An appeal hearing at the House of Lords began this week on behalf of Zahid Mubarek’s family, who are fighting for the right to have a fully independent, public investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death. In March 2000, 19-year-old Zahid was murdered by a known racist who had been put in the same cell as him at Feltham Young Offenders Institute.
The family have already won a High Court battle for the right to a public inquiry. But the Home Secretary successfully appealed this verdict at the Court of Appeal.
Imtiaz Amin, Zahid’s uncle, told IRR News: ‘It is now two and a half years since my nephew Zahid Mubarek was murdered. Since then, my family has had to endure much heartache and trauma – something I would not wish on any family. We will continue to press for an independent public inquiry into Zahid’s death. And, I would once again like to ask the Home Secretary to re-evaluate his position.’
There have already been two published reports into the case, each one the outcome of private inquiries. The first, the Butt report, was the result of an internal Prison Service investigation. The second, published just days before the family went to the House of Lords, was conducted by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE).
The CRE’s ‘formal investigation’ into the murder at Feltham found a ‘shocking catalogue of failure’ and lists twenty blunders that, if avoided, could have prevented Zahid’s death. But the CRE investigation did not directly question the staff on duty the night Zahid died.
Under the Race Relations Act, the CRE has the legal power to serve a ‘non-discrimination notice’ on the Prison Service and, in fact, found sufficient evidence of unlawful indirect racial discrimination at Feltham. But the CRE has decided to enter into a dialogue with the prison to develop an agreed action plan, rather than issue a ‘non-discrimination notice’ at present.
Family participation missing
Neither of the two reports published so far have allowed the family, through their lawyers, to question the prison officers involved in the case – which is why the Mubarek family believe that many questions remain unanswered. Dan Rubenstein, the family’s solicitor, said the report left him ‘none the wiser as to how a racist psychopath could share a cell with a man due to be released the next day’.
For example, it is still not clear whether Zahid was left in the same cell as his murderer through incompetence or as part of a deliberate ‘wind-up’. It is for this reason that the family are continuing to press for a public inquiry, of the kind held into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Imtiaz Amin believes that the reports published to date are of ‘questionable validity, as they do not include the main ingredients of the Macpherson Report – the public element allowing open, constructive criticism and family participation’.
The legal basis for the House of Lords hearing is that Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to life) entitles the family to a public hearing in which they will be able to question prison officers through their lawyers.
The result of the House of Lords hearing is expected next month.