The family of Zahid Mubarek, who was beaten to death by his racist cellmate at Feltham young offender institution in 2000, accused the home office and prison service of “institutional murder” last week.
They spoke out after the publication of a report by Justice Keith into Zahid’s death. The report criticised the government for sacrificing the welfare of prisoners for votes and highlighted 186 failings that led to the murder.
Dexter Dias, a solictor for the Mubarek family, said “The home office and the prison service were co-conspirators in a woeful conspiracy of incompetence and indifference of truly criminal magnitude.
“The prison service had 15 chances to save Zahid from his killer. It squandered them all. The report has convinced the family that Zahid’s death was no more and no less than institutional murder.”
Zahid was serving his first prison sentence, for stealing razor blades worth £6 and interfering with a vehicle. He was due to be released from Feltham young offender institution in west London on the day he was killed.
Robert Stewart was placed in a cell with Zahid. He battered Zahid to death while he was asleep.
Stewart had been implicated but never charged in a prison killing in 1998, and bragged of his desire to attack black and Asian prisoners. Stewart, now 25, was jailed for life in October 2001 for the attack.
The report found the prison service is plagued by institutional racism. It said the placing of Mubarek in a cell with a known racist was not deliberate but a result of “shocking” errors.
An apparent breakdown in communications between different sections of Feltham meant that crucial information about Stewart was mislaid, not passed on or not acted upon.
Zahid had asked to move cells days before his murder, the report found, and Stewart was so dangerous he should not have shared a cell with anyone.
The probe said there was a “real possibility” that a sick game, “Gladiator”, was played at Feltham where unsuitable prisoners were put in the same cell to generate fights for the entertainment of prison officers. However, the report found that this had not occured in Zahid’s case.
Patrick O’Connor, QC for the family, said, “This report is a devastating indictment of the whole prison service. The family has suffered terribly in order to expose these appalling failures.”
The Mubarek family from Walthamstow, east London, had to go to the House of Lords to get a public inquiry, in the face of opposition from then home secretary David Blunkett.
Imtiaz Amin, Zahid’s uncle, said, “The Keith report shows a litany of failures run right through the prison service. They are culpable. If an individual turns a blind eye to an event that will lead to murder he is guilty of murder. We ask why the prison service should be treated any differently.
“The report is a landmark in our six year campaign for justice. The report represents a devastating critique of the whole prison system. It is important that something like this does not happen again.
“We demand an action plan for the future. Zahid died because of institutional murder.
“We have endured pain and sorrow. Today the establishment is backing us but it has taken six years to get this far.
“This is now an opportunity for home secretary John Reid to finally correct the failing, dangerous system which killed my nephew.
“The prison service has just been arrogant and continues to be so even after this report. It’s obvious the prison service was not interested in finding out who was to blame and is protecting its managers.”
It is now claimed that Feltham has changed. But an investigation carried out on behalf of Zahid’s family has shown a disturbing level of racism in the prison system.
More than 90 percent of ethnic minority inmates said they had either been subjected to abuse or witnessed it. Many complained of beatings and bullying. Attacks against Muslims prisoners are increasing.
“To suggest that six years after Zahid’s death things have changed is fanciful,” said Imran Khan, the family’s solictor.
In a series of prison visits over the past few months Imitiaz Amin and Suresh Grover of the Monitering Group interviewed staff and prisoners.
They found any efforts to combat bigotry were half hearted and disorganised.
Imitiaz Amin said, “One man told us that when he arrived at a prison he was asked whether he was racist, anti-religious or homophobic. He said ‘yes’ because he thought he would get a single cell. He was put into a cell with two black guys.
“Of the 123 institutions in this country, there are pockets of good practice. But in the majority, and certainly in all young offender institutes, they are managed in an appalling way.”
Suresh Grover added, “The culture of racism and religious discrimination is far worse than I ever thought it was.”