THE LABOUR Party is to launch a new campaign tomorrow for a public inquiry into the case of Joy Gardner, the Jamaican deportee who died after being arrested by police.
Graham Allen, Labour's immigration spokesman, promised relatives of Ms Gardner at a meeting at the House of Commons last Thursday that he would press for the inquiry: 'It is completely unsatisfactory, eight months after Ms Gardner's tragic death, that her family and other concerned individuals should still be so uncertain as to precisely how she died.'
The investigation into Ms Gardner's death has been undermined by conflict. Two of the many medical experts who examined her body have clashed in bitter exchanges over what killed her, staking their professional reputations on opposing verdicts. One was adamant that she was not asphyxiated by a gag put on her by police when they went to her home to deport her. The other took the contrary view.
The resultant professional dispute has led to embarrassing delays in what should have been a straightforward investigation. It has also made it highly unlikely that criminal charges will ever be brought.
The case is fraught with all the dangers involving the death of a black woman in a clash with the police. If no charges are brought, the police and the Police Complaints Authority will face accusations of 'another cover-up'. If three police officers, currently suspended from Scotland Yard's deportation squad, appear in court, there could be embarrassing revelations about the role of the Home Office in the case, conflicting medical opinions, and the way the investigation has been conducted.
Ms Gardner, 40, died in hospital on 1 August last year, four days after a struggle at her home in Crouch End, north London, with officers from the deportation squad. When they arrived to take her away she became angry and hysterical. She bit one of the officers as they sought to restrain her.
The police bound her with a leather belt with handcuffs threaded through a loop at the front. A gag made of surgical tape and twisted to the thickness of a pencil was put in her mouth and taped around her head. With her son, Graham, aged five, looking on as she struggled, Ms Gardner collapsed across a table. She then fell on to the floor and lay still.
The officers turned away to collect her clothes. Then one of them noticed that she was not breathing. A paramedic crew tried resuscitation for about 45 minutes and then took her to the Whittington Hospital, north London. She never regained consciousness.
Prompted by Bernie Grant MP, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Paul Condon, announced that he was suspending the three officers and the work of their squad. (This infuriated the Home Office, which has since had to use private security firms for deportations.) Days later the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) appointed the Essex force to investigate on its behalf.
Assistant Chief Constable Paul Conlan was in charge, assisted by a team of 12 detectives. The PCA said the investigation would take two months. But although the team finished its work last October, the authority had to issue a series of progressively more embarrassing statements on delays as the medical experts locked horns.
The first post-mortem on Ms Gardner was performed by a coroner's pathologist, Dr Paula Lannas, of the London Medicolegal Centre in Docklands, and Dr Richard Shepherd for the PCA. Dr Lannas submitted her report last October saying that Ms Gardner died of a blow to the head. This view was backed by two neuropathologists who specialise in studies of brain tissue. Dr Ian Hall, representing the Police Federation, also concurred with her findings.
But Dr Shepherd insisted that the gag asphyxiated Ms Gardner. He sought backing for his view from Dr Helen Whitwell, a Birmingham pathologist. His report, finally submitted on 10 January, says the gag could have caused asphyxiation, and pointed to the presence of petechial haemorrhages around Ms Gardner's eyes. Petechiae are a classic sign of suffocation which occur during or shortly after the person asphyxiates. This detail was vital. If the gag caused Ms Gardner's death, the three suspended officers were much more likely to face charges.
But then Dr Royden Davies, a heart specialist at the Whittington Hospital who treated Ms Gardner, said that the signs were not there when she was admitted: they had not shown up until days after. Soon after he submitted this evidence, the investigation closed. Mr Conlan sent his report to the PCA on 13 February.
The rift between Dr Shepherd and Dr Lannas has worsened, and last week Dr Shepherd was reported to have lodged a complaint against her. Sources close to the investigation are worried about the possible effect of this dispute on the outcome of the case.
Other facets of the investigation have troubled those involved. Of the six people present when Ms Gardner collapsed - the three deportation squad officers, two local PCs and a Home Office immigration official - the deportation squad members were immediately marked down as possible suspects and the others as witnesses. Sgt Linda Evans, one of the suspended officers, brought a complaint last year against Mr Conlan about the way she was treated during interview. And two senior officers from Scotland Yard, notionally in charge of the deportation squad, were questioned under the police disciplinary code for alleged failure to supervise.
Colin Nott, solicitor for Sgt Evans, said last week: 'It is important that this investigation should not be open to a suggestion that assumptions were made in advance about the officers' guilt and that there has been a hunt for evidence to prove those assumptions, as opposed to a wholly impartial, unemotional, objective and thorough investigation.'
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is now considering 1,500 pages of evidence, the medical reports, and taped interviews on Ms Gardner's death. It is seeking counsel's opinion and a decision could take six to eight weeks.
A 230-page report with the file is understood to recommend criminal charges. But the CPS will have to consider whether it could be proved that the three officers caused Ms Gardner's death. The conflicting evidence of the pathologists makes convictions extremely unlikely, according to one prominent lawyer - 'It would take a brave man to press for charges on this one.'
Last week a spokeswoman for Bernie Grant said: 'We would not share this view. Talk like this tends to become a self- fulfilling prophecy. The matter should be put before a jury for it to decide.' It was regrettable that the case had focused on the police, she added. 'It has taken attention away from the immigration service and its political masters. The Home Office knew where Joy was. There were a number of occasions when they could have deported her without incident, and it botched them.'
The Home Office has kept itself out of the controversy, despite the fact that the three suspended officers were acting on its behalf. Batting off questions by describing it as an operational police matter, the immigration department has ensured that Charles Wardle, the Home Office minister, has not been taxed. In January it announced new deportation guidelines banning the use of gags and described the death as 'tragic'.
But the Home Office's role in the case is crucial. The order for Ms Gardner's deportation was issued nearly two years ago, in April 1992. A letter obtained by the Independent on Sunday shows that on 3 June that year she saw immigration officials at Isis House in London. On 19 June she reported to Stoke Newington police station in north London, having lost her passport. She moved home several times, but kept in touch with the police until she went to live in Crouch End. In October 1992 she should have left Britain voluntarily, but again there was a mix-up with officials.
In a letter to Bernie Grant, she wrote: 'Because of this hassle from the immigration I am so confused, depress (sic) and upset, keep getting bouts of headaches. These people are harassing me so much I keep forgetting things.'
The Home Office minister, Charles Wardle, has admitted that a letter informing Ms Gardner's solicitor that she was being deported was deliberately held back to arrive on the same day as her arrest. By the time the postman arrived, Joy Gardner was already in a coma.
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