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News Archives: Index

October 7, 2010: Probation Set For Industrial Action

October 5, 2010: Turning Prisoners Into Taxpayers

October 4, 2010: Murder Changes Now In Force

September 20, 2010: Probation Programmes Face Cuts

August 24, 2010: Victorian Poor Law Records Online

August 10, 2010: Justice Job Cuts

July 28, 2010: Prison Violence Growing

July 22, 2010: Police Numbers: Latest Figures

July 22, 2010: New Jurisdiction Rules

July 16, 2010: CCJS On Prison And Probation Spending Under Labour

July 15, 2010: Latest Statistics On Violent And Sexual Crime

July 15, 2010: Latest National Crime Figures

July 15, 2010: New Chief Prisons Inspector

July 14, 2010: Hard Times Ahead For Prisons: Anne Owers

July 14, 2010: Prison Does Not Work: Ken Clarke

July 13, 2010: Criminal Justice Reform: Sentencing and Rehabilitation

July 13, 2010: Criminal Justice Reform Priorities

July 12, 2010: What Price Public Protection, Asks Probation Chief Inspector

July 12, 2010: NOMS has failed, says Napo

July 10, 2010: IPCC To Investigate Death of Raoul Moat

July 9, 2010: Women In Prison: New Report

July 9, 2009: Unjust Deserts: Imprisonment for Public Protection

July 8, 2010: Police Search Powers Change

July 7, 2010: Make 'Legal High' Illegal, Says ACMD

July 2, 2010: Failing Children In Prison

July 2, 2010: Police Buried Under a Blizzard of Guidance: HMIC

July 1, 2010: Freedom To Change The Law?

June 30, 2010: A New Outlook On Penal Reform?

June 30, 2010: Revolving Door Of Offending Must Stop, Says Clarke

June 30, 2010: Ken Clarke: Speech on Criminal Justice Reform

June 29, 2010: No More Police Targets

June 26, 2010: Family Intervention Projects Questioned

June 25, 2010: Cutting Criminal Justice

June 24, 2010: Napo on Sex Offenders Report

June 23, 2010: Closing Courts: The Cuts Begin

June 23, 2010: Strategy To Tackle Gangs

June 15, 2010: Courts and Mentally Disordered Offenders

June 8, 2010: Working With Muslims in Prison

June 1, 2010: Your Chance To Nominate a QC

June 29, 2006: Zahid Mubarek Inquiry Reports

The Report of the Zahid Mubarek Inquiry has now been published. Zahid Mubarek died on March 28, 2000 after Robert Stewart beat him about the head with a table leg in Feltham Young Offender Institution in London a week earlier.

The inquest into Zahid’s death was opened and adjourned by the coroner pending the murder charge against Stewart. Following Stewart’s conviction, the West London Coroner declined to resume the inquest, saying the constraints to which coroners are subject made an inquest an unsuitable vehicle for investigating this case. Zahid’s family called for an independent inquiry into his death in April 2000.

In November 2000, Stewart was found guilty of murder. The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) subsequently announced that it would conduct a formal investigation into racial discrimination in the Prison Service, with specific reference to the circumstances of Zahid’s death.

In July 2003, the CRE published the first part of its investigation, which specifically looked at Zahid’s death. By October 2003, the House of Lords had ruled that an independent public investigation must be held, with the family being legally represented. On April 29, 2004, the then Home Secretary announced the setting up of the Zahid Mubarek Inquiry. The inquiry was a non-statutory inquiry. While a statutory inquiry would have the power to compel witnesses to attend and give evidence, or face contempt of court proceedings, there is no power under the Prisons Act for the Home Secretary to set up a statutory inquiry.

The final report lists more than 180 failings that led to Zahid's death, names individuals and makes 88 recommendations for the future. The Inquiry Chair commented that:

"From the outset, I wanted the Inquiry to be transparent, rigorous and fair. So the Inquiry’s hearings, and the seminars which the Inquiry organised, were held in public. We were determined to leave no stone unturned. We received statements from 143 people, of whom 62 gave evidence to the Inquiry in person. In addition, a bundle of documents relevant to the Inquiry’s work was built up, which in the end ran to more than 15,000 pages. The Inquiry did not have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence, so I am especially grateful to all those witnesses who did so..."

"To understand the work we have done, it is important to start at the beginning, with Zahid Mubarek himself. Zahid came from a close knit family, who have lived in Walthamstow in East London for over 40 years. He was particularly talented at art and an enthusiastic sportsman. But he was said by his teachers not to be making the most of his skills, and despite support from his family there were problems with his attendance at school. Out of the blue, he was expelled, and his subsequent brushes with the law occurred in order to fund his growing dependence on drugs. Over a period of less than 10 months, he committed 11 offences, and was eventually sentenced to 90 days’ detention in a young offender institution. He served the whole of his sentence at Feltham. While there, he wrote movingly to his parents, admitting his shortcomings and expressing a determination not to let them down again. But he was never to get the chance to prove that he had put his past behind him. 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."

"Stewart was a prolific offender. He was in custody awaiting trial on harassment charges, having just completed serving his 8th custodial sentence. Like Zahid, he was only 19 at the time of the murder. He had been shuffled around from one establishment to another. He 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..."

"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... 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. His personal officers did not try to build up the kind of rapport with him which might have made him sufficiently trusting of them to tell them why he didn’t want to continue to share a cell with Stewart. 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...  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. The tragedy was that officers on Swallow had no idea about the sort of man they were dealing with."

"...Many other things went wrong with Stewart at Feltham. He was never seen by a doctor, and so his medical record containing the diagnosis of personality disorder was never looked at. His correspondence - which would have revealed his virulent racism - should have been read as a matter of routine in view of the harassment charges he was facing. Had it been, a reference to him thinking of killing his cellmate to get transferred to another prison may well have been picked up. 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 find should have prompted him to check the table. If he had done that, he would have discovered that the leg propping up the table was detached from it. Not only would Stewart not have been able to use it on Zahid, but that would have prompted a thorough search of the cell. That would have revealed Stewart’s cache of weapons, and would have resulted in Stewart - and maybe Zahid as well - being sent to the segregation unit. But one thing is clear: they would not have been sharing a cell on Zahid’s last night."

"There has, of course, been much concern about the suggestion that Zahid and Stewart were deliberately placed in the same cell by officers who wanted to bet on whether they would come to blows in a practice referred to as Gladiator. I have found that suggestion to be unfounded. The only person who made that claim has retracted it, and he now accepts that if such a practice was going on, it had nothing to do with the attack on Zahid whatsoever. The tragic but inescapable fact is that Stewart was placed in Zahid’s cell because that was where the one space in Swallow was. The suspicion that Zahid’s death might have been linked to the practice arose from rumours that were going around that unsuitable prisoners were sometimes put in cells together. The possibility that something of that kind was happening just to wind prisoners up rather than bet on the outcome is not something which can be excluded."

"The report spells out the bewildering catalogue of shortcomings, both individual and systemic, at Feltham at the time. I was shocked and dismayed by them. I name those members of staff who were in some way to blame for what happened to Zahid. But all this has to be seen in the context of the establishment as a whole. Feltham was identified in the mid-1990s as a prison which was failing on many fronts. That was in part attributable to it being the only remand centre for young offenders for the London area, and to it being required to hold both convicted prisoners for whom a purposeful regime had to be devised and unconvicted prisoners who had to be got to court when required. The long and the short of it was that Feltham was being required to do too much, with too many prisoners, too few staff, insufficient resources and a local branch of the Prison Officers’ Association which was opposed to change..."

"...I should say something about racism in the Prison Service. The Prison Service’s own inquiry into Feltham found that it was institutionally racist, and the Commission for Racial Equality reached a similar conclusion about the Prison Service as a whole. But where racism exists on an institutional level, you are likely to find pockets of overt racism at the individual level. It is a matter of great regret that not even the institutional racism was recognised for what it was at the time. 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. This lack of awareness, I hope, is now behind us. The performance of the Prison Service in the field of race relations is now being actively monitored by the CRE..."

"... in view of its topicality, I should add that I have considered the position of Muslims in prison, not just because Zahid was a Muslim, but also because of the significant increase in Muslim prisoners in recent years, and the increased levels of Islamophobia in the wake of 9/11 and last year’s London bombings. Because the definition of institutional racism adopted by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry focused on discrimination because of a person’s colour, culture or ethnic origin, and did not refer to their religion, I have recommended that thought be given to the recognition of the concept of institutional religious intolerance."

"Let me end by saying this. The focus of my inquiry has been on violence in prisons, specifically attacks on prisoners in their cells. But one of the recurring themes throughout the report has been that such attacks are more likely to occur in prisons which are performing badly. Many factors contributed to Feltham’s degeneration into a failing prison. However, the most important lesson to be learned from its meltdown is the fact that population pressures and under-staffing can combine to undermine the Prison Service’s decency agenda and compromise its ability to run prisons efficiently... Treating prisoners with decency may not be a vote-winner. When it comes to competing with hospitals and schools for public funds, prisons will invariably come third. But as Churchill said, societies are judged by the way they treat their prisoners, and if more resources are needed to ensure that our prisons are truly representative of the civilised society which we aspire to be, nothing less will do."