These are the actions of the private security guards entrusted by the Home Office to ensure the safe removal of Mr Mubenga from the UK. What utter contempt for human dignity and life. Today the jury sitting on the inquest into his death found that he had been unlawfully killed. The CPS must now urgently reconsider whether criminal charges should be brought.
The Home Office is also culpable. The department has long used a restraint policy designed for inmates in prisons against people being removed by aircraft. The Home Office has known for years that the policy is unsafe. It’s a procedure tailored to the prison environment and to well-trained staff, with access to healthcare, operating in conditions with adequate space. It was never designed with the confines of aircraft in mind – surroundings where space is short, where someone may be panicking for long periods, where oxygen levels may be low and where the person being removed is seated; a position with a particularly high risk of asphyxia.
At Liberty we tried hard to look at the restraint policy, but our request was refused. Home Office officials argued that if the techniques were made public, detainees might learn them and be able to counter them. So we’ve been unable to show the policy to our restraint expert to see how safe it is. Don’t worry, says the Home Office – our own experts have taken a look: they assure us that, while the techniques aren’t designed for aircraft, “their use (is) not fundamentally dangerous and could be safe so long as staff had adequate awareness of potential issues such as positional asphyxia”.
But staff do not have adequate awareness. The CPS described the training provided to the guards in Mr Mubenga's case as unclear in terms of the “nature of… implications of... (and) danger signs of positional asphyxia”. The CPS also commented that both the training and the policy were lacking in several serious ways. And since 2008 the Home Office has been urged – by its own experts – to introduce “scenario-based” training for guards carrying out removals by aircraft. What was done with that advice? To quote the Home Office’s lawyer, it was “put in a box marked ‘too difficult’” and lost.
All this is quite apart from the culpability of those individual guards now found to have unlawfully killed Mr Mubenga. It is clear that neither UKBA nor the private security companies have taken steps to ensure that racists are not employed to perform this terribly sensitive and difficult job.
Since we launched our Judicial Review of the policy on restraint in aircraft, the Home Office has agreed to a review which is now underway. This should have been done years ago. And the Home Office should have ensured that the private companies to whom it outsources this work employ the right people. It’s far too late for Mr Mubenga, who paid the ultimate price for the department’s fatal indifference. Hopefully the CPS will now do all they can to ensure there’s finally some proper accountability and justice.