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Death of deportee Jimmy Mubenga declared unlawful, thanks to TED speaker Paul Lewis

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The death of Jimmy Mubenga, a political refugee who died as he was about to be deported from the UK to Angola, has been declared unlawful, thanks in large part to an investigation by TED speaker Paul Lewis and his colleague Matthew Taylor. When Mubenga died aboard British Airways Flight 77 on October 12, 2010, his cause of death was officially reported as illness; but as Lewis and Taylor were eventually able to show in a citizen journalism-based investigation, three guards from the private security firm G4S had restrained Mubenga in a hold that led to death by asphyxia. Earlier this week The Guardian reported that an inquest jury had declared — by a majority of nine to one — that Mubenga’s death was unlawful, prompting the Crown Prosecution Service to reconsider its decision not to bring criminal charges.

Lewis’ talk, originally given at TEDxThessaloniki in 2011, is about the power of citizen journalism. In the talk, Lewis outlines the process he and Taylor went through to determine there was more to Mubenga’s death than it seemed. As Lewis told me by email, he received a call from a contact who believed the story was suspect, and indeed their guts told them there was something amiss. There is a history of injury to detainees being forcibly removed from the UK, said Lewis, so an altercation that contributed to Mubenga’s death seemed plausible.

Lewis tweeted his suspicions:

The next day another passenger from the flight tweeted:

Using social media to reach far-away witnesses, Lewis and Taylor were able to record and collate testimonies from other passengers on the flight, which they also compiled into an interactive report. According to Lewis, “My sense from speaking to the detectives who later investigated the death was that the work we put into tracking down witnesses was pretty crucial. Up until the point when we published the story raising questions about Mubenga’s treatment on the aircraft, there was nothing to suggest the death was particularly suspicious or untoward.”