Death of asylum-seeker may lead to charges: Director of Public Prosecutions considers action against prison officers following verdict of unlawful killing

Heather Mills,Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 04 August 1993 23:02 BST
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Louise Thomas

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THE DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions is considering whether criminal charges should be brought against prison officers following an inquest verdict last week that an asylum seeker had been unlawfully killed in a London jail.

Omasase Lumumba, the 32-year- old nephew of Patrice, the murdered Zairean president, died in a punishment cell at Pentonville jail while being forcibly restrained and stripped by up to seven prison officers.

A jury at St Pancras Coroners' Court decided that Mr Lumumba died as a result of 'improper methods and excessive force in the process of control and restraint'. The inquest verdict came two days before the death of Joy Gardner, who collapsed while being forcibly detained by police and immigration officials in Hornsey, north London. Both cases raise serious concerns about restraint techniques.

After the verdict, Mr Lumumba's family, outraged that he had survived imprisonment and torture in his native country to die in a British jail, called for a public inquiry.

Vesna Djuovic, the pathologist, had found there was a 'strong possibility' that Mr Lumumba had suffered an acute cardiac arrest following a prolonged struggle against restraint. A less likely option was asphyxiation.

As well as highlighting concerns over his treatment at Pentonville, the verdict also raised questions about government policy which allows asylum-seekers to be held in jail as though they were criminals.

Matthew Davies, the solicitor for the family, said yesterday: 'The test for unlawful killing is the same as that for manslaughter. If the DPP (Barbara Mills) does not review this case and take action against the prison officers justice will not have been done.'

Before the inquest, the DPP had decided that no charges should be brought against any of those involved.

However, Mrs Mills is now reviewing that decision in the light of the inquest verdict. She has sought a full transcript of the hearing which heard evidence from a witness that officers had kicked Mr Lumumba. The man was not interviewed as part of the prison's internal inquiry into the affair.

Pentonville was listed by the Prison Reform Trust as among the five jails most likely to employ physical restraints on prisoners - such as canvas jackets, bodybelts, handcuffs, ankle straps and leather wrist straps.

Yesterday the Prison Service said its lawyers were still studying the case. John Sutcliffe, assistant secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, said any review should be carried out as speedily as possible. There had already been a police inquiry which was referred to the DPP who decided there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges, he said.

The officers involved are continuing their normal duties at the jail.

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