‘INSTITUTIONAL MURDER’ – says Mubarek family

United Families and Friends marchers assemble for their anniversary march in Trafalgar Square last October (above) and (below) banners with names of those who were killed whilst in prison, on the march to Downing Street
United Families and Friends marchers assemble for their anniversary march in Trafalgar Square last October (above) and (below) banners with names of those who were killed whilst in prison, on the march to Downing Street

‘We make no bones about the death of Zahid Mubarek. He died because of institutional murder,’ said the young Asian’s uncle, Imtiaz Amin.

In response to inquiry chairman Mr Justice Keith’s report into Zahid’s murder by his cellmate at Feltham Young Offenders Institute, Amin added: ‘The report exposes a litany of failures from prison staff to senior management all of which are culpable for the circumstances in which Zahid was placed in a cell with a known racist and psychopath. It was obvious what would happen.

‘The report represents a devastating critique of the whole prison system and it is important that something like this does not happen again.’

The Mubarek family’s barrister Patrick O’Connor said: ‘This report is a devastating indictment of our whole prison system.

‘The judge who has written this report and heard all the evidence was rightly shocked and dismayed by what he found. The family have suffered terribly in order to expose these appalling failures.’

The family’s solicitor Dexter Dias added: ‘This report is also a complete vindication of this truly courageous family’s fight for a full public inquiry to expose the numerous dangers that are plaguing our prisons.

‘But the report does something else. It brings great shame on the Home Office for trying to conceal these failings from the public’s scrutiny.

‘Shame on them for what they have done. Shame on them for opposing the fight of Zahid’s parents to find the truth. The Home Office should know better.’

Solicitor Imran Khan said the report showed that ‘Zahid Mubarek suffered a double dose of racism.

‘Racism from a prison service which put him into the same cell as Robert Stewart. Racism from Robert Stewart who killed him in brutal, callous fashion.’

He stressed that the family stood by their view that Zahid Mubarek had been a victim of ‘institutional murder’.

The Mubareks would consider action against individual officers and would be looking for apologies from ministers who were in charge at the time, he added.

In a statement after publicising his report, Mr Justice Keith paid tribute to the family’s determination to get a public inquiry to ‘uncover the individual and systemic failings which had exposed Zahid to the horrific attack from which he died.’

He noted that the ‘Home Office initially resisted the call for such an inquiry’, and it was only after the family won a ruling from the House of Lords, that ‘the Home Secretary announced this inquiry’.

Keith said that Mubarek was a talented young man imprisoned for petty offences who sought to ‘mend his ways’ but was not given a chance to do so.

‘As he lay asleep in the small hours of 21 March 2000, the day he was due to be released, Stewart, a racist psychopath, with whom he had shared the cell for 6 weeks, clubbed him to death with a wooden table leg in a vicious, unprovoked attack.’

Keith said 19-year-old Stewart was a prolific offender who had ‘been diagnosed as suffering from a long-standing deep-seated personality disorder which had deprived him of all sense of conscience.

‘He was regarded as dangerous. His correspondence revealed him to have been an out-and-out racist. And he had a history of disruptive and sometimes bizarre behaviour while in detention.

‘Yet because of a pernicious and dangerous cocktail of poor communications and shoddy work practices, prison staff never got to grips with him.’

Justice Keith added: ‘Understandably, many people have asked how Zahid came to share a cell with someone like Stewart.

‘A core finding of the report is that malevolence was not involved. Stewart arrived on Swallow wing after the prisoners had been locked up for the night. There was one inexperienced officer on duty at the time.

‘The wing already had 59 prisoners. The maximum it could usually hold was 60. The one space available was in the double cell which at that time Zahid was in on his own. That was the obvious place for Stewart to go.

‘But Stewart should not have continued to share a cell with Zahid, and officers on the wing should bear some responsibility for that.’

Justice Keith continued: ‘Some officers sensed that there was something odd about Stewart, but it apparently never crossed anyone’s mind to question whether Zahid might be uncomfortable about sharing a cell with him.’

Keith added: ‘His request to move out of the cell was either overlooked or refused for reasons which are not readily apparent.

‘And it should have occurred to the officers on the wing that there was a real possibility that Stewart might be a racist, and that he should not have been sharing a cell at all with a young Asian in detention for the first time.

‘At the heart of it all, though, was a catastrophic breakdown in communications, not just between one prison and another, but also within individual prisons themselves.

‘Files on prisoners went missing. Vital information was not passed on, and when it was it was often not acted on. And those files which got to their intended destination were often incomplete or expressed in such broad terms that they were of little use to the reader unless further information was sought.

‘To give just a few examples involving Stewart, although Feltham’s Security Department told the wing where Stewart was originally allocated about his disruptive history in prison, they never informed Swallow wing about that.

‘Officers on the wing where Stewart originally was, intercepted a letter written by him which referred to a lot of “niggers” and “Pakis” on the wing, but they did not ensure that this information got through to the Security Department.

‘The information was recorded on Stewart’s wing file, but that got mislaid, and no-one on Swallow did anything to find out where it was. When it eventually turned up, the officer who received it did not bother to read it, and another who did read it did nothing about it.’

Keith added: ‘Cells were not being searched on Swallow as they should have been, and even though part of the table whose leg Stewart was to club Zahid with was found by a member of staff on the day before the murder, nothing was done about it.’

The judge added that a thorough search of the cell ‘would have revealed Stewart’s cache of weapons’ and that ‘one thing is clear: they would not have been sharing a cell on Zahid’s last night.’

In concluding remarks on ‘institutional racism’ in the Prison Service, Keith said: ‘There was a culture within the Prison Service – and maybe on the part of the independent watchdogs as well – to treat race relations as divorced from the basic operational requirements of prison work.

‘It is instructive that while the Inspectorate of Prisons was devastating in its condemnation of Feltham’s many failings in the period up to Zahid’s murder, it did not mention any problems with race relations at all.’