Mubenga family’s QC wanted these shown to the jury, which caused the barrister for G4S to say that ‘G4S don’t do this sort of escorting any more so it wouldn’t be us but it might be TASCOR’. Suddenly a TASCOR employee, who was sat in a separate area of the court, produced a pair of handcuffs. (TASCOR is the current holder of the contract to remove people from the UK and not implicated in the inquest, so the company’s presence was surprising.)
The police officer went on: ‘Basically what happens is that with the rigid bar you get more compliance from the prisoner so basically providing the prisoner or the detainee is compliant, then they will sit comfortably on your wrists. As soon as the detainee or the person in custody becomes difficult, there is a much more control factor over these by using the rigid bar to press against various nerve endings in your wrist. It makes the detainee a lot easier to control.’
After lunch, the court was shown CCTV of Jimmy Mubenga in Brook House (near Gatwick). He had been picked up by the three guards and taken to Heathrow. According to the police officer the CCTV showed that the journey was ‘very cordial’.
Questioning by Henry Blaxland, QC, revealed that following Jimmy’s death the three guards were taken to Heathrow police station where the officers ‘were in a room together’ with two other G4S employees, Stephen Copper and Jan Beattie (the on-call contracts manager). They were released in the early hours of the morning without being interviewed. Though they returned six days later on 18 October and were interviewed under caution when they refused to answer questions. Instead they provided G4S Use of Force Forms, which had been completed under the supervision of G4S. They returned on 3 March, five months later, and were again interviewed, this time answering questions. And then they were back six days later, on that occasion refusing to answer questions.
The G4S guards’ barrister who followed, was particularly concerned how evidence had been collected and possible ‘contamination’ of witnesses, particularly following the extensive Guardian coverage.
The final witness was Christopher Bundle, a security manager at Brook House, (which is also run by G4S) who brought with him documentation which detailed Jimmy’s detention at Brook House. Documentation showed that a Raised Awareness Support Plan had been opened on the day Jimmy died describing him as ‘tearful’.
Finally a statement was read from Duncan Watts a detention custody officer at Brook House who on checking on Jimmy had found that ‘He was not in good spirits due to his circumstances.’ Later that afternoon he found Jimmy ‘sat on his bed and he was crying. He had his head in his hands’.
The inquest, which is open to the public, is taking place in Isleworth Crown Court and is expected to last for another eight weeks.
Read Adrienne Makenda Kambana’s statement about Jimmy here
Read an IRR News story: ‘Two years on and no justice for Jimmy Mubenga‘
Read an IRR News story: ‘Jimmy Mubenga’s family devastated’
Download the INQUEST briefing on Jimmy Mubenga here (pdf file, 324kb)
 Jimmy Mubenga was a 46-year-old Angolan father of five who died after being restrained on board a plane at Heathrow by three G4S guards on 12 October 2010 during a deportation. His was the first death during a deportation since that of Joy Gardner in 1993.
The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.