Ministers were warned Feltham was 'explosive cocktail'

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Ministers ignored warnings that the disgusting conditions at Britain's largest young offenders institution were an "explosive cocktail", a prison watchdog told an inquiry yesterday into the racist killing of an inmate.

Ministers ignored warnings that the disgusting conditions at Britain's largest young offenders institution were an "explosive cocktail", a prison watchdog told an inquiry yesterday into the racist killing of an inmate.

It was not until a murder, suicide and riot took place that action was taken, Richard Lissack QC said. Mr Lissack was speaking on behalf of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at the inquiry into the death of Zahid Mubarek.

The 19-year-old, who was serving a sentence for theft at Feltham young offenders institution, was beaten to death by Robert Stewart, his racist, psychopathic cellmate, on the day he was due to be released. The public inquiry - ordered after his family fought a four-year legal battle against the Home Office, which was opposed to an inquiry - has heard that there were 14 missed opportunities to save the man's life.

Mr Lissack revealed that in the same year, 2000, another young man killed himself, there was an attempted suicide and 60 inmates destroyed a unit and refused to return to their cells.

"Locking up boys for prolonged periods in the sometimes squalid conditions then prevailing at Feltham set the tone, created the environment of want of care and dignity, in which unchecked gratuitous violence and even, as we know, murder, could flourish," he said.

Young people, often disturbed, were locked up for 22 hours at a time. At one point, boys could not take regular showers. "The lack of fulfilling association time was degrading, and had a serious impact upon the social and psychological development of those held at Feltham," the barrister told the central London inquiry.

"On a daily basis, staff saved lives and were having to cut down boys who were hanging to resuscitate them. This is not how it should have been."

The IMB, a watchdog on behalf of ministers and the Prison Service, found Feltham to be an "establishment in turmoil". It was overcrowded and short of staff, and endured a constant turnover of management who had a strained relationship with a "militant and reactionary" Prison Officers' Association.

Since 1996, the IMB, Mr Lissack said, had reported the issues to two home secretaries and a range of prison ministers. "Until the tragedies of 2000, Home Office responses did not begin to address or resolve issues at Feltham."

He added that the culture at Feltham had changed radically with a drop in numbers, new management, funding and initiatives.

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