High Court judge orders inquiry into prison killing

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The Independent Online

A judge ordered a "public and independent investigation" yesterday into what he described as "systemic failures" leading to the death of an Asian teenager placed in a cell with a known violent racist.

Mr Justice Hooper, sitting in the High Court, fiercely criticised the Prison Service over the murder last year of 19-year-old Zahid Mubarek at Feltham young offenders institution in west London.

"It is difficult to imagine a more shocking death in prison than that of Zahid Mubarek," the judge said.

The declaration was a victory for Imtiaz Amin, the victim's uncle, from Walthamstow in north-east London, whose lawyers argued that the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, had failed to fulfil his obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to arrange "an effective inquiry". Mr Justice Hooper said in September that to deny the Mubarek family an independent investigation was a breach of their human rights.

Yesterday, the judge described how Mr Mubarek, who was serving three months for theft, was bludgeoned to death with a table leg in the early hours of 22 March 2000, by his cellmate, Robert Stewart, who had "an alarming and violent criminal record, both in an out of custody", and a history of mental problems.

Mr Mubarek was killed hours before he was due to be released from his sentence for petty theft and interfering with a stolen motor vehicle. "It is accepted that Zahid Mubarek was put in the same cell as his killer because of systemic failures," the judge said. "Established procedures were not followed and there is an appalling history at Feltham of failure to comply with earlier recommendations. It seems likely, and it is certainly arguable, that there were serious human failings at the wing level, and at higher levels which have not been publicly identified.

"On the facts of this case, the obligation to hold an effective and thorough investigation can, in my judgment, only be met by holding a public and independent investigation with the family legally represented, provided with the relevant material and able to cross-examine the principal witnesses."

Amnesty International recently cited the case of Zahid Mubarek as an example of "widespread" racism in British prisons, at the launch of a human rights report on racial injustices throughout the world.

Mr Blunkett was given permission to appeal against yesterday's judgment as a matter of urgency. His lawyers had argued that there had already been sufficient investigations into the case at Stewart's subsequent trial, and particularly through the internal prison service inquiry into the killing.

The family's solicitor, Imran Khan, said they were "very disappointed" that the Home Secretary, who had personally dealt with the case, had decided to "add insult to injury" by pursuing the appeal.

"We hoped that he would have taken a leaf out of the book of Martin Narey, the director general of the Prison Service, who wrote to the family and acknowledged there was a problem," said Mr Khan.

Mr Amin, Mubarek's uncle, welcomed the judgment, saying: "We hope this will lead to answers to the questions we are asking. It is important that we establish the truth about what happened and how it came to happen.

"That will make it easier for the family to remember Zahid and finally put this whole episode behind us."