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NINE DAYS after the arrest of Joy Gardner, a Jamaican woman who died after being bound and gagged by a police “deportation” squad in north London in 1993, the Metropolitan Police had a detailed report giving full details of what they called the “uncivilised” and “defacto dangerous” police techniques.
It revealed gagging was against the police’s own legal advice, but was still routinely used. The Metropolitan Police delayed giving ministers the report for eight days, despite government demands. Both police and government failed to make the details in the report public, leaving journalists to piece together the grim details of Gardner’s death.
Gardner came from Jamaica in 1987 and was trying to get settled status in Britain: Gardner’s mother was already a UK citizen. Gardner’s son was born in Britain. Gardner was enrolled as a student at London Guildhall University and still in correspondence with the Home Office when the three-person squad from the Metropolitan Police’s Aliens Deportation Group raided her house on July 28, without warning, to deport her to Jamaica.
The report outlining the brutal work of the police deportation squad is in a bundle of documents I got from the Home Office under Freedom of Information. The papers show the police and government were aware Gardner was treated in a terrible way, but do not show any real sympathy for her.
The Home Office press briefing from that day — also in the papers — claims Gardner was “violent,” so was “restrained” by officers. She then “became subdued, then unconscious” and there was “no reason to believe that unreasonable force was used at any time during the restraint.”
Gardner was taken to hospital. She was immediately put on life support, which was turned off on August 1: her treatment when arrested was fatal, and she stood no real chance of recovery.
But both police and government clearly knew something was badly wrong. The Metropolitan Police commissioned a report into the “deportation squad” methods. By August 5 the Metropolitan Police had a detailed 20-page report laying out the true story of the Alien Deportation Group’s methods. The report by Detective Chief Superintendent Roy Ramm describes how it carried “pharmaceutical tape” to gag deportees.
“The 2-inch wide tape is twisted to form a strong soft rope like strand. The twisted strand is placed in the mouth between the teeth, as it leaves the mouth the tape is used flat and untwisted and taken around the back of the head sticking to the cheek and the hair. As the tape comes back around to the front of the head the flat untwisted tape is stuck across the chin and lower lip and the cheek. The tape is pulled quite taught in the application.”
In Gardner’s case the police used 13 feet of tape.
The report also describes the restraint belt — “A broad leather belt which buckles at the rear with two stout chain rings” with “handcuffs attached” and the two leather “leg restraints” that are “simply used like luggage straps and bind the legs together” at the ankles and knees.
The report includes a photograph of the kit, noting:
“It is fair to say that the equipment, especially the waist belt and the mouth restraint, look uncivilised and not in keeping with most modern police equipment.”
The report says:
“It is felt that a jury or judge would never approve the mouth restraint and would be slow to approve the use of the body belt outside the aircraft save in the most exceptional circumstances.”
Various police medical staff were consulted. They did not object to the belt and straps but “medical opinion was consistent and concerned over the use of mouth restraints” and “the advice is against it.” The overriding medical view “is the gag was de facto dangerous.”
The report says these techniques were in regular use: it shows a police constable was given a £50 award in 1981 for designing the body belt. Police statistics show “arm and leg restraints” were used in 27 out of 139 cases in the preceding 18 months while in “six of those cases” the “mouth restraint [had] been used.”
Despite their regular use the report says there is “no national policy on the use of this equipment.” “Training” in use of the “restraint equipment” is “workplace-based ‘on the job’ instruction by senior members of the unit.”
In fact the report shows that police instructions and legal advice was firmly against gagging, except in very specific circumstances of a pilot demanding their use on an aeroplane in flight.
An August 15 1983 instruction on “disruptive deportees” for officers says that only in exceptional cases can a deportee be gagged on a plane “at the direction of the aircraft commander” — meaning the chief pilot.
The instruction makes clear, “it would be very difficult to justify gagging a deportee when not ‘in flight’ on an aircraft.” This follows their legal advice, also from 1983, that gagging outside flights was unlikely to be legal.
All told, the August 5 1993 report Into the Use of Restraint Equipment and Procedures In Deportation Cases laid bare the grim, frequently used but legally unjustified use of gagging which had been used in the raid that led to Gardner’s death. However, the Metropolitan Police delayed sharing it with ministers.
An August 11 Home Office note of a meeting between Met Police deputy assistant commissioner David Veness and a Home Office official says they were “not in a position to give us a copy of the report yet, as one or two loose ends needed to be tied.” The note says the minister had been told broadly about what they called “mouth restraints” and straps, but not the detail of the report.
An August 13 letter shows that Home Office minister Charles Wardle was clearly unhappy about not being given the report and urged that “it must be given to us.” The Home Office finally got the report later that day.
However, while the Home Office got the full details of the report, neither they nor the police made the grim revelations it contained public. It was left to the family and journalists to discover the “gagging” procedures.
On August 3 newspapers reported her family told the press that the condition of her body showed police must have held Gardner in a “choke hold.” The Guardian then discovered another deportee who said she had been gagged with tape.
Press reports that Gardner might herself have been gagged appeared from August 5, but with minimal police response — despite them having the detailed internal report on the use of gagging.
Many of the details in the 1993 report were not revealed until 1994 and 1995: the common use of gagging was fully admitted by the Home Office in 1994, when they announced the practice was to be permanently suspended. The fact that the police had issued instructions to officers on legal advice against gagging in 1983 was not made public until 1995.
The advice was revealed in the trial of the three officers involved in the arrest that led to Gardner’s death. The three officers were acquitted of manslaughter. Gardner’s death, and the failure to hold anyone responsible is one of the reasons Black Lives Matter resonates in Britain: Gardner is survived by both her mother and son, who continue to campaign for justice.
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