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Who was Joy Gardner?

Joy Angelia Gardner (29 May 1953 – 1 August 1993) was born in Long Bay Beach, Jamaica, in May 1953.  Her mother, Myrna Simpson, emigrated to the United Kingdom from Jamaica in 1961.  Joy came to the United Kingdom in 1987 to be reunited with her mother, as well as her half-brother, three uncles and two aunts who were also living in England at the time.

What happened?

On Wednesday, 28 July 1993 at 7:40AM, police and immigration officers went to Joy Gardner’s home in Hornsey, London. They unexpectedly broke down the door with orders to detain and remove her and her son for immediate deportation to Jamaica.  They took her out of her bed, where she had been sleeping with her 5-year-old son, Graeme. They took them into the living room and sat on top of Joy, bound her hands to her side with a leather belt and manacles, they strapped her legs together and wound 13 feet of surgical tape around her head.  At some stage, one officer took her son into another room but he could still hear his mother's cries. 


A total of 13 feet/3.96 meters of tape was used in at least seven complete turns around the head. Within minutes, an officer noticed there was a problem, called in his colleague and tried to find her pulse. Attempts to revive her were unsuccessful. At 8:04am, 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 was taken to the Whittington Hospital, North London where she remained for four days while 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. 

What was the legal implication?

In 1995, three officers were tried for manslaughter. They were acquitted after telling a jury that Joy Gardner was the most violent woman they had ever dealt with and that the treatment she received was standard practice. After the trial, the officers involved were reinstated and not disciplined. The Police Complaints Commission investigation file remains a secret. Despite repeated demands from her family, campaigners and Amnesty International, there has been no inquest and no public inquiry into her death.  Following the trial, the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) announced that there would be no internal disciplinary inquiry. 


A key part of the defence case was that Gardner's death was caused by head trauma sustained as she violently resisted the officers and not as a direct result of the tape used to gag her. Civil action aside, Joy’s family and their lawyers still believe the best way to find out what went wrong is a public inquiry. Months later, Joy’s mother, as well as other families impacted by deaths in custody and representatives of the organisation Inquest met with Jack Straw, Home Secretary at the time, to press their case. In February 1999 Gardner's family brought a civil suit against the police for compensation. In August 1993, as a result of Gardner's death, the use of mouth gags was suspended by the Commissioner of the MPS and banned by Michael Howard, then Home Secretary, in January 1994.

Further information.

If you want to find out more about  other victims of police and state violence in the UK, click here.

The proportion of BAME deaths in custody where restraint is a feature is over two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody. The proportion of BAME deaths in custody where use of force is a feature is over two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody. The proportion of BAME deaths in custody where mental health-related issues are a feature is nearly two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody.

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