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Young Offender Institutions: Zahid Mubarek

Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 8 October 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What compensation has been offered to the family of Zahid Mubarek, who was murdered in Her Majesty’s Young Offender Institution Feltham in 2000.

My Lords, the Prison Service deeply regrets the circumstances that led to the tragic death of Zahid Mubarek in 2000. The then director-general of the Prison Service personally apologised to the family. As a result of the publication of the public inquiry report in 2006, the National Offender Management Service is actively implementing its recommendations. As the House will, I hope, appreciate, I am unable to comment on individual litigation claims or any offers made during such process. Such offers would be made on a “without prejudice” basis and the contents are not disclosable.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Comparisons are odious, but in this case I believe that they may be appropriate. Zahid Mubarek was the victim of an avoidable racist murder while in the hands of the state. Subsequently, the judicial inquiry, ordered by your Lordships after consistent refusal by the Government to initiate one, found that operational and managerial failure by a number of named prison staff had contributed to the murder. Since the finding, the Government have offered an ex gratia payment, in line with European awards for breaches of the human rights convention.

Stephen Lawrence was the victim of a racial murder at a bus stop in Peckham. The solicitor acting for the Lawrence family asked for £320,000 in compensation, which the Government awarded while at the same time refusing a request that he made for £130,000 for the Mubarek family. Currently, the Treasury Solicitor is suggesting that the way forward is a lawyers-only meeting, adding that it is not appropriate to enter into correspondence on matters of moral obligation. Does the Minister agree that the Government have a moral obligation to the family of someone murdered while in their care, equal to if not greater than that recognised in the Lawrence case, and that that obligation ought to be honoured by Ministers and not the Treasury Solicitor?

My Lords, I agree that this was a terrible case, but I repeat that I am not able to confirm or deny any figures of any kind. In the normal course of events it would be quite wrong before this House or in public generally to talk about any “without prejudice” offer or otherwise. This case is not on all fours with the Stephen Lawrence case, but I can say that it is a terrible case and thank goodness some important changes for the better have been made as a consequence of this dreadful murder.

My Lords, I do not intend to talk about the individual case. The noble Lord will remember the passage of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill, now the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act. He will remember the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham—the noble Lord was too modest to mention them—which the Government, after much pressure, eventually accepted, so that the Prison Service would be included under the legislation. Does he accept that it would have been much more helpful if the Government had agreed at a much earlier stage to those amendments? At least that would have shown that the Government were prepared to move on something like this, and on this issue, at an earlier stage.

My Lords, I do not agree at all. The point is that in the end we allowed the clauses through; we did the right thing. I certainly would not agree with the proposition that somehow we should have done it at a much earlier stage.

My Lords, in paying tribute to Mr and Mrs Mubarek, will my noble friend acknowledge their contribution and their resilience in pursuing justice for their son? Does he accept that important lessons have been learnt in dealing with racism in prison?

My Lords, I absolutely agree with my noble friend. Zahid’s parents, Mr and Mrs Amin, have shunned publicity and kept a low profile throughout the ensuing eight years. His uncle, Imtiaz Amin, is the main representative for the family. I say publicly that our view is that all the family have acted with enormous dignity and tremendous courage throughout.

My Lords, this was one of the most brutal racist murders in one of Her Majesty’s penal establishments. Following it, the Commission for Racial Equality carried out a major investigation and found 14 major faults. There is now an action group and a system for monitoring. When is the Minister likely to receive the action group report? Will it be published to ensure that such incidents do not happen in future?

My Lords, substantial progress has been made since the CRE’s investigation into the Prison Service on this matter. We continue to make progress against the agreed five-year action plan. We will be reporting progress to what is now called the Equality and Human Rights Commission in December 2008, which will consider what we have to say and make a judgment as to what progress has occurred. We are confident that substantial progress has been made.

My Lords, surely the more any Government invest in the development of prison officers, the more humane our prisons will be. In the past 10 years, what investment have this Government put into the continuing professional development of prison officers? What percentage of prison officers now have a degree-level qualification? How many prison officers are working towards a degree or equivalent-level qualification? I recognise that this is a specific question, but the more educated prison officers are, surely the more humane they will be in their practices.

My Lords, I do not know the factual answers to the noble Earl’s question, but it gives me the opportunity to say that we appreciate greatly the huge service that prison officers and others who work in the prison estate perform for this country. I am glad to be able to say that since this Government came to power the amount of money that officers earn and the way in which they are treated are, we believe, much improved, but so they should be, as these are important guardians of our safety.

My Lords, one of the recommendations of the inquiry following the murder of Zahid Mubarek was that there should be a risk assessment of every young offender sharing a cell. Will the Minister confirm that this is happening at Feltham and, indeed, in all our young offender institutions?

My Lords, I am not sure that I can confirm what the right reverend Prelate says. I want to be careful in what I say on this but I shall, of course, write to him. On Feltham, where this dreadful murder took place, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons carried out a follow-up inspection in June 2007. As the House will know, the young offender institution had a very mixed record, if I may understate the issue. The chief inspector stated:

“Feltham has benefited from strong management, considerable investment and protection from some of the more damaging effects of overcrowding. Overall, staff have responded well, and it is a long way from the establishment described in our earlier reports and in the Mubarek inquiry. Indeed, some of the work and the approach is a benchmark for other young offender institutions”.