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John Bowden | 07.07.2006 09:38 | Anti-racism | Repression | Social Struggles

Such is the conclusion of the official inquiry into the murder of Zahid Mubarek, a 20 year old Asian prisoner who was beaten to death by his racist and mentally disturbed cell mate at Feltham Young Offenders Institution six years ago.

The inquiry report, published in June, gives a glimpse of a child prison with a long and notorious reputation for maltreating its inmates and driving a disproportionate number to self harm and suicide. Feltham has for years been infamous for its brutalizing and cruel conditions, and Zahid Mubarek's death there was hardly surprising when seen in the context of the vicious racism that permeated the institution and the treatment of black and Asian boys there.

Reports that Prison Officers at Feltham had deliberately engineered violence amongst the prisoners, much of it racial, entertaining themselves by organizing 'gladiatorial style' fights between prisoners, was partly supported by the findings of the official inquiry into Zahid Mubarek's death and led to the inquiry team taking the unprecedented decision to publicly name 20 staff who it considered responsible in some way for the death of Zahid.

One senior officer, Stephen Martindale, had deliberately and against the advice of a junior officer, placed Zahid in a cell with a known racist who had exhibited obvious psychotic tendencies. It was clearly obvious to the staff 'supervising' Zahid's wing that at the very least Zahid was likely to be attacked and beaten up by his deranged cell mate. This is, however a routine part of the culture at Feltham - boys being subdue and controlled by staff organized violence at every level of their lives. For black and Asian prisoners at Feltham the reality of staff-sanctioned brutality is especially commonplace, serious injury and death always a real possibility.

Had it not been for the tireless and determined struggle of Zahid's family to discover the truth about the death there would have been no official inquiry, Zahid just being forgotten, another hidden victim of a system that allows racist prison officers to freely terrorize and brutalize young black men.

No-one in any position of authority at Feltham or Prison Department Headquarters ever felt inclined to raise the alarm about the culture of violence and fear that prison officials had created at the jail, and even since the publication of the inquiry's report into Zahid's death not one of the officials named in it have been disciplined. In fact the Governor in charge of Feltham at the time of Zahid's murder, Niall Clifford has since been promoted.

Compare the quiet dignity, integrity and bravery of Zahid's family when seeking justice and truth, with the attitude of Colin Moses, national representative of the Prison Officers' Association, who in an interview with Channel 4 News, tried to portray the Prison Officers ultimately responsible for Zahid's murder as victims of what he called, "The blame culture" and said they had been "placed under unwarranted stress by the inquiry," declaring that they, "Just wanted the whole business to go away." Not once did he express sympathy for the family of Zahid Mubarek, or offer any apology for the behaviour of staff named in the inquiry report.

The reality is that in the current social and political climate of witch-hunting offenders and scapegoating minorities prison officers are being actively encouraged to brutalize prisoners and are operating in the context of a country that now locks up masses of its people on a scale never before seen in the U.K. and far in excess of any other country in Europe.

Zahid Mubarek certainly won't be the last prisoner of colour to be murdered by an intrinsically racist prison system, and make no mistake, he was murdered by that system, but his family have shown that with courage and determination it is possible to put that system in the dock and expose the racists and sadists who administer and operate it.

John Bowden July 2006

John Bowden


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