The family of a teenager who was battered to death by his racist cellmate won a victory against David Blunkett yesterday when the law lords ordered the Home Secretary to hold a public inquiry.
Zahid Mubarek, a 19-year-old serving three months for theft at Feltham young offenders' institution in west London, was incarcerated with Robert Stewart, a hardened offender later diagnosed as a psychopath.
On 21 March 2000, the day Mr Mubarek, a model inmate, was due to be released, Stewart, 19, beat him into a coma with a wooden table leg. He died of brain damage a week later.
When moved to a nearby cell, Stewart, who has a cross and RIP tattooed on his forehead, drew a swastika on the wall with the heel of his shoe. Above it he wrote "Just killed me padmate" and below it: "RIP".
Stewart, from Hyde, Greater Manchester, was sentenced to life for the murder and the director general of the Prison Service apologised to the teen-ager's family. But a coroner refused to hold an inquest and a police investigation found insufficient evidence to prosecute the service or its employees.
An internal inquiry identified shortcomings at Feltham and made 26 recommendations for change, while the Commission for Racial Equality found the service, but no individual, guilty of racism. No one was disciplined or dismissed.
For three years, Mr Mubarek's family has campaigned for answers as to why he was forced to share a cell with a man who had Ku Klux Klan sign on his noticeboard, had described how he would kill his "padmate" and was described as a "very dangerous individual" by a prison officer.
When the Home Office rejected a request for an independent inquiry, a High Court judge ruled the refusal was a breach of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights legal protection of the right to life.
The High Court decision was overturned by Court of Appeal judges who said an allegation of negligence leading to death in custody did not call for a public investigation.
Yesterday, however, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, sitting with lords Slynn, Steyn, Hope and Hutton, said the state had a duty to investigate such deaths through an independent public tribunal with an opportunity for the deceased's relatives to participate.
"Those who have lost their relative may at least have the satisfaction of knowing that lessons learnt from his death may save the lives of others," said Lord Bingham.
Imran Khan, the family's solicitor, said: "This case is a wake-up call for the prison service just as the Lawrence murder was a wake-up call for the police. The family is entitled to know why the prison service failed Zahid. Lessons must be learned so that a similar tragedy does not happen again."
Mr Mubarek's uncle, Imtiaz Amin, of Walthamstow, said the family was "overjoyed", after having "gone through hell" to ensure justice.
"Why was my nephew's murder allowed to happen? For us, only a public inquiry can answer this simple but potent question," he said.
"The prison service is one of the few institutions that hasn't been revamped. It is very draconian and in total disarray. It's is an issue that needs to be tackled. We can now only wait and see how wide reaching the inquiry will be."
Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest, said the judgment was a "damning indictment of the Home Secretary's failure to instigate a public inquiry".
But a Home Office spokes-man said the ruling was "disappointing".
He said: "We have always acknowledged responsibility for Zahid Mubarek's tragic death. Our systems for managing prisoners and our approach to race relations has changed beyond recognition."Reuse content