Three men have been arrested by police in connection with the death of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan refugee who collapsed while being escorted on a flight from Heathrow airport in London. The Metropolitan police confirmed that the men were interviewed by police "by appointment" at a west London police station and released on bail.
Mubenga, 46, died after losing consciousness on BA flight 77 around 8pm last Tuesday. Four passengers have since told the Guardian they saw three security guards heavily restraining Mubenga, who they said consistently complained about his breathing.
The three guards worked for G4S, a private security firm contracted to escort deportees for the Home Office.
Those arrested are aged 35, 48 and 49 and were questioned by police under caution today. None have been charged, and police sources said they were interviewed "in connection" with the death.
In a statement, Scotland Yard said: "Police investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of Jimmy Mubenga in west London have today arrested three men by appointment at a West London police station.
"All have been bailed to a date in December pending further inquiries. Inquiries continue to establish the full circumstances of the incident. The death is being treated as unexplained at this stage."
According to the witnesses who spoke to the Guardian, Mubenga was handcuffed and sat between two guards at the rear of the aircraft. They kept him restrained in his seat as he began shouting and seeking to resist his deportation.
The passengers, who were sat nearby, reported Mubenga shouting "I can't breathe" before finally passing out.
Police and paramedics were called when Mubenga lost consciousness, and the aircraft, which had been due to take off, returned to the terminal.
The Home Office and British Airways have all declined to comment . G4S said in a statement: "Three of our employees are continuing to help the police with their investigation. As a result of that ongoing investigation we are unable to provide additional comment at this time."
Scotland Yard's homicide unit took over the investigation on Friday after the death became categorised as "unexplained". Detectives based at Heathrow were previously investigating the death and had interviewed passengers on the flight.
An initial postmortem on Mubenga's body took place at Hillingdon mortuary 48 hours after his death and was inconclusive, but experts are awaiting the results of laboratory tests. "Further tests will be conducted in due course in order to establish the cause of death," the police statement said.
Last week MPs called for a "wide-ranging and independent inquiry" into the UK's deportation system in light of the death.
Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons home affairs select committee, added that he would be writing to the home secretary, Theresa May, and G4S about possible questions surrounding the death.
"If, as eyewitness reports suggest, Mr Mubenga was complaining of breathing difficulties, questions must be asked as to why help was not called for sooner," he said.
"I will be writing to both the home secretary and G4S on this matter whilst awaiting the outcome of police investigations. When removing people from the UK, human rights must be fully respected at all times."
Mubenga's family have called on witnesses to come forward. "I want the truth to come out," said his son Roland, 16. "That's what I want so I know how my father passed away."
Tonight a fifth passenger on the aircraft came forward to echo concerns about Mubenga's treatment. The witness did not want to be identified, but recalled how - in an apparent reference to the failure of fellow passengers, who did not intervene - Mubenga said: "What kind of people are you that you do nothing?"
The horrific death of an asylum seeker, Jimmy Mubenga, forced to return to Angola on a flight from London's Heathrow, comes as no surprise to anyone who knows about the asylum system in Britain. Thirty-eight people have died in asylum- and immigration-related deaths in the last 18 months across Europe. The death of 29-year-old Nigerian Joseph Ndukaku Chiakwa, for example, being deported from Zurich to Lagos in March 2010, after having been on hunger strike and bound up like a parcel in a so-called level 4 procedure, has many similarities with what happened to Mubenga. Research from the Institute of Race Relations reveals that at least 14 people have died since 1991 in a similar way during attempted forced deportation from Europe.
Mubenga appears to have died in a physically brutal deportation at the hands of private security guards from G4S – the first such death in the UK since that of Joy Gardner in 1993 at the hands of "specialist" police officers.
What will happen now in Mubenga's case? There will be inquiries; the police, the UK Border Agency, G4S, a coroner, will all conduct investigations of sorts. But even if there is sufficient evidence to justify the file being passed to the Crown Prosecution Service, a successful prosecution seems unlikely. The first and last time state officials were successfully prosecuted for involvement in the death of a black person was in November 1971, when two police officers received short criminal sentences for involvement in the death of a homeless Nigerian migrant, David Oluwale.
Jimmy Mubenga's wife: 'The children can't stop crying'
Makenda Kambana on her husband's struggle to resist deportation from the UK to Angola and her last conversation with him before he died
Jimmy Mubenga's son: 'I want the truth to come out'
Roland Mubenga, 16, speaks out about the death of his father, which happened after he was restrained on a flight intended to deport him to Angola