Socialist Worker

Prison let racist kill a teenager

Issue No. 1721

Victim was locked up for stealing razor blades

Prison let racist kill a teenager

ON MONDAY 20 March this year Mr and Mrs Mubarek were preparing a welcome home party for their 19 year old son, Zahid. The young Asian Londoner was due to be released from Feltham Young Offenders' Institution, west London, the next day. But he never made it home. His cellmate, a known violent racist, beat him to death with a table leg at 3am on the morning he was to go home.

What was the "crime" Zahid paid for so dearly? He had been sentenced to 90 days in Feltham for stealing razor blades from Sainsbury's. It was his first offence. This week a jury at Kingston Crown Court was due to pass sentence on Zahid's killer, Robert Stewart. He was set to go to jail for a very long time. But there are other people who should be in the dock as well. They should include the person in authority who decided to put Stewart in with Zahid, and the magistrate who sent the young Asian to jail in the first place. The politicians who pack vulnerable young people in hell holes such as Feltham should also be on trial.

When Zahid was murdered Prison Service director general Martin Narey sent Zahid's family an apology, admitting that he had "failed in his duty" to protect their son. The truth is more damning than that official phrase conveys. The Prison Service passed a death sentence on Zahid when he was put in the same cell as Stewart.

Twenty year old Stewart's previous offences ran to hundreds of pages when it was presented to the court last week, taking a whole day to read out. During his 12-month stay on remand in Feltham, Stewart displayed his violent tendencies. He stabbed a fellow prisoner under the eye, was found with knife blades in his possession, and threatened to take a cookery instructor hostage and "carve him up". "He is an extremely dangerous individual," warned a senior prison officer in a report about Stewart read out in court. Stewart was not only violent-he was an extreme racist.

"He is worse than the nailbomber David Copeland," says civil rights activist Suresh Grover, who is advising Zahid's family. "He was well known as a racist to the authorities. Stewart has no regrets. He was asked whether he was a racist and he said no-he just hated 'Pakis' and was 'proud to be an Englishman'."

Stewart is a compulsive letter writer, so the prison authorities had evidence of his ugly views. Stewart wrote about a film depicting Nazi violence, "Did you watch Romper Stomper the other day? I wish dem blokes were in and dem what killed Stephen Lawrence. The niggers would soon shut up. I'm going to nailbomb the Asian community. It's all about immigrants getting smuggled into here, Romanians, Pakis, niggers, Chinkies, taking over the country and using us to breed half castes. I hate foreigners and non-whites."

The court heard that earlier letters showed "how ingrained into the defendant's personality these racist views had become, and how much he resented being in prison with people whose race and origin he despised and hated."

A month before he killed Mubarek, Stewart announced what he would do to his Asian cellmate. "If I don't get bail I'll take extreme measures," wrote Stewart. "I'll kill my fucking pad mate [cellmate] if I have to. Bleach me sheets and pillowcases white, make myself a Ku Klux Klan suit and walk out my pad holding a flaming cross." This letter ends with a Nazi swastika.

Stewart's racism, fuelled by the knowledge that Zahid was to get out the next day, boiled over on 21 March. Zahid must have tried to ward off the murderous blows because he received a fractured forearm and finger. Stewart then set off the cell alarm. When the prison warder opened the hatch he saw Stewart with the table leg in a cell covered in blood. The killer pointed at Zahid and said, "My cellmate's had an accident."

It was only then that Stewart was taken to a segregation cell. There he scratched a swastika on the wall along with the words, "Just killed my padmate." As Suresh Grover says, "The Prison Service is culpable for Zahid's death. Only a racist regime could place an Asian in a cell with a known racist."


"EVERYONE IN the family is so distressed.What happened to Zahid goes round your mind every day. It was madness to put a person like Stewart in with Zahid." 

ZAHID'S FATHER


Straw's sentence -a stretch in hell

FELTHAM YOUNG Offenders' Institution is a breeding ground for violence and racism against young people. Even the chief inspector of prisons, Sir David Ramsbottom, declared last year that it was "rotten to the core" and "unacceptable in a civilised country". Seventeen year old Kevin Henson, a remand inmate, hanged himself from a pipe in his cell in September.

Lee Waite killed himself after suffering a brutal assault by other inmates. Fifteen year old Jeffrey Horler also committed suicide in Feltham. A third of Feltham's 700 inmates are under 18. The prison is overflowing because magistrates, like the one who jailed Zahid Mubarek, are handing down more and more custodial sentences to young people. Behind the magistrates are home secretary Jack Straw and his Home Office sidekick Paul Boateng. They both urge stiffer sentences for young offenders.

After a new detention and training order was introduced the number of teenagers sent to prison rose 10 percent between April and August 2000, according to the Howard League for Penal Reform.

Ian Thomas, the deputy governor, resigned earlier this year in protest at the "Dickensian, dangerous and anti-social" conditions. More than 100 young people aged 15 to 17 were "warehoused" for up to 22 hours a day in overcrowded cells.

The chief inspector of prisons described how Feltham inmates were forced to sleep on unwashed sheets over thin mattresses with beds just inches away from the cell toilet. There was no food after teatime at 4.30pm until eight the next morning.

"No dining in association meant boys continued to eat in dirty cells with filthy toilets," wrote the inspector. One 16 year old inmate told the inspector, "I have nothing to do. I get hungry and there's nothing to distract me. If I get depressed, I talk to the chaplain and ask him to pray for me. Most of the time I sleep. My mum's not at home during the day and I'm not allowed to phone her in the evening."

The inspector talked to one inmate "who woke to find his cellmate trying to hang himself. Until help arrived, he had borne the weight of this boy. The cellmate was taken to the healthcare centre. The young man remained in that cell. No one talked to him. No one gave him work to enable him to get out of that cell with all its horrible memories."

Does this degrading and violent treatment of young offenders work? Figures show that 88 percent of 14 to 16 year olds locked up in prison reoffend within two years of their release.


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News
Sat 4 Nov 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1721
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