Woman 'assaulted' by UK security guards during forced removal

Law Editor,Robert Verkaik
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:46

The Government is investigating claims that a 26-year-old asylum-seeker from Cameroon was so badly assaulted during her forced removal on a British Airways flight that she has to use a wheelchair.

Stephanie Toumi claims that British security guards kicked her in the back of the leg and held her head down for two hours on a flight from Heathrow to Brussels earlier this month.

Her injuries were so serious that Belgian immigration officials refused to allow the escort team to fly her on to Cameroon, claims Ms Toumi, who fled her home in March after being tortured and abused by a village chief.

In April, the Home Office rejected Ms Toumi's asylum claim and fast-tracked her case to Yarl's Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire for an early removal flight from the UK on 5 June. Ms Toumi alleges she was assaulted by four Group 4 Securicor (G4S) guards when she approached BA staff on the plane to inquire about her luggage.

She alleges: "The escorts threw themselves on me. One scraped me and I fell on my stomach, the other trapped my arms, twisting them behind and the other two put on handcuffs. I felt a very severe pain in my body and I wanted to twist my right foot to get up, but one of them totally paralysed this foot by giving me a sharp blow with his knee.

"When they finished handcuffing me one of them caught hold of my hair to lift me up. I felt ill as I have never felt ill all my life." She alleges that when she started crying, the guards said: "Shut up, stupid whore."

At Brussels airport, where the escort and the asylum-seeker were due to catch a flight to Cameroon, Belgian immigration officers noticed Ms Toumi was now unable to walk unaided and informed the escorts they would have to take her back to the UK.

An independent doctor's report found her injuries were due to the alleged assault. Ms Toumi has lost the use of the wheelchair, so cannot make her way to the Yarl's Wood dining hall.

Today a report by the Independent Asylum Commission (IAC) calls on the Home Office to only employ forced removals as a last resort and authorise "dawn raids" by immigration officers only in extreme circumstances. Eight months ago another woman was so badly injured during her removal that the Cameroon government refused her entry and sent her back to Britain. Beatrice Guessie, 29, returned to the UK in a wheelchair but the Home Office dismissed her allegations of abuse. Both women are bringing legal actions against the Home Office.

Emma Ginn, of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, said that these kind of cases are "depressingly familiar". She added: "This story of a torture victim coming back injured and then denied appropriate care in detention is a shocking disgrace. It is one of hundreds we have documented. This is state-sanctioned abuse."

A UK Border Agency (UKBA) spokesman said that the Government treated all allegations of assault extremely seriously. "The UKBA expects the highest levels of integrity from those carrying out duties on our behalf. The majority of staff carry out their roles with professionalism and integrity. It is standard procedure where physical or racial abuse is alleged to refer the case to the police and UKBA for investigation."

The spokesman added: "The UKBA is committed to ensuring removals are always carried out in the most sensitive way possible, treating those being removed with courtesy and dignity."

In a separate statement, G4S Justice Services (UK) said: "Escorting detainees is a very sensitive task. G4S will not tolerate inappropriate behaviour. Any staff member found to have acted improperly would be dealt with under robust disciplinary procedures."

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