Guards cleared of killing deportee

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Published: Tuesday 16th December 2014 by The News Editor

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Three G4S guards have been cleared of killing an Angolan deportee by restraining him on a plane using a banned technique known as “carpet karaoke”.

Terrence Hughes, 53, Colin Kaler, 52 and Stuart Tribelnig, 39, were accused of forcing Jimmy Mubenga’s head down, restricting his breathing for 36 minutes as the British Airways flight prepared to take off at Heathrow.

By the time the cabin crew raised the alarm on October 12, 2010, Mr Mubenga had collapsed and gone into cardiac arrest. He died later in hospital.

Shocked passengers said they heard Mr Mubenga cry out “I can’t breathe” as he was pinned down in his seat – despite already being handcuffed from behind with his seatbelt on.

But the guards denied restraining the 46-year-old, and insisted they never heard him shout that he was struggling to breathe.

The jury, which retired yesterday, found the three men not guilty of Mr Mubenga’s manslaughter following a six-week trial at the Old Bailey.

Mr Mubenga’s widow Adrienne Makenda Kambana sat in Court 16 throughout most of the evidence although at times appeared to be overcome with emotion.

Mr Mubenga’s widow did not react as the jury returned the verdicts and left the courtroom soon afterwards.

All three defendants were tearful as they left the dock.

In an unprecedented move, a section of the Boeing 777 with three rows of three seats was specially constructed inside the courtroom to demonstrate how Mr Mubenga died.

Jurors were even invited to wear the rigid double lock handcuffs the guards used to experience for themselves how he would have felt.

Outlining the case, prosecutor Mark Dennis QC said that before boarding the plane, Mr Mubenga had been “fit and healthy” and co-operative but had become upset after talking on his mobile in the toilet cubicle.

The guards were alleged to have responded by handcuffing him behind his back, forcing him into a seat and pinning him down leaning forwards in a position which affected his ability to breathe.

Mr Dennis said: “Each officer would have known from their training and from common sense that keeping someone in such a position was likely to cause a person harm yet they did so over a prolonged period and did so ignoring shouts from Mr Mubenga that he was in trouble.

“‘I can’t breathe’ shouts were heard by many a passenger seated further away.”

By the time it dawned on them he was in a “critical state” it was too late and Mr Mubenga, who had lived in the UK for years, had gone into cardiac arrest, he said.

Some of the 159 travellers on board the Boeing 777 recalled hearing Mr Mubenga shouting repeatedly “I can’t breathe”.

Nicholas Herbig, from New Mexico, in the United States, told jurors that despite the commotion he was “trying to mind my own business”.

He said: “I could hear somebody being loud, like he did not want to be there.

“The one guy was very loud.

“He was saying ‘All you people are watching them kill me. I can’t breathe. They are going to kill me’.”

But Hughes, from Portsmouth, Kaler, of Kempton, Beds, and Tribelnig, from Horley, Surrey, denied wrong doing.

Before Hughes joined G4S, staff at his previous security firm had used a technique called “carpet karaoke”. But the restraint of pushing a seated person’s head forward, compressing the diaphragm, to stop them spitting was later deemed “malpractice”.

Hughes told jurors he had seen it work on two occasions but he denied he had ever used it himself or picked it up on the job from his “elders”.

Mr Dennis asked if he had resolved to hold Mr Mubenga’s head down to “stop him making a noise” until they got into the air.

Hughes replied: “No sir. I did not agree with it when I saw it and I don’t agree with it now.”

Mr Dennis said: “We suggest that you and your colleagues were forcing Mr Mubenga forwards, holding him down, controlling him and maintaining that hold for as long as you could and as long as he resisted, you held him down.”

Hughes replied: “He was never forced down with his head forced beneath his knees.”

Tribelnig said he did not hear Mr Mubenga “say anything about air” either and insisted he did not force the deportee’s head down.

The case drew to a close against the backdrop of protests in New York over the chokehold death of Eric Garner, the grand jury decision clearing the police officer concerned, and accusations of police racial bias.

The 43-year-old’s last words “I can’t breathe” echoed those of Mr Mubenga but the jury in the trial of the three G4S guards were told not to carry out any internet research.

An inquest jury last year concluded that Mr Mubenga was unlawfully killed, prompting the Crown Prosecution Service to reconsider bringing charges against the three men – but not against their employer.

The jury in the criminal case was not told of the inquest verdict for legal reasons or that two of the defendants – Hughes and Tribelnig – had racist “jokes” on their phones.

Published: Tuesday 16th December 2014 by The News Editor

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