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Guardian : "Mubenga case guard investigated over Facebook images" - 21/06/11

"Two guards suspended for offensive comments posted on page belonging to man under investigation for alleged manslaughter

Paul Lewis and Matthew Taylor, Tuesday 21 June 2011 14.05 BST

A guard under investigation for the alleged manslaughter of Angolan detainee Jimmy Mubenga has used his Facebook page to post a mocking photograph of two other men, assumed to be detainees, on an aircraft.

Terence Hughes, from Portsmouth, who was arrested over Mubenga's death last year and remains on bail, placed the image of two south Asian men on the social networking site last month.

The Guardian can reveal Hughes has permitted a number of friends to post a string of racist and offensive comments below the image. Some of the posters are other guards accredited by the Home Office to escort detainees.

The comments include offensive remarks about the men's appearances, suggestions they should be on the "London to Bradford Express" and a joke that the men should have been in handcuffs shouting "kill me now".

Two serving guards have been suspended as a result of the Guardian's investigation into the Facebook postings. Jonathan Sedgwick, acting chief executive of UK Border Agency, expressed his "deep concern" and said the Home Office had requested an immediate investigation.

Sedgwick said: "None of the staff involved will work for the UK Border Agency while these claims are investigated. The prisons and probation ombudsman will begin an investigation into these allegations, at our request."

Mubenga, 46, a father of five, died on a British Airways aircraft preparing to depart from Heathrow airport for Angola in October. Passengers on BA flight 77 later said guards forcibly restrained Mubenga, who had been complaining he could not breathe. One of the witnesses said Mubenga, who was in handcuffs, could be heard pleading for help and screaming: "They are going to kill me."

Hughes and the other two guards on the flight were arrested days later and suspended by their then employer, the private security contractor G4S.

Detectives from the Metropolitan police's homicide unit are still investigating Mubenga's death and considering whether to charge the guards with manslaughter. Police are liaising with the Crown Prosecution Service and may alternatively bring a corporate manslaughter charge against G4S, which recently lost its contract with the Home Office to deport foreign nationals.

European employment regulations resulted in Hughes and other G4S staff being transferred to rival security firm Reliance when it won the contract for removals. Although their employer has changed, all three guards investigated over Mubenga's death remain suspended.

Two other serving guards employed by Reliance were suspended on Monday after it emerged they were among a list of Facebook friends of Hughes who left offensive comments beneath the photograph.

"We are conducting a comprehensive investigation into these allegations and, should these be proven, we will take further steps which may result in the dismissal of those concerned or involved," the company said.

It was not known who the men pictured in the Facebook photograph were, or even whether they were detainees. Sources with detailed knowledge of immigration removals say guards sometimes take "trophy" photographs of detainees in their custody but the image may also have been sourced from the internet.

Hughes posted the image on 8 May, along with the comment: "come on then..... whats up with this pic!" His Facebook friends appear to have assumed the photograph showed two detainees, one of whom had mistakenly placed his aircraft seatbelt across his shoulder.

The first comment was by a Facebook friend who gave his name as Matt McGrath and joked that one of the men had "Botox on his lips". Another Facebook friend, Darren Parker, stated that he, too, had escorted a "depo" who had put his seatbelt on incorrectly.

Contacted this week, Parker denied his comment was offensive and expressed doubt over whether the picture was of detainees, adding: "It's a funny picture regardless who they are."

The comments thread contains a number of references to handcuffs, seating arrangements and codes for notorious flights used to deport foreign nationals, an indication that some of those posting work in immigration removals.

Another Facebook friend, Darren Barrow, wrote: "He hasn't got two hairy arsed escorts either side of him. No cuffs and not shouting "Kill me now, I'm not a hanimal" lol [laugh out loud]." Contacted this week, he also suggested the image was sourced from the internet but gave no explanation for his Facebook posting.

Another Facebook friend to post a comment beneath the photograph, Hardy Kohar, wrote: "Such a dumb fuck this bloke, first time on a plane & No Engrish lol."

Facebook has a user-friendly facility for deleting any messages that are offensive, but Hughes, who had Facebook privacy settings that allowed members of the public to see his page, made no attempt to remove the remarks.

He has also made a number of other offensive postings on his Facebook page in recent months, including an apparent joke in January about a "smelly Arab"."


Read the article on the Guardian website