Three custody officers are cleared of killing the failed asylum seeker by restraining him on a plane at Heathrow Airport while he was being deported to Angola.
Terrence Hughes, 53, Colin Kaler, 52 and Stuart Tribelnig, 39, were accused of forcing Jimmy Mubenga’s head down, restricting his breathing for 36 minutes as the British Airways flight prepared to take off from Heathrow.
Mr Mubenga, a father of five who lived with his family in Ilford, Essex, had a heart attack and died after collapsing on board the plane on 12 October 2010.
He had been given a deportation order after being convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm in 2006 and getting a two-year prison sentence.
Prosecutor Mark Dennis QC said Mr Mubenga had been “fit and healthy” and co-operative before boarding the plane but became upset after talking on his mobile in the toilet cubicle.
The guards were alleged to have responded by handcuffing him behind his back, forcing him into a seat and pinning him down with his head bent forward, making it difficult to breathe.
Mr Dennis said: “Each officer would have known from their training and from common sense that keeping someone in such a position was likely to cause a person harm yet they did so over a prolonged period and did so ignoring shouts from Mr Mubenga that he was in trouble.
“‘I can’t breathe’ shouts were heard by many a passenger seated further away.”
By the time it dawned on them he was in a “critical state”, it was too late and Mr Mubenga, who had lived in the UK for years, had gone into cardiac arrest.
Some of the 159 travellers on board the Boeing 777 recalled hearing Mr Mubenga shouting “I can’t breathe” repeatedly.
Nicholas Herbig told the jury Mubenga had shouted at fellow passengers: “All you people are watching them kill me. I can’t breathe. They are going to kill me.”
Hughes, from Portsmouth, Kaler, of Kempton, Beds, and Tribelnig, from Horley, Surrey, denied any wrongdoing.
Mr Dennis said: “We suggest that you and your colleagues were forcing Mr Mubenga forwards, holding him down, controlling him and maintaining that hold for as long as you could and as long as he resisted, you held him down.”
Hughes replied: “He was never forced down with his head forced beneath his knees.”
Tribelnig said he did not hear Mr Mubenga “say anything about air” either and insisted he did not force the deportee’s head down.
The jury cleared all three men of manslaughter following a six-week trial at the Old Bailey.
A section of the Boeing 777 with three rows of three seats was recreated inside the courtroom to demonstrate how Mr Mubenga died.
Jurors were invited to wear the rigid double-lock handcuffs the guards used to experience for themselves how he would have felt.
The jury were not told that an inquest jury last year concluded that Mr Mubenga was unlawfully killed, prompting the Crown Prosecution Service to reconsider bringing charges against the three men – but not against their employer.
And jurors were not told that racist text messages were found on mobile phones belonging to Hughes and Tribelnig.
In May 2011 another security company, Reliance, won the lucrative government contract to remove failed asylum seekers from G4S.