No disciplinary action yet against officers ‘involved’ in 2011 death
Recommended CCTV cameras yet to be installed
Five detention officers who were “directly involved in the demise” of an escaped migrant 14 months ago are still awaiting possible disciplinary action due to an ongoing magisterial inquiry, The Times has learnt.
The death of Nigerian migrant Infeanyi Nwokoye in April 2011 – which remains unexplained – mirrors last weekend’s death of Malian Mamadou Kamara since both died after having been recaptured following an escape from detention.
Mr Kamara’s incident has highlighted the failure to implement certain recommendations made last year. CCTV cameras, for instance, have not yet been installed.
Three soldiers appeared in court on Sunday in connection with the death of Mr Kamara, 32, on Friday night soon after he was apprehended after escaping from Safi detention centre.
Two of the soldiers were accused of murder.
In light of last week’s incident, The Times asked a series of questions about last year’s death to the Home Affairs Ministry, which now falls under the Prime Minister’s responsibility.
A spokesman said none of the three soldiers charged last weekend had ever been reported by their superiors for racist or violent behaviour in the past.
However, Lance Bombardier Gordon Pickard, who was accused of tampering with evidence, was mentioned in a report by a board of inquiry set up by the government in response to last year’s incident.
The inquiry found that he was the duty driver who conveyed Mr Nwokoye from Safi to Lyster Barracks after his capture. Mr Nwokoye, 29, died in hospital some time after he was recaptured after he had escaped with six other migrants, five of whom remain at large.
Government sources originally attributed his mysterious death to a heart attack and never clarified this point, even after a summary of the inquiry’s findings were published in October. The whole report of the inquiry has not been published in full pending the magisterial inquiry.
No action was recommended against Lance Bombardier Pickard, but the government said action could be taken against six other officers involved in last year’s case.
“Disciplinary action was taken against one non-commissioned officer who assaulted a Tunisian immigrant apprehended in the same escape attempt,” the government said, without specifying what action was taken.
“Further disciplinary action against an Armed Forces of Malta officer and four Detention Service officers directly involved in the demise of the same person can be taken pending the ongoing magisterial inquiry (by Magistrate Antonio Micallef Trigona).
“Obviously, the government cannot be at all pleased about this fact but, at the same time, it has to respect the independence of the courts and of judicial inquiries,” a ministry spokesman said about the magisterial inquiry’s delay.
“The Attorney General will be asked to intervene by filing an application in court demanding the conclusion of the inquiry if he deems this appropriate,” he added.
The Times asked what steps had been taken following last year’s inquiry into Mr Nwokoye’s case.
Last August the board had recommended, among other things, installing CCTV cameras and better training for soldiers.
However, no CCTV systems have yet been installed, though quotations were obtained and submitted to the ministry for consideration.
The government spokesman gave no further explanation for the delay but said CCTV systems would have been of little use in the two incidents because the escaped immigrants were captured outside the confines of the detention centres. A handheld camera has been made available to Detention Services personnel to use “when times allows” but the spokesman said this could be problematic in escape attempts because the priority was to stop the migrants trying to break out.
The Detention Services have still to set up a holding cell at Safi compound within the constraints of lack of space.
The government said all Detention Services personnel underwent first aid training and other training is also provided by the UN refugee agency and the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers, together with the University of Malta.
New procedures about operating security doors in detention centres were set and non-commissioned officers in charge of shifts were briefed on their implementation.
A review of standing operating procedures was also carried out and forwarded to the ministry for approval and implementation.
“One action to be taken by a duty officer after an apprehension of an escaped immigrant is to convey him to a health centre or hospital to be examined by a doctor for signs of ill-treatment to rule out foul play by Detention Services staff involved,” the spokesman said.
Ironically, in last week’s incident, the migrant had been driven to Paola health centre, where he was certified dead.