Inquest will highlight detention policies

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The Independent Online
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THE controversial policies of detaining asylum seekers and the mentally ill in prisons will be highlighted at an inquest which opens in London today.

MPs, refugee and prison pressure groups will be monitoring the hearing into the death of Omasase Lumumba - a relative of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of Zaire murdered in 1960.

Mr Lumumba, 32, died in a segregation cell in Pentonville prison last October after he had allegedly been restrained by staff. A post- mortem examination is understood to be inconclusive about the cause of death.

Immigration authorities believed he had a poor claim for asylum in England because he had initially lived in Italy and Switzerland after fleeing Zaire in 1982.

However, lawyers and asylum groups say his case highlights concerns over the Home Office use of the Immigration Act 1971 to hold detainees who cannot challenge their detention in the courts. Another major concern is the use of local and remand jails like Pentonville. Currently about 60 to 70 people claiming asylum or other right of entry into the UK are held in Pentonville. The immigration detention centres which hold about 240 people are full.

Critics say his case also highlights the care of the mentally ill in jail. Inquest, which monitors deaths in custody, believes there is evidence that his mental and physical condition had been giving cause for concern. Matthew Davies, for the family, said the Home Office continues to detain asylum seekers in prison despite being condemned over this practice.

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