LEADING ARTICLE: Justice and Joy Gardner

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The Independent Online
That's it then. The acquittal of the police officers accused of the manslaughter of Joy Gardner ends an ordeal for everyone involved. And it has been a tragedy for both sides, hasn't it? The illegal immigrant herself, defying the law, but not deserving death; and the police officers, just doing their jobs in difficult circumstances. Nothing can bring Mrs Gardner back, but time can mend the damaged careers of Detective Sergeant Linda Evans and Police Constable Colin Whitby. So ends a sad business.

Claptrap. Imagine for a moment that your mother, sister or daughter was arrested for a minor crime. Unfortunately, says the officer giving you the news, your relative died during the arrest. She kicked and bit, broke salt cellars and banged her head on the floor. Unfortunately we could not hang about for her to calm down - we wanted to get her down to the station quickly. So we tied her up and gagged her. Somehow during the struggle she passed away. Can I say how sorry we are?

Would you tell the officer that you accepted his apology; that your relative had always been a bit over-emotional; that these things happen? If the answer is yes then there is nothing about the Gardner case (or practically anything else) that should bother you. But would you in fact have felt a mixture of horror, incredulity and anger? In which case your reaction to the outcome of the Gardner trial should be a deep sense of disquiet.

Joy Gardner's ex-husband had told the authorities that she was violent. And she wanted to stay in Britain very much - for the sake of her son apparently. The police's job was to put her on a plane to Jamaica. So five officers and an official turned up unannounced at her flat at seven in the morning equipped with handcuffs, leather restraint belts and two rolls of a sticky tape. When she resisted they bound and gagged her, wrapping the tape seven times around her head. They were worried that she might miss the plane, or hurt them, or hurt herself. "She was very, very strong," said one in court.

The sticky tape, which the prosecution believed led to Joy Gardner's death, was a gagging aide sometimes used by the Alien Deportation Group - originally because of worries on the part of airlines about noise and disruption. It was a tool of a particular group of officers dealing with a particular group of "offenders": illegal immigrants. Other police do not carry tape, even in the arrest of dangerous, violent or armed criminals like the Krays or other gangsters. Had Joy Gardner not died we might never have discovered that people were being treated in this way. Deportees tend not to tell their stories - or if they do, not many listen.

Since the Gardner case the police have banned the use of tapes and gags - and somehow, despite all those violent women, they are managing to get by without them. But until the attitude towards illegal immigrants becomes more humane - and their treatment more closely parallels that which the rest of us would accept - the possibility of further tragedy is always there. The Home Office needs to answer some hard questions about the Gardner case. What has it learned - and what does it intend to do? Graeme Gardner, aged seven, would like to know. We all would.