Liberty brings judicial review of dangerous and excessive restraint policy

12 February 2013

Today Liberty will bring a judicial review of the restraint policy which applies to those being removed from the UK by aircraft.

In October 2010 Jimmy Mubenga died during the course of restraint while being removed by aircraft – it was reported by witnesses that as he was dying, he was screaming that he could not breathe. Following his death, Liberty requested from the Home Office a copy of the policy governing the use of force on removal. The document received was significantly redacted and it was impossible to see if the techniques were safe or suitable. What was clear was that the policy was designed for and rooted in the prison service. It was not designed for immigration detainees who are not criminals serving a prison sentence, and who may be distressed or panicking over a long period of time. Neither is it designed for the very special environment of an aircraft where space is very closely confined.  

Whistleblower evidence from former staff at G4S and leaked documents from Reliance – as well as a number of reports from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons – suggests the existence of loutish, aggressive or racist behaviour by some staff carrying out the removals and that insufficient attention is paid to training and supervision of staff.

Emma Norton, solicitor for Liberty, said:

“Removing people from the country is difficult and distressing work but this is exactly why it must be handled in the safest and most humane way possible – the current techniques are dangerously inadequate.

“Shockingly, UKBA has never required private contractors to properly train their employees for this work. The Home Office has known for a long time how flawed the restraint policy is – and their inaction has put the lives of vulnerable detainees at risk. Horrific cases like Jimmy Mubenga’s must never be allowed to happen again.”

The UKBA’s official position is that the current policy is workable. However there is evidence that as long ago as 2008, UKBA was advised to set up proper scenario-based training that would allow staff to practice restraint techniques in an aircraft-type scenario – but these recommendations were ignored.

Liberty has received many reports of people who claim to have been subjected to excessive force during removal and have sustained injuries as a result – including a mother who was badly assaulted and restrained in front of her three young children; and a young man who still suffers ill-health as a result of an assault last year.

Contact: Liberty Press Office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831128


1. The challenge will be heard in the High Court on 12 and 13th February 2013.

2. The Inquest touching the death of Mr Mubenga is due to take place in May 2013.

3. Two of Liberty’s clients, Faith Irabor and Guy Ngassa, allege mistreatment during restraint. In Ms Irabor’s case, she alleged that she was placed on board the aircraft with her very young children, to be returned to Italy. She had been given incorrect information about the destination of the flight and panicked when the pilot announced that the plane was travelling to the wrong city. Instead of assisting or reassuring Ms Irabor, the security officers immediately restrained her. One officer pulled her hair extremely hard to one side while restraining her, causing her to feel as if her hair was being ripped from its roots. This aspect of the complaint, unusually, was upheld by the UKBA. However the rest of her complaint was not upheld and Liberty has now appealed it to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO). Mr Ngassa’s genitals and lower abdomen were crushed by a security officer kneeling hard on him, after he panicked when his passport was not returned to him as the flight prepared to depart. For many weeks afterwards he complained of blood in his urine (endorsed by strong medical evidence). His complaint was not upheld by UKBA, despite the medical evidence. That complaint too has been appealed by Liberty to the PPO. Only last week the case of Marius Betondi was widely reported. Mr Betondi alleges a serious assault by private security staff and has displayed what appear to be serious facial injuries. UKBA has suggested that the injuries were self-inflicted.

4. Liberty instructed consultant forensic pathologist Professor Richard Shepherd, who is highly experienced in restraint-related deaths, to review the use of force policy. He advised that the lack of training for staff involved in aviation deportation was extremely concerning and significantly increased the risks to any individual being removed. He made a number of recommendations as to the type of training that should be available, its frequency and the need to develop specific methods suitable for that special environment.

5. The key document in the use of force policy is the “use of force manual” created by HM Prison Service and dated July 2006. It is available online on the Ministry of Justice website at