Joy Gardner wanted to be a journalist. There’s something about that particular piece of information that really stuck with me. The idea that she could have been sat here, just like me, doing exactly what she loves. This mere fact reminded me that like many others, Joy had aspirations and plans for her future which she was determined to make happen before her life was taken at the hands of the police.
Joy was born in 1953 in Long Bay, Portland – a parish in Jamaica. In Mother Country: The Real Stories Of The Windrush Generation, Joy’s mother Myrna Simpson details how Joy would often spend “every Sunday, without fail” in “church with her grandmother, whether she liked it or not” – a way of life many of us are familiar with growing up.
While Joy grew up on the sea coast, she made a move to Kingston to pursue her dreams where she soon had her first child, Lisa. “She wanted the best for her children and sent Lisa to a private school in Jamaica and had big plans for her future,” said Ms. Simpson in Mother Country. “She was strict and would buy Lisa books instead of toys so that she could start reading at an early age.”
Joy’s discipline and foresight for the future continued as she went to college in Kingston, followed by working at a parish council, according to Mother Country.
Soon after, she made the decision to come to the UK in 1987 to continue her studies and pursue her career. During her time in the UK, Joy became a media studies student at Guildhall University and had another child, Graeme.
Joy’s visa allowed her to remain in the UK for six months but she remained in the UK for six years before her death. According to Mother Country: “Joy endeavoured to legalise her residency and engaged the services of solicitors who petitioned the Home Office on her behalf.”
In September 1990, Joy married Joseph Gardner, a British citizen. While it may have seemed like her immigration woes were soon reaching their end, the couple separated a few weeks later and Joseph withdrew his support for Joy’s application for permanent residency in the UK, placing her in a position to once again fight to remain in England.
Over the years, Joy attempted to obtain her right to stay in the UK citing that there were “compelling and compassionate” reasons not to send her back to Jamaica. Despite this, The UK – Death in Police Custody of Joy Gardner Amnesty International report stated that “between October 1990 and July 1993, a number of unsuccessful attempts were made by the Immigration Service to deport Joy.”
During this time, Joy wrote to then Tottenham MP Bernie Grant. According to The Independent, she wrote: “Because of this hassle from the immigration I am so confused, depress (sic) and upset, keep getting bouts of headaches. These people are harassing me so much I keep forgetting things.”
On 28 July 1993, Joy was awoken to a knock at the door at 7.40 am at her home in Crouch End. Awaiting her behind that door was an immigration official and three Metropolitan Police officers from the Alien Deportation Group (ADG) who were there to deport her and her five-year-old son.
The Amnesty International report said: “Joy was awaiting a reply from the Home Office 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.”
In a tactile move, the Home Office intentionally sent the letter revealing Joy’s plea had been rejected later so that she would not be warned about the planned deportation. Joy’s solicitors received the letters later in the day on 28 July 1993, but the letters were dated 26 and 27 July 1993 which stated that arrangements to deport her would be made “shortly”, the second saying such preparations would be made “now”.
With a coordinated plan to execute this deportation, Joy was left unprepared and allegedly refused the authorities’ initial entry into her home.
According to the Amnesty International report, what soon ensued was an interaction that left Joy bound and gagged.
“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.
“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.”
What followed was a shocking abuse of power as Joy was detained with a 13 feet/3.96 meters of tape around her head, body belt, handcuffs, two leather straps around her thighs and ankles bound with adhesive tape.
The report claimed an ADG officer noted there was a problem and they attempted to revive joy. At 8.04 am the officers called an ambulance and at 8.15 am, the ambulance had arrived at Joy’s home.
She was immediately connected to life-support machines upon her arrival at the hospital at 8.43 am. Joy’s mother was told that her daughter’s brain had swollen and there would be “little chance of survival”. There, Joy remained for four days before she was pronounced dead on 1 August 1993.
The aftermath of Joy’s death understandably raised questions around the Home Office’s deportation practices and treatment of black victims of police brutality. Protests raged across the UK but little justice came for Joy. While the ADG was suspended and never reinstated, justice for the aspiring journalist and mother never came.
On 26 April 1994, manslaughter charges in connection with the death of Joy were brought against the three arresting Alien Deportation Group (ADG) officers. These three ADG officers stood trial between 15 May and 14 June 1995 and were all acquitted.
The trial relied on the testimony of four pathologists and neuropathologists including Dr Paula Lannas who was later found to have methods of investigation which were described as “demonstrating a continuing pattern of inadequate and unsatisfactory examinations and breaches of accepted forensic pathology practice”.
Despite this, The Home Office abandoned an investigation into her methodology and her involvement in Joy’s case was not called into question. Joy’s inquest was postponed and never reopened.
Calls for a public inquiry into Joy’s death continue until this day and a resurgence of interest in her case grows as Black communities continue to seek justice for the lost black lives around the world.
As we continue to fight for the justice of these black lives, it’s important to also remember them for their light – and that’s exactly what Joy was.
“We have to try to remember Joy as a student, as a mother, as somebody who was studying media,” said Ms. Simpson. “She was a very kind person, very kind. Whatever she could do for anyone, she would always do. She was a very good mother and daughter.”