Inquest hears jokes deriding blacks, Asians and Muslims when G4S officers are asked to read from their mobile phones
Jimmy Mubenga with his wife Adrienne. He died while being restrained on an aircraft as G4S officers were trying to deport him. Photograph: PA
A G4S security guard who was restraining an Angolan man who died as he was being deported from the UK had 65 racist jokes on his mobile phone when it was seized by police.
Terry Hughes, one of three detention custody officers in charge of Jimmy Mubenga’s forced deportation in October 2010, was told at an inquest at Isleworth crown court on Friday to read out a selection of the texts, which included offensive language directed at black, Asian and Muslim people.
Karon Monaghan QC, the assistant deputy coroner for Hammersmith, west London, said the texts contained “very racially offensive material”. The court heard that some of the texts had been sent by other detention custody officers.
Hughes is the second G4S officer involved in Mubenga’s case to be found with racist jokes on his mobile phone. This week, Stuart Tribelnig was found to have a string of texts deriding black, Pakistani and Muslim men.
When questioned in court, Hughes and Tribelnig said they had not read all the texts, although both had forwarded some of the material. They also said they did not know how to or never bothered to delete texts from their phones. Hughes said that, although the texts suggested “a great deal of racial hostility”, he was not at all racially hostile.
Mubenga, 46, died on a plane at Heathrow as it waited on the runway. He had been restrained by three G4S officers – Hughes, Tribelnig and Colin Kaler – for about 35 minutes.
The Angolan had been in the UK since 1994 and lived in London with his family. He was convicted of actual bodily harm in 2006, and a decision was taken to deport him at the end of his sentence. By September 2010 the appeals process had expired. Two weeks later he boarded the plane at Heathrow, at about 7.30pm, accompanied by the three G4S guards.
Once on the plane he was allowed to go to the toilet and use a mobile phone. The guards said he had acted as a gentleman up to that point. However, the jury was told that shortly afterwards he began a struggle in an attempt to get the deportation cancelled.
Hughes described how the three guards had tried to restrain him by using handcuffs and forcing him to sit in his seat. He said Mubenga at some stages had his head below the level of the television screen on the back of the chair in front, but insisted it was Mubenga himself who had forced his body into that position, one that is known to carry the danger of asphyxiation.
Hughes told the court Mubenga was shouting thoughout the restraint although he could not remember what Mubenga was saying. But in an earlier police interview read out in court he had said: “All the time Jimmy is shouting and screaming, ‘They are killing me – I am going to my death’.” After hearing the statement, Hughes accepted that Mubenga “must have been shouting that”.
Henry Blaxland QC, representing Mubenga’s family, asked Hughes whether Mubenga had complained about being unable to breathe during the struggle and whether one of the guards had replied: “If you cannot breathe how can you talk?”
Hughes said he did not remember that exchange taking place.
Blaxland asked if Hughes and the other guards had been trying to “teach Mubenga a lesson” after he had betrayed their trust by starting the struggle on the aircraft.
Hughes denied the allegation and also denied that any of the guards had pushed Mubenga’s head down during the struggle, insisting that Mubenga forced his own head down.
But Blaxland asked Hughes if he and the other guards had “come up with this” to explain what passengers on the plane might have seen: “Were you trying to come up with an explanation for what you thought people would have seen – a man bent double in his seat?”
“No sir,” replied Hughes.
Blaxland said the truth was that the guards had been pushing Mubenga down. Hughes again replied: “No sir.”
The struggle between the guards and Mubenga continued for more than half an hour before Mubenga went quiet and Hughes thought he had become “resigned” to returning to Angola.
However, he said the guards realised something was wrong before the plane took off and raised the alarm. The plane taxied back to the terminal stand, where emergency teams were called.
Mubenga was pronounced dead some time later.
In court Hughes broke down as he recalled the moment, that evening, when police told him Mubenga had died, and the inquest had to be suspended.
He was asked by counsel for Mubenga’s family if he had been crying because he knew he had caused the death. He replied: “Not at all, sir, no.”
The three guards were subsequently arrested “on suspicion of criminal offences” relating to Mubenga’s death. However, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to press charges and no further action was taken.
The inquest, which is due to last eight weeks, continues.
The Guardian, Friday 17 May 2013 16.14 BST
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