MPs condemn dangerous ‘restraint techniques’ – INQUEST calls for government action

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Grieving family hold banner on the United Families march last year
Grieving family hold banner on the United Families march last year

Legal charity INQUEST has welcomed Friday’s publication of a highly critical report from the Home Affairs Select Committee on the rules governing enforced removals in the UK of failed asylum seekers.

INQUEST’s Co-Director Deborah Coles said: ‘We welcome parliamentary recognition that restraint during enforced removals is dangerous, unauthorised and potentially lethal.

‘That this committee has condemned the appalling procedures and racist culture surrounding these removals, once again highlights the lack of accountability of UKBA (UK Border Agency) and their private contractors as has been previously documented by a number of NGOs.

‘The whistleblowers’ allegations of a culture within G4S that ignored health and safety and put lives in jeopardy through excessive and dangerous restraint is shocking but not surprising.

‘The risks of positional asphyxia have been well-known to both G4S and the Home Office since the April 2004 death of 15-year-old Gareth Myatt in the Secure Training Centre they ran at Rainsbrook.

‘Few changes appear to have been made after the death of Jimmy Mubenga. Surely this must now prompt the government into decisive action.’

She added: ‘That a culture of secrecy pervades the use of force on detainees is underlined by the refusals of UKBA and the Home Office to release the guidance on the use of force and restraint provided to escorting contractors.

‘In rejecting INQUEST’s freedom of information request for this material the government fails to recognise the overwhelming public interest in transparency, accountability and independent scrutiny of restraint techniques and the circumstances in which they are authorised for use.’

The MPs’ report cited the death of Jimmy Mubenga, who was a healthy 46-year-old Angolan man who died on 12 October 2010 whilst being restrained by three G4S security guards on a flight from Heathrow airport to Angola.

Jimmy had lived in the UK for 16 years.

He leaves behind a widow and five children born in the UK aged between one and 17 years. INQUEST has been working closely with the family and their lawyer, Mark Scott of Bhatt Murphy solicitors.

Jimmy Mubenga’s wife, Adrienne Makenda Kambana, said: ‘I am still waiting for justice.

‘Nothing can bring my husband back now but the system must change to stop this happening to anyone else.

‘I hope the government will listen to what the Committee has said and help others.’

In December 2010, INQUEST made a Freedom of Information Act requested for an unredacted copy of the current guidance covering the use of force and restraint provided to UKBA escorting contractors.

UKBA and the Home Office refused to disclose the unredacted restraint guidance to INQUEST citing security concerns for non-disclosure.

In September 2011, INQUEST lodged a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office. A decision is awaited.

INQUEST has considerable expertise working around restraint-related deaths in all forms of detention, including supporting the family of Gareth Myatt, a 15-year-old mixed race boy who died in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre.

Attention focused on the use of restraint by privately contracted G4S who ran the centre. Gareth was the first child to have died in a STC and the first to die following the use of force.

Custody staff used a method of restraint called the ‘seated double embrace.’  This involved two guards holding down his upper body whilst another guard held Gareth’s head pushing it down towards his knees.

He died from asphyxia as a direct result of the restraint used against him.

Gareth Myatt’s death highlighted the dangers of restraint in the seated position. It also raised concerns over inter-agency communication and cross-sector learning from the fatal use of certain restraint techniques.

The Health committee’s conclusions and recommendations include that ‘whenever the state uses force to coerce a person, there need to be checks on that force…

‘Where the state has contracted out responsibility for coercion, it retains ultimate responsibility for ensuring that all the checks are in place and working well…

‘This is one of a number of areas of activity where there appears to be a reluctance by officials to accept constructive criticism, and as the UK Border Agency is not an independent body, but is in fact an integral part of the Home Office, this is a matter that we call on the Home Secretary to require the Permanent Secretary to address as part of the central management responsibilities of the Department.’ (Paragraph 11).

Also: ‘We are not persuaded that head-down restraint positions are never used, even though they are not authorised.

‘We recommend that the Home Office issue urgent guidance to all staff involved in enforced removals about the danger of seated restraint techniques in which the subject is bent forwards.

‘We also recommend that the Home Office commission research into control and restraint techniques which are suitable for use on an aircraft.

‘The use by contractors of unauthorised restraint techniques, sanctioning their use, or failing to challenge their use, should be grounds for dismissal.’ (Paragraph 18).

The MPs warn: ‘The use of excessive numbers of escorts, to the extent that HM Chief Inspector of Prisons believes that escort numbers are in some cases detrimental to the removals process, is hard to justify against a background of reduced staffing levels across the public sector.

‘It is a symptom of a weakness in the contracting process that the contractor is able to supply more staff than are required to do the job, with costs passed on to the Home Office.

‘When the contract for enforced removals is next revised, it should specify precise ratios of escorts to detainees and the contractor should be able to depart from these only for clearly-defined, operational reasons. (Paragraph 21).

‘…We agree with HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, that the use of reserves on enforced removal flights should be discontinued. (Paragraph 23).

‘It seems to us that the form concentrates mainly on any risk to those escorting the detainee rather than to the detainee him/herself…

‘It is a matter for serious concern that contractors should use racist language among themselves.

‘That they were content to do so in front of not only UK Border Agency staff but also inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons is shocking.

‘It is possibly the result of a relationship between the Agency and its contractors which had become too cosy…

‘The contract should be amended to include a provision which requires the contractor to pay a financial penalty to the Home Office where there is a proven incident of the use of racist language by its staff. (Paragraph 32).