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Last Updated: Friday, 15 August, 2003, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
Yarl's Wood pair jailed
Henry Momodou
Momodou: Accused of being "ring-leader"
Two men found guilty of violent disorder at an asylum detention centre have been jailed four years.

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 Court heard.

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.

Beher Limani
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.

Bearing in mind the difficulties experienced during this case, this is a significant achievement
Deputy Superintendent Andy Richer

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.

Yarl' Wood fire
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 it.

Dozens of asylum seekers, including Limani, fled into the surrounding countryside on the night of the fire, although all but a handful were eventually recaptured.

Yarl's Wood ruin
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 flames.

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 public wrangling does not inspire confidence
MP Alistair Burt
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."

The BBC's Jane Hughes
"There is still an inquiry pending, and big questions remain"

Centre 'exploded' in violence
15 Aug 03  |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
New future for Yarl's Wood
15 Aug 03  |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Second man guilty of Yarl's Wood riot
14 Aug 03  |  Beds/Bucks/Herts

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