Left alone with a killer in the cell
Zahid Mubarek was left alone with his killer, Robert Stewart, who had already started attacking him after a prison officer broke guidelines, the official inquiry has heard. Stewart subsequently admitted striking Mubarek between seven and eleven times to the head with a wooden table leg.
After the attack, he simply pressed the cell alarm button and, when an officer responded, stated that his cell mate ‘had an accident.’
Mubarek was killed at Feltham Young Offenders’ Institute, London, in 2000. He had been sent to the institute for three months for theft, and was just hours from release when he was battered to death with a table leg by Stewart.
Instead of sounding an alarm outside the cell or radioing, prison officer Malcolm Nicholson called the cell from his office, the inquiry into Zahid Mubarek’s death heard. This gave Mubarek’s racist cellmate at least four minutes to continue attacking the 19-year-old. Witness statements given to the inquiry on Wednesday focused on the way prison staff dealt with the assault on 21st March 2000.
Night officer Malcolm Nicholson told the hearing he made his way to the pair’s cell on the night after the alarm bells started to ring. “When I opened the flap to the cell I saw Mr Stewart standing slightly to one side of the door, it appeared that he was holding a stick, Mr Mubarek was lying on his bed,” he said.
Mr Nicholson added, “When I looked closer at Mr Mubarek I saw that he was injured around the head and covered in blood.”I must have realised at this stage that the injury to Mr Mubarek was serious but I was shocked and it had not really sunk in that his injuries could be life-threatening.” The inquiry heard that Mr Nicholson did not ring medics at the first sight of blood, but instead called senior officer Gerard McAlaney. When the two officers returned to the cell, Mr McAlaney told Stewart to drop the stick and they entered the cell after he did so.
In defence of his actions officer Malcolm Nicholson stated “Having had time to think about how I reacted, the only thing that I perhaps should have done differently was that I should have used my radio rather than have gone back to the office to use the telephone.” Staff made other key errors on the night of the murder, according to the witness statements presented to the central London inquiry:
- Before the attack, Mr Nicholson was in his office with two doors shut, listening to the radio at a high volume.
- A call to the healthcare centre was not specified as urgent, so a healthcare officer attended without rushing.
- As the call gave no details, the medical official arrived with the wrong equipment – plasters and bandages instead of a neck brace and oxygen.
- Stewart was moved to a cell with a basin where he could have washed off some of the evidence
- It took approximately eight minutes before an ambulance was called for Mubarek.
- The night patrol report sheets from that night were not secured and have been lost.
Mubarek, of Walthamstow, East London, died in hospital one week after the assault. Stewart, aged 24, a diagnosed psychopath from Hattersley, near Manchester, is serving life for the murder. He had told the inquiry racism played a part in the attack.
The inquiry aims to examine how Mr Mubarek came to share a cell with a known racist, and whether staff at Feltham were themselves racist. A report published by the Hounslow Racial Equality Council revealed that black and Asian inmates were victims of racial taunts by prison officers at Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution.
Findings were based on data from inmate focus groups. Four previously unpublished pages of the report highlighted problems at the institution. The report said, “We were made aware that racial abuse from some of the white prison officers was common practice.”Black and ethnic minority inmates were called ‘monkeys’, ‘black bastards’ and told that ‘they should be sent back to their own country.”
Satvinder Buttar, the author of the report, said, “We have been working with the young offenders for a while now.”I requested to the governor that I would like to meet up with the inmates where they are under no pressure to talk to me independently and give me their views.
He said inmates had not been encouraged to report cases of racial abuse, and only five or six had been reported every month, but since his report the number had increased to 50 or 60 per month.
The report had said some of the black and ethnic minority officers would ignore reports of racial abuse to fit in with their white colleagues. It also cited alleged preferential treatment of white inmates. “There are several instances of two prisoners fighting, one white and one ethnic minority,” the report claims. “The white prisoner is left on the unit, with the minority ethnic prisoner taken to the segregation unit. The inquiry team questioned why.” It also added minority prisoners were twice as likely to be restrained as white inmates, despite the racial breakdown of the facility being almost equal.
Before the inquiry in 2005, prison chief Martin Narey apologised for the failings at the facility that lead to the teenager’s death. “I would simply like to reiterate my unreserved apology for the failure of the Prison Service safely to look after Zahid Mubarek,” he said.
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