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Published: Tuesday 4th November 2014 by The News Editor
Three G4S guards killed an Angolan deportee as they restrained him on a flight from the UK, a court heard.
Jimmy Mubenga, 46, was heard by passengers to cry out repeatedly “I can’t breathe” as he was pinned down in his seat by the guards – despite already being handcuffed with his seatbelt on.
They ignored his desperate pleas and “disregarded their duty of care”, by assuming that the married father was “feigning” illness as the flight prepared to take off from Heathrow airport, jurors were told.
By the time the cabin crew of the British Airways flight raised the alarm on October 12 2010 it was too late, and Mr Mubenga had collapsed and gone into cardiac arrest. The whole incident took 35 minutes, the court heard.
Terrence Hughes, 53, Colin Kaler, 52 and Stuart Tribelnig, 39, are on trial charged with the manslaughter of Mr Mubenga.
In an unprecedented move, a section of the Boeing 777 with three rows of three seats has been specially constructed inside Court 16 of the Old Bailey to demonstrate to the jury how Mr Mubenga died.
Opening the case, prosecutor Mark Dennis QC told the court that Mr Mubenga had been accompanied by the three Group 4 Securicor (G4S) guards as he was put on a plane at Heathrow airport to be deported to Angola.
At 8.20pm, the flight crew on the British Airways plane contacted the control tower saying they had a “medical emergency” as they were taxiing towards the runway.
Their message said: “Yeah, we have a deportee who’s restrained, he’s collapsed, he’s a very faint pulse and not responding to any stimulus.”
An hour earlier, as he boarded the plane, Mr Mubenga, who left his family and children in the UK, had been “fit and healthy” and “thoroughly co-operative”, Mr Dennis said.
“A few minutes after boarding, everything was to change. As Mubenga was returning from the lavatory, still accompanied by the three officers, something happened which set off a chain of events which ultimately led to his collapse and death.
“Mubenga and the three officers became embroiled in a commotion which quickly escalated into a physical struggle as the officers tried to force Mubenga into a row of seats and then into a seated position.
“He was then further restrained by the application of rigid handcuffs with his arms, hands bound in that way behind his back and his seat belt being applied around his waist thereby holding him into the seat.
“Such physical restraint should have been enough to hold Mubenga in the seat and above all to make Mubenga realise that there was not point in struggling further even if he had wanted to do so.”
The prosecutor said that despite being in an “excited state” “there was little he could do but accept the situation and calm down because he was in such a confined space and bound from behind and strapped in his seat.
Mr Dennis said: “The officers could, in effect, have simply stepped back and tried to calm the situation by words, only intervening with physical actions if the need arose thereafter.
“However, the officers did not take that course and instead sat one either side of Mubenga, with one leaning over from the seat ahead and between them endeavoured in effect to pin Mubenga down into his seat.
“In doing so, they held Mubenga in such a position bent forward that his ability to breathe properly was inevitable impaired.
“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 Mubenga that he was in trouble. ‘I can’t breathe’ shouts that were heard by many a passenger seated further away.”
The prosecutor went on: “It may well be that the officers’ actions were primarily motivated by the desire to ensure that the plane proceeded to take off, perhaps in the belief that once airborne they could release Mubenga from any restraint and that he would calm down knowing that it was too late to stop the flight.
“However, some 35 minutes or so elapsed between the start of this commotion and the moment when the cabin doors were secured and the plane pushed back in order to taxi towards the runway.
“In that time the inevitable consequences of Mubenga’s restricted ability to breathe and the officers continued ignoring of Mubenga’s plight, resulted in his collapse.
“Even then, when Mubenga was seated motionless and simply staring open-eyed ahead of him, the officers would appear to have disregarded their duty of care and to have preferred to assume that Mubenga was simply feigning his condition.
“It was only when it finally dawned on one of the officers that Mubenga was in a critical state that the alarm was raised and the ‘medical emergency’ urgently reported to the control tower.
“By then, however, Mubenga had almost certainly already suffered a cardiac arrest and was in all likelihood beyond recovery as sadly proved to be the case.”
Mr Mubenga was an Angolan national who had been living in the UK for a number of years with his wife and children, the youngest of which was a few months old, the court heard.
Although being tearful before his departure and upset to leave his family behind, he had acknowledged that he had to go back and was “resigned” to the situation, jurors were told.
Hughes, from Portsmouth, Kaler, of Kempton, Beds, and Tribelnig, from Horley, Surrey, deny the charge against them.
Published: Tuesday 4th November 2014 by The News Editor