The ordeal of Kessie Moyo

The ordeal of Kessie Moyo


Written by: Frances Webber

The refusal of a visa to attend the inquest of her son’s death added to the grief and distress of a bereaved mother.

On 3 January 2005, Godfrey Moyo, a 25-year-old Zimbabwean who suffered from epilepsy, died at Belmarsh prison after being restrained face down outside his cell by prison officers. The inquest into his death began on 22 June at Southwark Coroner’s Court. But his mother, 59-year-old Kessie Moyo, had to get an emergency order from the High Court in order to be able to attend the inquest, after the UK Border Agency (UKBA) refused a visa.

Mrs Moyo was given a six-month visa in 2005 to come to the UK, for her son’s funeral and for the police investigation into his death. But the investigation became very protracted and her two UK-based daughters sought an extension to enable her to stay. UKBA refused the extension, saying that she could apply to come back if there was a prosecution.

Through no fault of her own, Mrs Moyo overstayed for very compelling family reasons until April 2007, when she returned to Zimbabwe. But when she sought a visa to enable her to attend the inquest, she was refused, because she had overstayed the earlier visa (the compelling family circumstances having been completely ignored) and second, because the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe was so bad that she would have had no incentive to return! She was told she could appeal the decision but her solicitors knew from experience that the appeal process would take several months, and the inquest would be over by the time the appeal was decided. This prompted her solicitors to apply to the High Court for an order compelling UKBA to grant her a visa to enable her to attend the inquest.

The hearing was on 19 June, the last working day before the inquest. The judge, Charles Purle QC sitting as a deputy high court judge, said her barrister’s (Amanda Weston) description of the decision as ‘appallingly callous’ had ‘some justification’. The judge also accepted that Godfrey’s mother was the only person who could explain the pattern of his epileptic fits and how he behaved during them. He ridiculed UKBA’s attempt to settle the case by offering to reconsider the decision the following Monday (the day the inquest was due to start), and made the order for a visa to be issued.

After the hearing, UKBA said the visa could not be issued until Monday, meaning that Mrs Moyo would miss the first and probably the second day of the inquest. The solicitors went back to court and obtained an order that the visa must be in her hand by 6pm on Saturday 20 June, to enable her to travel to the UK on Sunday and be at the coroner’s court first thing Monday morning – which she finally was. Her solicitor, Smita Bajaria of Birnberg Peirce, said, ‘The trauma of the situation could have been avoided.’

Having gone through fire to get here, Mrs Moyo had the further ordeal of listening to evidence about the death of her son. She and her 35-year-old daughter Lomaculo wept as they heard prison officers describe Godfrey as a ‘smashing lad’ with ‘an open and honest face’, someone who ‘always said hello and smiled’. The inquest jury recorded a damning narrative verdict that Godfrey died from ‘positional asphyxia with left ventricular failure following restraint and epilepsy’. A full report on the inquest will be published next week on IRR News.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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