Three guards from G4S, a British multinational security company, have been found not guilty of manslaughter in the death of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan man who died during his deportation from the UK.
Mubenga died of a heart attack after he was restrained for more than half an hour on a plane bound for Angola from Heathrow. Several passengers testified during a six-week trial at London's Old Bailey court that Mubenga cried out "I can't breathe!" as the guards pinned the handcuffed 46-year-old to his seat.
Other passengers said they heard Mubenga yell, "They're going to kill me!" during the October 12, 2010 incident. Approximately 30 to 45 minutes after the struggle, Mubenga reportedly became quiet and sat motionless in his seat as the plane taxied to the runway.
By the time the cabin crew of the British Airways flight raised the alarm, Mubenga had gone into cardiac arrest.
The guards, who no longer work for G4S, denied that they heard Mubenga saying he could not breathe, and told jurors they believed he was "feigning" illness as the flight prepared for takeoff.
The men denied acting dangerously or negligently during the incident. They said Mubenga had been leaning on the seat in front of him, and occasionally forced his own head toward his knees as he was restrained — a position known to carry a risk of death by asphyxia.
The jury found Terrence Hughes, 53, Colin Kaler, 52, and Stuart Tribelnig, 39, not guilty of manslaughter. Their lawyer, Alex Preston, issued a statement saying the men were "delighted to have been found not guilty so quickly."
"They bitterly regret the death of Mr. Mubenga but have always said they were trying to do a very difficult job in difficult circumstances to the best of their ability," Preston said. "They are grateful to the judge and jury for the care they have taken resolving these sad events."
Mubenga came to the UK in 1994 with his wife, Adrienne Makenda Kambana. He was granted exceptional leave to remain, and moved to Ilford, Essex, where his family still lives.
He was convicted of "actual bodily harm" after a fight at a nightclub in 2006, and served a two-year prison sentence before he was transferred to an immigration detention center. The family fought to stop his deportation, but he was ultimately placed on a plane bound for Angola.
"Our policy has always been that restraint during removals should only be used as a last resort," a UK Home Office spokesman said. "Our new bespoke training package for aircraft removals, approved in June this year, will better equip our staff with practical tools to minimize the need for restraint and ensure that only the most appropriate techniques are used."
Oliver Sprague, a program director at Amnesty International UK, said the verdict was "extremely disappointing" and leaves "many unanswered questions" about the conduct of private security guards during deportations from the UK.
"Amnesty and others have documented numerous cases of private security companies' wholly inappropriate conduct over the last few years, including the use of dangerous restraint techniques," Sprague told VICE News. "We simply don't know which of these are still being used today or if the UK government has actually delivered on its promise to introduce new and safer methods and training."
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