Cell killer was deemed ‘low risk’
Compiled from various sources 4WardEver UK
published June 2007
Updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
Shahid Aziz, 30, was on remand at Armley prison when he was killed by his cell mate Peter McCann in April 2004. McCann was believed to be “low-risk” for cell-sharing despite a history of violence and knives, an inquest later heard. McCann, 28, slashed Mr Aziz’ throat with a makeshift knife, Leeds Coroner’s Court has heard.
The killer was not deemed a threat, but had lied about previous convictions and no checks were carried out. After the murder McCann said he had become angry that Aziz had spoken to another inmate in Urdu and expressed the view that white and Asian inmates should not share cells. He denied he was racist and alleged Aziz had pulled the weapon on him first, although McCann suffered no injuries.
Three weeks before the murder McCann had been arrested for shoplifting and was seen disposing of a knife. He was sent to a bail hostel in Leeds, but a probation officer saw him hiding a sharpened knife and he was moved to the prison for breaching bail conditions. A probation officer phoned the jail to tell them McCann could pose a risk. That type of information was common and not regarded as high priority, the inquest heard.
The inquest into the death of Shahid Aziz posed new questions about the role of staff at Leeds prison and raised fresh concerns about overcrowding in Britain’s jails. On the second day of the proceedings, Detective Inspector Scott Wood, from West Yorkshire Police’s criminal investigation department told the jury: “McCann was regarded as low risk both to himself and in regards to cell-sharing.”
Aziz was murdered within minutes of being locked in the same cell as McCann, who had twice been caught in possession of an object with a blade in the weeks before the killing, and had attacked fellow inmates on two previous occasions. Despite his history of violence, McCann was considered a ‘low risk’ threat to other prisoners. The inquest was told that, after slashing Aziz’s throat, McCann pulled him around the cell by his necklace and then struck him about the head. The two had never met before the day of the killing.
Detective Inspector Wood told the coroner David Hinchliff that McCann had two previous convictions for assault, including one at a young offender’s institute where he hit another inmate over the head with a mallet. McCann admitted the murder and was jailed for life at Bradford Crown Court in July 2004 and told he must serve at least 12 years before being considered for release. West Yorkshire Coroner David Hinchliff had said hat the inquest would look into concerns raised by Mr Aziz’s family who believed his death may have been racially motivated, a claim denied by police who investigated the murder.
The inquest heard evidence that Aziz, who was serving time for criminal damage and was awaiting trial on drugs charges, was involved in a fight with a prison officer three weeks before he was placed in the cell with McCann. Aziz’s family want to establish what triggered the altercation which led to Aziz being placed in segregation. In the weeks leading up to his death, Aziz had complained of racist abuse by officers whom he alleged had told him that he would never get out of jail alive.
Along with other Muslim prisoners, Aziz had submitted a petition complaining about racism in the prison. The day before he was killed he had given a statement to police in support of a white prisoner who alleged he had been assaulted by prison officers. The family claim that after Aziz’s death they learned of a number of serious allegations made by black and Asian prisoners against prison staff at Leeds.
The case has parallels with the murder of Zahid Mubarek who was beaten to death by Robert Stewart, a racist skinhead who had the letters ‘RIP’ tattooed on his forehead. An inquiry found 186 separate failings had resulted in Stewart being placed in a cell with Mubarek at Feltham Young Offenders’ Institute in Middlesex in March 2000. The report found the prison service was plagued by institutional racism and called for an end to cell sharing.
The Aziz inquest was heard by a jury, and considered evidence from more than 60 witnesses including the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Stephen Shaw, the governor of Leeds prison, Ian Blakeman, and McCann, who is now serving life for murder.
Parveen Mahmood, Aziz’s widow, said she hoped the inquest would shine light on whether her husband’s fight with the prison officer was in any way responsible for him being placed in a cell with McCann.
“I want to know if there is a link between the incident with the prison officer and Shahid’s murder,” she said. “I hope that the many questions which I’ve had for over three years will finally be answered at the inquest – otherwise I will have been cheated.’”
Damning critical verdict returned at inquest (PDF file)
21 May 2007
Family fears are focus of inquest
16 April 2007