CPS takes no action on death in jail

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THE Crown Prosecution Service has decided that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone involved in the incident that led to the death of an asylum seeker in Pentonville jail two years ago.

Last July an inquest jury decided that Omasese Lumumba, 32, was unlawfully killed while being forcibly restrained and stripped by up to seven prison officers. But in a letter to the family lawyer this week the CPS said there was not enough evidence to afford a realistic prospect of conviction.

The decision has angered human rights groups. Deborah Coles, of Inquest, which monitors deaths in custody said: 'Omasese Lumumba sought safety and protection in the UK and died an unnatural death and yet it appears nobody is criminally responsible.'

The CPS announcement follows a report into the death by Amnesty International, the human rights group, which criticises the government's policy of locking up asylum seekers as though they are criminals. The report said the case highlighted serious deficiencies in the procedures applied to asylum seekers in the UK.

The CPS decision led to a demand for a full public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death and into government policy that allows the practice of locking up asylum seekers without any right of appeal to an independent body. Figures for October show that 383 people were held either in detention centres or jails under the Immigration Act. Like Mr Lumumba, who was fleeing from Zaire, some are held in cells for up to 23 hours a day.

In 1991, five months before Mr Lumumba's death, Amnesty said the government's asylum policy fell short of international standards. It called upon it to end the use of detention for would-be refugees other than in exceptional cases, to ensure that decisions to detain are restricted to the Home Office Asylum division (and are not made by immigration officers) and that any decision to detain is subject to a review by an independent tribunal.

'Regrettably to date, none of these recommendations have been put into practice,' the report said.

A Home Office spokesman, in response to the Amnesty report, said: 'We need to put this into perspective. At the beginning of October we had 44,000 applications for asylum of which only 383 people were detained.

'The decision to detain is based on the likelihood of them failing to report for further interviews and is reviewed regularly.'

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