After years of campaigning by the Mubarek family, David Blunkett has announced that a judicial inquiry will be held into the racist murder of Zahid Mubarek at Feltham Young Offenders Institute.
The inquiry will investigate and report to the Home Secretary on Zahid’s death and the events leading up to the attack on him, and will make recommendations on preventing such attacks in the future.
In March 2000, 19-year-old Zahid was just hours away from being released when he was beaten to death by his racist cellmate, Robert Stewart. Stewart was convicted of murder later that same year and sentenced to life imprisonment.
In October 2003, the House of Lords ruled that David Blunkett had been wrong to refuse Zahid’s family a judicial inquiry into his death. Three Law Lords ruled that the state was under a duty, not only to ensure that a prisoner’s right to life was protected, but also to publicly investigate the death of an inmate due to prison system failures.
Zahid’s death has already been the subject of two inquiries, one by the Prsion Service and the other by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE). The CRE inquiry found a ‘shocking catalogue of failure’ and the CRE began work with the Prison Service to agree an ‘action plan’. Neither the CRE inquiry nor the Prison Service’s, though, allowed Zahid’s family to ask questions of witnesses through their lawyers – which is why the family believe that many questions remain unanswered.
The inquiry, which will be chaired by Mr Justice Keith, is non-statutory. Unlike the Macpherson Inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, it will not have the power to compel witnesses to attend or to give evidence. But civil servants would be expected to co-operate under the Civil Service Code. A non-statutory inquiry also does not have the power to compel the production of documents relevant to the case – although the Mubarek family hope that the relevant papers will nevertheless be made available.