A GROUP of leading pathologists is divided over whether the deportee Joy Gardner died because of a gag used on her by Metropolitan police officers.
A final report on the unprecedented series of highly specialised tests, due to be completed last Friday, has been delayed. Until it receives the results, a team of Essex police officers investigating the death cannot complete its inquiry.
Mrs Gardner, 40, died in hospital in August, five days after collapsing during a struggle with officers from Scotland Yard's deportation squad at her home in Hornsey, north London. The officers, backed by two PCs and a Home Office Immigration Department official, were trying to put her on a flight to Jamaica.
After it was established that the officers had used a leather belt with shackles and a gag of gauze and sticky tape in order to restrain Mrs Gardner, Scotland Yard changed the squad's working practices and suspended the officers involved - two male constables and a woman detective sergeant. Scotland Yard said at the time that Mrs Gardner became violent and was restrained.
The delays have led to fierce criticism of the Police Complaints Authority and the police, together with suggestions of official foot-dragging and a cover-up. Last Friday, Mrs Gardner's family and their supporters staged an angry demonstration outside the Crown Prosecution Services offices in London. They were led by Bernie Grant, the Labour MP who has headed the public campaign over Mrs Gardner's death.
The Independent on Sunday understands that, at the outset of the investigation, four forensic pathologists - representing the Gardner family, the suspended police officers, the authority and the coroner - agreed that Mrs Gardner died from 'hypoxic brain damage' (oxygen starvation). It seems this could only have happened because of the gag used by police.
Such agreement among experts is rare, but because Mrs Gardner also suffered minor head injuries during the struggle, further tests on samples of brain tissue were conducted by an independent neuro-pathologist to establish whether they could have caused the hypoxia.
That report is believed to have cast doubt on the initial conclusion, causing at least one forensic pathologist to change his view All of them agreed to commission a second, then a third series of tests from two independent neuro-pathologists.
The third series was completed last month. Although it is believed that both experts ruled out the suggestion that head injuries could have been a factor, more tests have been conducted by the first neuro- pathologist.
Yesterday William McCall, the authority member supervising the inquiry, said: 'I share the concern of Mrs Gardner's family and all of the persons involved to see this investigation concluded as soon as possible, but the report cannot be completed without the final forensic results.'
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