Two men found guilty of violent disorder at an asylum detention centre have been jailed four years.
Momodou: Accused of being "ring-leader"
Yarl's Wood centre in Bedfordshire - built at a cost of £80m three months earlier - was reduced to ruin after a riot last February.
Staff were forced to barricade themselves in
offices as an angry mob, many in home made masks, brandished chair legs and fire
extinguishers and tried to break out on 14 February, Harrow Crown
Albanian Beher Limani, 26, and Nigerian Henry Momodou, 39, were convicted of violent disorder earlier this week at Harrow Crown Court.
Three other men, Nigerian asylum seekers Lucky Jacobs, 23, Kayode Abdul, 24, and Kosovo Albanian Jgergi Tuka, 25, were cleared of the same charge.
Limani: Nicknamed "Sheffield Wednesday"
Sentencing the men, Judge Roger Sanders laid the entire responsibility for starting the incident at the feet of Momodou.
He accused him of being the ring-leader and precipitating the violence.
He said Momodou had orchestrated the incident with a female inmate who had been involved in a confrontation with centre officers.
He had used that to vent his frustration at being detained and facing deportation after living in this country for four years.
He said Limani was also very culpable and had taken advantage of the situation.
After sentencing, Bedfordshire Police Deputy Superintendent Andy Richer said they were surprised to have so few convictions as a result of the trial.
He expressed concerns about witness and evidence contamination in the run-up to the trial which caused problems during the hearing.
"Bearing in mind the difficulties experienced during this case, this is a significant achievement," he added.
He said his officers had been confronted by a major breakdown in law and order at the centre on the night of the riot.
By the time police and security officers regained control of the site, much of the £80m centre - designed to hold 900 asylum seekers - had been destroyed, causing damage estimated at £38m.
Flames light the night's sky as the centre burns
During the trial which lasted almost four months the court was told Limani,
nicknamed Sheffield Wednesday because of his football strip, was another of
those at the "forefront of events".
He was overheard threatening to kill one
of the Group 4 officers employed at the detention centre.
He also broke into an office, and at one stage waved a cigarette lighter at
staff, grinning and "apparently enjoying their terror".
The jury heard that during the major disturbance, Momodou broke a reinforced
window and helped throw a barrage of improvised missiles through the hole,
striking one of the security guards.
Asylum seekers fled
None of the accused gave evidence - instead they relied on their protestations
of innocence in interviews.
Momodou insisted he was in his room when the rioting began and took no part in
Dozens of asylum seekers, including Limani, fled into the surrounding
countryside on the night of the fire, although all but a handful were eventually
The centre was left a smouldering ruin
For his part, Limani accepted he escaped, but denied taking part in the
violence. Instead he maintained he too helped families flee both the trouble and
In all, 37 detainees fled from the centre during the chaos, in which keys were
seized from guards and scores of CCTV cameras were smashed.
All but 12 were later recaptured. Of these, nine are believed to still be in
Britain. The whereabouts of the remainder are unknown.
The three defendants found not guilty of violent disorder have been
detained under an order issued by the Immigration Service and the Home Office pledged they too would be
sent home as soon as possible.
The Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire Alistair Burt has
demanded a public inquiry into the "immense scandal" of the Yarl's Wood riot.
He said the centre should not be reopened
until the allegations against its operators Group 4 are fully investigated.
During the trial, Group 4 was condemned for its handling of the riot and described as a "national laughing stock".
Mr Burt said: "There seems to be too much blame being passed between the Home Office, Group 4 and the police for the public to be at all confident that we have got anywhere
near the bottom of this.
"We have not, and the public wrangling does not inspire confidence."