Joy Gardner

The scandal of the government treatment of the Windrush generation has caused outrage. I have written an essay, for my column in the Observer tomorrow, putting the scandal in the context of the history of elite attitudes to race and immigration in the postwar period.

It is worth remembering that there is a long history to the callous, cruel and inhuman treatment of migrants deemed ‘illegal’. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Joy Gardner, killed during a raid by police and immigration officers to her home in August 1993. I am republishing here extracts from an article by Nick Cohen in the Independent about the case, and from an Amnesty International report of what happened during the raid.


From ‘Why did Joy Gardner die?:
It should not surprise anyone
that an illegal immigrant’s death
can cause a national scandal.’

Nick Cohen, Independent, 7 August 1993

The Jamaican woman who had sat impassively at the front while the death of Joy Gardner was discussed and condemned by the platform speakers slumped forward. The wail turned to a recognisable sob and realisation dawned: Myrna Simpson was mourning her daughter.

There was nothing delicate about her grief. It was an unadorned cry of pain from a woman who had spent the past three days learning more and more details of the events leading to her daughter’s death in hospital last Sunday.

On Monday Djeemal Dervish, Joy Gardner’s solicitor, revealed that the 40-year-old had no advance warning that a posse of police and immigration officers would invade her flat early on Wednesday 28 July with orders to deport her and her five-year-old son to Jamaica immediately. The Home Office had deliberately not told her she would have to pack up her possessions within minutes and leave her British family behind, because it feared she would run away.

On Tuesday the police admitted their officers had come equipped with a ‘body-belt’ – a leather contraption for pinning the arms which has chains and handcuffs fitted. The belt resembles slave manacles, which, black leaders pointed out, have a certain historical resonance for Jamaicans. Senior sources then confirmed the officers were also carrying adhesive bandages for binding her legs and gagging her, so she could be put unprotesting on the plane to Jamaica.

The Home Office pathologist who conducted the official post-mortem examination at the Whittington Hospital, where Joy Gardner had been on a life-support machine, then added that the cause of death was hypoxia – the cutting of oxygen to the brain – not ‘renal failure’ as first reported…

As she rose to speak on Wednesday night, it was clear that expressions of sympathy had not consoled Myrna Simpson.

‘Joy is dead and we would like to know the truth,’ she said. ‘The truth and nothing but the truth we want.’

She began slowly and quietly, but gradually the passion and the anger grew. ‘What did they do to my daughter?’ she cried. ‘My nice daughter . . . who didn’t murder anybody. She was in her bed in her flat with a five- year-old kid. They put her on the floor, put tape on her mouth and on her feet. They sat on her stomach and damaged her kidneys and her brain.

‘How can they live with it . . . how can they live with it on their consciences? What will happen to my grandson? What is in his mind after seeing this? They humiliated my daughter. They left her rotting in hospital . . . She was decomposing . . . She had no dignity.

‘Oh, it’s wicked. It’s the most terrible thing. It’s the most terrible times. Everybody please, please, please help me to bring justice. I don’t care how hard you are as human beings . . . please, please let there be justice so Joy has died for a cause.’

Some people in the hall began to cry. Others ignored her appeals for peaceful protest and shouted the police were ‘fascist murderers’ and said they should burn down the local station. But apart from the Simpson family and Bernie Grant, the Labour MP for Tottenham, there was no one in the hall who had known Mrs Gardner while she was alive. For she was not a prominent figure rooted in north London’s black community, just another immigrant trying to keep one step ahead of the Home Office.

Joy Gardner was born in Long Bay, Jamaica, in 1953, when Myrna was 15 years old. This year, in a final appeal to the Home Office for compassionate leave to remain in Britain, she said her parents were not married and her father had abandoned her mother. She never knew him.

When she was seven, her mother moved to London, leaving Joy with her grandmother. ‘Many West Indians who came to work in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s left children behind with relatives,’ said a family friend. ‘Myrna used to send money home and go back every year to see Joy.’

Myrna married, started a new family and held a succession of jobs. She was last working as a care assistant in an old people’s home. ‘I washed the English people’s knickers, cleaned up their mess and now they do this to my daughter,’ she said.

Joy came to Britain for the first time in July 1987, leaving a grown-up daughter in Jamaica. Much has been made by the Home Office and the media of the fact that she did not tell the immigration officers at Heathrow that she was four months pregnant when she arrived. Her entry as a non-EC tourist with permission to stay for up to six months was perfectly legaBut she did not leave when the six months were up and the Home Office lost track of her. The next its Immigration Department heard was in September 1990, when Joseph Gardner, a clerical worker from Leyton, north London, who was 20 years her senior, wrote to say that he had married Joy five days earlier and that she should now be given permanent residence rights in this country.

A month later he withdrew his request and said they had separated. Shortly afterwards, he took out two injunctions against her to stop her coming to his home. Last week he said she had been violent and the marriage had been a failure.

To the Home Office, the case was a clear-cut attempt at illegal immigration. Although Myrna Simpson was British, 1981 immigration rule changes meant her adult daughter had no legal right to live here permanently. One official said last week that it seemed to the department that Joy had come as a visitor so that her child could claim to have been born British. The testimony from her husband, interviewed at length by immigration officers, led them to conclude that her five- week marriage was a marriage of convenience made solely for the purpose of getting British citizenship.

Between December 1990 and April 1992, the Immigration Department went through all the proper procedures. It told her it intended to deport her. She tried to challenge the decision in the High Court, but the judges rejected the case. An appeal to the Home Office’s own Immigration Appeals Tribunal also failed and a deportation order was served.

The Home Office said it booked her on one flight back to Jamaica in the summer of 1992, but she did not show up at the airport. She told the Home Office later she had not received the official letter saying she had to go. The Home Office told her in October 1992 she would have to leave on a second flight. According to the Home Office, she responded to the order by disappearing.

‘We had an absolute dead ringer for deportation,’ said the official. ‘We looked at all the possibilities and there was no way she could stay here.’

To this record, the press last week added her husband’s testimony, which showed Joy Gardner as a dangerous and violent woman. Mr Gardner told the Daily Mail last week: ‘It’s true that she hit me, but I don’t want to go into the details unless you pay me a lot of money.’ A good candidate, therefore, for a dawn raid and instant deportation.

But neighbours, lawyers and friends painted a different picture. Bernie Grant, Myrna Simpson’s MP, who talked to Joy Gardner several times about her case, said she herself was a victim of violence who at one point had to be housed in a battered wives’ refuge. Djemal Dervish, who became Mrs Gar dner’s solicitor in January this year, and who has distanced himself from attempts to make her death a political issue, said: ‘Maybe there were family problems, I don’t know. All I can say is that in the seven months I knew her she was always polite, pleasant and calm.’

In a letter asking for the Home Office to allow her to remain on compassionate grounds, he pointed out that she had no family who could support her in Jamaica but had a mother, a half-sister, a half- brother, three uncles, two aunts and numerous cousins living in Britain. He added that she was studying communications at the City of London Polytechnic and had a five- year-old child who had only ever known London as home.

Mr Dervish thought his case had strong compassionate but weak legal arguments. Both failed. At 9.30am on 28 July he received two near-identical letters in one envelope from a Ms C Hanrahan in Room 801 at the Immigration Department’s headquarters. The first, dated 26 July, said arrangements would ‘shortly’ be made to deport mother and child. The second, dated 27 July, said arrangements would ‘now’ be made for expulsion . Mr Dervish decided to talk to his client about the possibility of a court challenge. But his plans were pointless. By the time he read the letters, Mrs Gardner was as good as dead.


From ‘Death in police custody of Joy Gardner’,
Amnesty International report, August 1995

When an immigration official, three Metropolitan Police officers from the Alien Deportation Group (ADG)2 and two local police officers arrived unexpectedly at Joy Gardner’s home at 7:40 am on 28 July 1993 to deport her and her five-year-old son that same day to Jamaica, she was still awaiting a Home Office reply to her solicitor’s application for a deportation order to be rescinded; she thought that her application to remain in the United Kingdom was still under consideration and was totally unprepared. Her solicitors only received notification later that day that their client’s plea had been rejected by the Home Office. Later that same day, Joy Gardner’s solicitors received two letters, dated 26 and 27 July 1993, from the Immigration Service; the first stating that arrangements to deport Joy Gardner would be made “shortly”, the second saying such preparations would be made “now”. The Immigration Minister admitted these letters were intentionally sent at a late date so Joy Gardner would not be forewarned about the planned deportation, thus prohibiting her solicitors from advising her.

Joy Gardner allegedly refused the authorities initial entry into her home and became very disruptive after one ADG officer blocked the door with his foot, cut through the chain-lock with pliers and entered her flat. Joy Gardner’s five-year-old son witnessed part of the ensuing struggle before one of the local police officers took him to his bedroom to prepare him for his departure. Joy Gardner became agitated, removed her T-shirt and began to shout that she would rather kill herself than go back to Jamaica. A police officer then unplugged the telephone to prevent her from contacting her solicitor.

A struggle ensued in which one local police officer was bitten on the left arm by Joy Gardner. The other local police officer quick-cuffed her right arm before they all went down to the floor in response to one ADG officer’s order to “deck” Joy Gardner. One of the ADG officers later testified that Joy Gardner was in a “fury” and it took all her strength just to hold Joy Gardner’s arm. Joy Gardner was on the floor–with the two local police officers holding her legs and one ADG officer lying across her midriff while another was positioned near her head–when this same ADG officer placed a body-belt around her waist, secured her wrists to the attached handcuffs and bound her thighs and ankles with two leather belts. He then took out two-inch-wide elastic adhesive bandage and wound it around Joy Gardner’s head several times to stop her from moving her head, biting or shouting. A second roll of tape was produced and wrapped around Joy Gardner’s head in the opposite direction. The ADG officer who gagged Joy Gardner later testified that he “put [the gag] between her teeth and wrapped it two or three times round her chin. There were two strips in her mouth–but it did not have any effect.” He claims that she was “biting the tape and still shouting or screaming” and shaking her head.

A total of 13 feet/3.96 meters of tape was used in at least seven complete turns around the head. Joy Gardner was lying on the floor — bound with the body-belt, handcuffs, two leather straps around her thighs and ankles and gagged with adhesive tape — while one ADG officer remained at her side. Within minutes, this ADG officer noticed there was a problem, called in his ADG colleague and tried to find her pulse. Attempts to revive her were unsuccessful; at 8:04 am the officers called an ambulance, stating that Joy Gardner had collapsed and stopped breathing. At 8:15 am the ambulance team arrived and found that Joy Gardner had “no heartbeat and no sign of any activity from the heart”. The paramedics continued working to revive Joy Gardner and her heart resumed beating at 8:40 am. When she arrived at the hospital at 8:43 am Joy Gardner was immediately connected to life-support machines. Her mother was told by attending physicians that her daughter’s brain had swollen and there would be little chance of survival.

Joy Gardner remained in hospital for four days and her condition continued to deteriorate. “Brain stem death” was determined before she was finally pronounced dead on 1 August 1993. The Home Office initially claimed the cause of death was kidney failure, but then later asserted that she had died as a result of head injuries received during the struggle to restrain her. The majority of autopsy reports, however, have closely linked the mouth-gag to her cause of death. An autopsy ordered by Joy Gardner’s mother found that she had died as a result of oxygen starvation; other post-mortem examinations also confirmed that she had suffered from fatal brain damage due to asphyxiation as a result of the obstruction of her mouth by a gag.



The top image is of a protest about the killing of Joy Gardner; credit: Bernie Grant archive/Bishopsgate Institute


  1. The only alternative to deportation is Open Doors.

    Those who object to the former, must – in all honesty – state their belief in the latter.

    The above article does not.

    Certainly, the officers charged with carrying out deportations cannot be blamed, as scapegoats, for the tragedies that may occur in the process.

    • The corollary is that those who support strict controls, like you do, must also be willing to see deaths such as Joy Gardner’s as a price worth paying. They are not just ‘tragedies’; they are the inevitable consequence of such policies. Of course, given that you don’t think that even those responsible for killing Joy Gardner can be blamed for their actions, I doubt if you would be so honest – to use your word – about the realities of the policies you support.

  2. damon

    Those Socialist Workers Party placards look pretty unhelpful.
    Is the point of this piece to highlight how difficult it can be for the teams of immigration officers and police when they go to someone’s door to take them into custody?
    Because that’s the main thing I see when I read that account.
    One of the officers was even bitten.
    As ordinary human people, they might have got it wrong on the day. But as anyone who gets involved in confrontations knows, things often don’t work out how they were meant to. In warfare, that rule is taken very seriously. Things don’t go to plan. And Joy Gardner is responsible for making this such a difficult task.

    In the last couple of weeks, all I’m hearing in the media is how racist Britain is. People are even suggesting that the Windrush scandal was deliberate racism by people in the government.
    In the US it wouldn’t even be a story, as they deport unnaturalised people by the tens of thousands.
    Barack Obama was the worst President for that so far. People who had come to the US as children, but never gotten citizenship, are being deported if they commit a serious crime. Even to countries where they can’t speak the language.

    • Funny how when someone is killed by the police, sympathy goes to the killers rather than the victim when the victim happens to be an immigrant. One of the officers was allegedly bitten, so we mustn’t worry too much about the fact that Joy Gardner was killed. Indeed, Gardner was ‘responsible’ for forcing the police to kill her. Nice logic.

      Britain also deports people by the ‘tens of thousands’. There were 33,251 deportations in the year to September 2017. And in the USA, too, the killing of an undocumented migrant during a police raid would, rightly, have made headlines.

      • damon

        Right now on LBC radio, Shelagh Fogarty is asking: “After Windrush and Stephen Lawrence, can British people recognise their inner racist?”
        I think a lot of people have just got tired of that kind of nonsense.
        I certainly have. It’s tedious and never ending.
        I think the greater problem around these issues, is what I’d call the “Lee Jasper narrative”.
        Everything is the fault of the racist white English. They even suggest that any time a black person dies after contact with the police, it was probably the police who killed them. Because the white police are such racists. And parts of black community gets really angry about situations like with Mark Duggan or the young guy who died in Hackney after swallowing some plastic package on arrest.

        It was very sad for Joy Gardner and her family, but “kicking off” (shouting and struggling) is a tactic people use to try to resist arrest or when facing deportation. If you don’t want to be deported on a plane, just kick up such a fuss that the captain of the plane refuses to take you.

        I’m sure that these immigration officers and police make mistakes. Maybe they need better training in how to deal with such non-compliant people. But one person struggling with all their might, is a really difficult situation to deal with, however much training you might have had.

        The reason we have all this mess, is that immigration and people coming and going from the country has gotten out of hand. John Reid said the asylum system had broken down when he was Home Secretary.
        No system that’s put in place seems to be able to deal with the numbers and the complexity of the problems.
        There’s obviously such a massive gulf between those people who believe in open borders and a much larger U.K. population, and those who take a more traditional view of Britain and would like there to be a bit less diversity.

        • If you want to argue with Shelagh Fogarty, go ring LBC. But don’t try to pretend that her argument, or the conclusion you draw from it, has any bearing on my argument or your response to it.

          You are ‘very sad’ for Joy Gardner but she brought it on herself. That’s the typical victim-blaming argument. Apparently when it comes to migrants, it’s acceptable. In my view it’s not.

  3. damon

    I’m not sad for Joy Gardner, I say it was sad for her.
    And it’s nothing to do with migrants. I’d say the same about anyone who resists arrest so hard that the police have to overpower them. I’ve seen it a couple of times with football fans, and it’s really ugly. It ends up looking like the policeman is strangling the person he’s trying to arrest.
    I also saw it once in Copenhagen where police were trying to arrest an Arab guy while his friends screamed and tried to intervene physically. When more police showed up and got the situation under control, the guys just laughed as if it was a big joke.

    • It is, as I keep saying, a case of blaming the victim. Joy Gardner was gagged and bound by almost 4m of tape around her head and choked to death. It did not ‘end up looking like the policeman is strangling the person he’s trying to arrest’. The actions of the police did choke Gardner to death. The police and the Home Office both then appear to have lied about the circumstances of her death. You can continue sympathizing with the killers. I don’t, either in this case, or in countless other cases of police killings.

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