Cell killer admits racism was a motive

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The Independent Online

A psychopathic prisoner who beat his Asian cellmate to death admitted publicly for the first time yesterday that racism had been a motive.

A psychopathic prisoner who beat his Asian cellmate to death admitted publicly for the first time yesterday that racism had been a motive.

At his trial, Robert Stewart had pleaded diminished responsibility but yesterday he said that defence was a ploy "to get away with it". He was fully aware of what he was doing when he attacked Zahid Mubarek and had planned it. Despite warnings on his file that he was dangerous and had written racist letters, Stewart - who had RIP tattooed on his forehead - was put in a cell at Feltham young offenders institution with Mr Mubarek. On the day the 19 year old - who had been serving a short sentence for theft - was due for release, Stewart took a table leg and repeatedly attacked him. He died seven days later.

An inquiry into Mr Mubarek's death received evidence from Stewart for the first time yesterday. It was decided that the prisoner, who is serving life for the murder, would not testify in person as it would be too traumatic for Mr Mubarek's parents.

In a witness statement, which revealed a young man intent on manipulating the system, Stewart said he attacked Mr Mubarek because he wanted to be "shipped out" of Feltham. Matter-of-factly he said he was aware of what he was doing: "Zahid was just in the wrong place at the wrong time ... If it hadn't been Zahid, it would have been somebody else - I could have taken the dagger I'd made with me into the showers or into the association area and got somebody there. But you're with your cell-mate 23 hours out of 24."

But, unlike the previous trial when he denied racism, Stewart wrote: "I admit that racial prejudice played some part. The view I had then seemed to start when I was at Feltham."

He described the institution as a hotbed of racial tension where more than half of the inmates were black or Asian and he felt "alienated". Asked why he drew a swastika on the cell he was placed in after attacking Mr Mubarek, he said: "Such graffiti was common in the cells at Feltham and it has no special significance for me."

In clinical terms which belied the violence of the attack, Stewart said he had not intended to kill Mr Mubarek: "My thinking was that if I assaulted someone fairly seriously I would have to be moved to another prison, but if that person was another prisoner it was unlikely that he would make a formal complaint and so I would not end up with another conviction."

If the attack was not serious enough, he added, he would simply have been placed in a segregation unit and find himself back on the wing a week later. It was a ploy he had used before, he said.

He made weapons, including a dagger from a wooden table in the cell he shared with Mr Mubarek, at least five days before the attack on 21 March 2000. The prisoner also backed up Mr Mubarek's family's evidence - denied by prison officers - that the young man had asked to move cells days before his death.

The hearings, which are the first to be held into a racist killing in custody, have been compared to the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Campaigners who have fought a four-year legal battle for the inquiry against Home Office recommendations hope that it will have the same wide- ranging impact on the Prison Service as the black teenager's death did on the police.