New doubts on death of deportee: Belt may not have had Yard approval

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METROPOLITAN Police deportation squad officers involved in the death of Joy Gardner may not have had official authorisation for the body belt used on prisoners, inquiries into the affair are understood to have established.

Mrs Gardner, 40, died after being gagged and restrained with a body belt at her north London home while being served with a deportation order. She died after five days on a life support machine.

Yesterday a hostile crowd of about 200 protested outside Hornsey police station, near Mrs Gardner's home. The 30- minute demonstration was the only moment of tension in an otherwise peaceful march involving about 1,200 people.

Scotland Yard has conceded that officers used restraining techniques, including the belt, as part of 'a set procedure'. But it has not been made clear at what level, or in what manner, approval for use of the belt and other restraining methods, such as gagging, was given. A lack of authorisation would raise questions over whether senior officers were aware that the devices were regularly used.

Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has also suggested that airlines insisted on restraints to control unruly deportees. British Airways has categorically denied this, saying it only allows plastic handcuffs.

The Independent on Sunday has also established that:

The suspended deportation squad is widely expected to resume work in difficult cases after the review is complete.

The review will be a limited, internal affair.

Mrs Gardner was bound around the head and gagged with an adhesive bandage and not, as has been suggested, conventional Sellotape.

The Police Complaints Authority confirmed last night that the issues under investigation included whether correct authority - such as force orders - existed for the use of the belt. Home Office sources said the Government is almost certain to review the use of gags if investigations or the inquest judge police to have been at fault.

Scotland Yard said individual senior officers would submit reports to Assistant Commissioner William Taylor, head of Specialist Operations, who has overall responsibility for the squad; Mr Taylor will report to the force policy committee. The force could have asked an outside force or the Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct the examination.

A senior source added: 'No one has suggested the squad will be broken up. There are no plans for transferring their duties to area officers.'

Essex Police are also investigating whether criminal charges should be brought against three members of the 20-strong squad of plain clothes officers who were suspended after Mrs Gardner's death.

Bernie Grant, Labour MP for Tottenham, said: 'I think the limited nature of the review reinforces our pressure for a public inquiry.'

It is now believed that the tape allegedly used to gag Mrs Gardner was a two-inch-wide adhesive bandage of the type used to cover wounds. Sources say it was bound around her head; there are suggestions it held a ball of bandage or some other soft material in her mouth. Mrs Gardner died of 'hypoxic brain damage' - lack of oxygen.

It is believed paramedics spent at least 45 minutes attempting to revive her, supporting her family's claim that she was effectively dead then.

During yesterday's protest, a body belt similar to the one used in the arrest was thrown on to the steps of Hornsey police station, along with placards and cans. Three people were arrested after they refused to move from the road outside the station, which was guarded by at least 200 officers.

The rally began with Mrs Gardner's mother, Myrna Simpson, laying a wreath outside her daughter's home in Crouch End. The demonstrators, an equal mix of black and white, were accompanied by a heavy police presence. Many of the wine bars and restaurants in Crouch End were boarded up.

The march stopped outside the police station where a second wreath was laid by Mrs Simpson and Mr Grant. About 200 demonstrators shouted slogans and taunted officers, who video-recorded the crowd. After about 30 minutes, most of the demonstrators left, leaving about 100 protesters who were later forcibly moved on.

Later Mrs Simpson told a rally: 'The police and immigration people are murderers. They can't get away from this, and I will never stop until there is justice.'

(Photograph omitted)