FEBRUARY 19, 2024 Jury convicts Ibrahima Bah: statement from Captain Support UK

Portrait of Ibrahima Bah, drawn by A., his friend, in court.
Statement by Captain Support

Following a three-week trial, Ibrahima Bah, a teenager from Senegal, has been convicted by an all-white jury at Canterbury Crown Court. The jury unanimously found him guilty of facilitating illegal entry to the UK, and by a 10-2 majority of manslaughter by gross negligence. This conviction followed a previous trial in July 2023 in which the jury could not reach a verdict.

Ibrahima’s prosecution and conviction is a violent escalation in the persecution of migrants to ‘Stop the Boats’. Observing the trial has also made it clear to us how anti-black racism pervades the criminal ‘justice’ system in this country. The verdict rested on the jury’s interpretation of generic words with shifting meanings such as ‘reasonable’, ‘significant’, and ‘minimal’. Such vagueness invites subjective prejudice, in this case anti-black racist profiling. Ibrahima, a teenage survivor, was perceived in the eyes of many jurors to be older, more mature, more responsible, more threatening, with more agency, and thus as more ‘guilty’.

Why Ibrahima was charged

Ibrahima was arrested in December 2022 after the dinghy he was driving across the Channel broke apart next to the fishing vessel Arcturus. Four men are known to have drowned, and up to five are still missing at sea. The court heard the names of three of them: Allaji Ibrahima Ba, 18 years old from Guinea who had travelled with Ibrahima from Libya and who Ibrahima described as his brother; Hajratullah Ahmadi, from Afghanistan; and Moussa Conate, a 15 year old from Guinea.

The jury, judge, defense, and prosecution agreed the shipwreck and resultant deaths had multiple factors. These included the poor construction of the boat, water ingress after a time at sea, and later everyone standing up to be rescued causing the floor of the dinghy ripping apart. A report by Alarm Phone and LIMINAL points to other contributing factors, including the lack of aerial surveillance, the failure of the French to launch a search and rescue operation when first informed of the dinghy’s distress, and the skipper of Arcturus’ delay in informing Dover Coastguard of the seriousness of the wreck. Nonetheless, the Kent jury has decided to exclusively punish a black teenaged survivor.

What the jury heard

Many of the other survivors, all of whom claimed asylum upon reaching the UK, testified that Ibrahima saved their lives. At the moment the dinghy got into danger, Ibrahima steered it towards the fishing vessel which rescued them. He was also shown holding a rope to keep the collapsed dinghy alongside the fishing vessel while others climbed onboard. One survivor told the court that Ibrahima “was an angel”.

The story told by witnesses not on the dinghy contrasted greatly to that of the asylum seekers who survived. Ray Strachan, the captain of the shipping vessel Arcturus offered testimony which appeared particularly prejudiced. He described Ibrahima using racist tropes – “mouthy”, not grateful enough following rescue, and as behaving very unusually. He complained about the tone in which Ibrahima asked the crew to rescue his drowning friend Allaji, who Strachan could only describe as being “dark brown. What can you say nowadays? He wasn’t white.” Strachan also has spoken out in a GB News interview against what he considers to be the “migrant taxi service” in the Channel, and volunteered to the jury, “It wasn’t my decision to take them to Dover. I wanted to take them back to France.” This begs the question of whether Strachan’s clearly anti-migrant political opinions influenced his testimony in a way which he felt would help secure Ibrahima’s conviction. It also raises the question if jury members identified more with Strachan’s retelling than the Afghans who testified through interpreters, and to what extent they shared some of his convictions.

When Ibrahima took the stand to testify in his defense he explained that he refused to drive the rubber inflatable after he was taken to the beach and saw its size compared to the number of people expecting to travel on it. He told how smugglers, who had organised the boat and had knives and a gun, then assaulted him and forced him to drive the dinghy. The other survivors corroborated his testimony and described the boat’s driver being beaten and forced onboard.

The prosecutor, however, sought to discredit Ibrahima, cross-examining him for one-and-a-half days. He demonised Ibrahima and insisted that he was personally responsible for the deaths because he was driving. Ibrahima’s actions, which survivors testified saved their lives, were twisted into dangerous decisions. His experiences of being forced to drive the boat under threat of death, and following assault, were disbelieved. The witness stand became the scene of another interrogation, with the prosecutor picking over the details of Ibrahima’s previous statements for hours.

Ibrahima’s account never waivered. Yes he drove the dinghy, he didn’t want to, he was forced to, and when they got into trouble he did everything in his power to save everybody on board.

Free Ibrahima!

We have been supporting, and will continue to support, Ibrahima as he faces his imprisonment at the hands of the racist and unjust UK border regime.

This is a truly shocking decision.

We call for everybody who shares our anger to protest the unjust conviction of Ibrahima Bah and to stand in solidarity with all those incarcerated and criminalised for seeking freedom of movement