THE OFFICIAL public inquiry into the racist murder of teenager Zahid Mubarak as he slept in his cell in Feltham Institute for Young Offenders in 2000 ended last week with a list of damning indictments of the prison service.
The family of the murdered youth, who was to have been released the morning after his death, had their own verdict. They accused the prison service of “institutional murder” for placing their son in a cell with a young racist with a long history of violence and mental illness.
The family had to fight for six years and take the Government to court to force a public inquiry, in spite of Government attempts to block it. Family lawyers said they were now exploring the possibility of suing individuals named in the report.
Mubarak’s mother Sajida Mubarak said her son’s death was the result of chronic incompetence. “The Home Office and the prison service, both before and after Zahid’s death, were co-conspirators in a woeful conspiracy of incompetence and indifference,” said lawyer Dexter Dias.
“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 that institutional murder.”
One of the main inquiry conclusions was that either more money must be found for the prison service or fewer people must be sent to prison. It highlighted 186 failings in the prison service that led to the murder.
Mr Justice Keith, who conducted the inquiry, spoke of “a bewildering catalogue of shortcomings, both individual and systemic” and a breakdown in communications between different sections of Feltham which meant that crucial information about Stewart, the young murderer, were not passed on, mislaid or not acted on.
Mubarak had requested a change of cell the day before his death because he did not feel safe locked up with Stewart. But there was plenty of clear evidence that Stewart was so dangerous he should not have shared a cell with anyone.
And Stewart himself had a long record of violence and mental illness, going back to his disturbed childhood, that was never addressed and he never received any mental health treatment. Instead he spent most of his youth in various young offenders’ institutions.
He exhibited bizarre behaviour, including self harm, swallowing batteries, flooding his cell and talking to walls. In an institute near Wigan he met and befriended violent racist Maurice Travis. Two years before Zahid’s murder, Travis was convicted of stabbing a fellow prisoner to death while he and Stewart were both at Stoke Heath Young Offenders’ Institute while Stewart was present.
The prison service missed many warnings, including letters written by Stewart fantasising about racial violence and killing his cellmate.
Mr Justice Keith said: “Because of a dangerous and pernicious cocktail of poor communications and shoddy work practices, prison staff never got to grips with him.”
Stewart was moved to Feltham at a time when it was seriously overstretched and overcrowded. Keith said: “Feltham was being asked to do too much with too few resources. It did not have the number of staff needed to keep pace with its increasing population.”
The prison also suffered from institutional racism and a failure to deal with racism. The inquiry found that the security department was in chaos and that some key staff suffered a lack of initiative and defeatism. The officer who put Stewart into Zahid’s cell was inexperienced in cell allocation. Other members of staff who knew of Stewart’s racist letters failed to raise the matter appropriately. The greatest concern to Zahid’s family is that the overcrowding and lack of resources continue. A similar tragedy could happen again tomorrow.