Scotland Yard’s homicide unit took over the investigation into the death of an Angolan man during a deportation from Heathrow as MPs called for a “wide-ranging and independent inquiry” into the UK’s deportation system.
Jimmy Mubenga collapsed and died after security guards attempted to escort him on a British Airways commercial flight to Angola on Tuesday night.
Four passengers on the aircraft have told the Guardian that they saw Mubenga, a 46-year-old father of five, being heavily restrained by the guards, who worked for G4S, a private security firm contracted to escort deportees for the Home Office.
Police and paramedics were called when Mubenga lost consciousness, and the aircraft, which had been due to take off, returned to the terminal.
Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons home affairs select committee, said he would be writing to the home secretary, Theresa May, and G4S about possible questions surrounding the death. Ed Balls, the shadow home secretary, is also expected to raise concerns over Mubenga’s death in parliament next week.
Vaz said: “The use of excessive force in deportations is dangerous and unacceptable. If, as eyewitness reports suggest, Mr Mubenga was complaining of breathing difficulties, questions must be asked as to why help was not called for sooner.
“I will be writing to both the home secretary and G4S on this matter whilst awaiting the outcome of police investigations. When removing people from the UK, human rights must be fully respected at all times.”
May turned down a request from Balls to be briefed about the case on confidential privy council terms, his spokesman confirmed. The Metropolitan police said the inquiry into the case had been taken over by detectives specialising in homicide because it was an unexplained death. Previously, officers from Heathrow CID were in charge of the case. A Met spokesman said: “Officers from the homicide and serious crime command are investigating the death.”
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The Guardian has put allegations about Mubenga’s death to the Home Office, British Airways and G4S, including the central accusation from witnesses that excessive force was used to restrain him prior to his collapse, but all declined to comment. G4S said: “We are unable to offer additional comment at this time as the matter is the subject of a police investigation.”
The growing political pressure came as the eldest of Mubenga’s five children said the family were upset and angry about the circumstances surrounding his father’s death. “I want the truth to come out,” said Roland, 16. “That’s what I want so I know how my father passed away.”
Speaking with his mother, Makenda Kambana at his side from the family home in Ilford, east London, Roland said: “He was always there for us … he gave us so much love. It’s not 100% evidence [how he died], it’s just what the witnesses were saying but, if it’s true, I just don’t know what’s going on with the system.”
Yesterday two more witnesses contacted the Guardian to describe how Mubenga was forcibly restrained before he collapsed and died beneath three security guards.
One American man who was a passenger on the flight said: “I didn’t get involved because I was scared I would get kicked off the flight and lose my job. But that man paid a higher price than I would have.”
The man, who gave his name as Michael, raised questions over how quickly Mubenga was given medical assistance and said he heard him complain that he was unable to breathe.
“I’m pretty sure it will turn out to be asphyxiation,” he said. “The last thing we heard the man say was he couldn’t breathe. We had three security guards and each one of them looked like they weighed 100kg plus, bearing down and holding him down.”
Another passenger, Andrew, 44, from eastern Europe, said he noticed “two big guys pushing something with the weight of their bodies against the seats in the last row”.
He said the man they were restraining had been shouting but was “not aggressive in any way.
“In the beginning his voice was strong and loud but with the time passing by, the voice was losing its strength. I heard the man had difficulties to breathe.”
He added: “I would like to make his wife know how very, very deeply sorry I am about this situation and about the fact I have not helped her husband.”
On Tuesday night police confirmed that they were investigating the death of Mubenga. Last night they said that the initial autopsy had proved inconclusive.
The Guardian understands that the forensic pathologist who undertook as “suspicious death” postmortem, Dr Ashley Fegan-Earl, is awaiting results of tests on the body. But yesterday lawyers acting on behalf of Mubenga’s family confirmed that they had applied for a second postmortem, which is expected to be carried out in the next two weeks.
Mark Scott, one of the lawyers, said: “The family want to make sure that the truth as to precisely what happened comes out.”
Julian Huppert, a Liberal Democrat member of the home affairs select committee, said last night he was very concerned about the case and called for a “wide-ranging independent inquiry” into the way people in the UK are deported.
He added: “If, as a nation, we are treating people like this it is absolutely outrageous.”
The Labour MP John McDonnell said he was appalled by the “brutality of the system”.
He added: “There has to be a full independent review of this system and at least one of the recommendations should be having independent observers on each flight so we have a chance of getting some sort of verification of what happens.”
Around 80 detainees at Brook House removal centre, where Mubenga was held before being taken to Heathrow on Tuesday, were locked out of their cells by staff after a “peaceful protest” to remember him.
The detainees were locked outside for up to two hours, said Mohammad Malik, a detainee at the centre. Malik, 30, a Pakistani national said the rally had taken place outside the A wing of the privately run centre at 8pm. Staff let “about 40-50″ people back inside after the vigil, but around 80 were “locked out for up to two hours”.
“We banged on the door and tried to talk to the security officer,” Malik said. “We told him to leave it open, but he wouldn’t and we were locked out in the cold. Nobody gave any explanation.”
Malik added: “There were a couple of guys who were already on medication and felt ill because it was cold outside.”
A UK Border Agency spokesperson said: “There was a peaceful protest this evening involving around 60 detainees who refused to return to their rooms. “Staff spoke to the detainees and the protest is now over.”
Jimmy Mubenga’s son: ‘I want the truth to come out’