By Leander Neckles (Necko Consultancy) and Samir Jeraj (Race Equality Foundation)

Zahid Mubarek and Stephen Lawrence

Many people recognise Stephen Lawrence’s name, remember his racist murder in 1993 and know the Stephen Lawrence public Inquiry was long fought for by the family and race equality campaigners.  Zahid Mubarek’s name may be less recognisable to some but his racist murder in 2000 was equally heartbreaking, incomprehensible, shocking; it was also avoidable. At 18 and 19, Stephen and Zahid’s lives were cut short by brutal and racist murders; each death also had long lasting legal implications.


Zahid’s murder whilst imprisoned

Any racist murder is deplorable, unacceptable and a personal tragedy. The facts in Zahid’s case are stark and are almost beyond belief. Zahid had been sentenced to 90 days' detention for theft; he had been arrested for stealing razors worth £6 and interfering with a motor vehicle, and was jailed because he had failed to follow Probation Service orders to tackle his drug problems. Inside prison, he was described as a “model prisoner”. On 21 March 2000, five hours before he was due to be released from Feltham Young Offenders Institution, Zahid was wantonly murdered by Robert Stewart, with whom he shared a cell.’ Zahid was battered so badly with a wooden table leg that he fell into a coma and died a week later; he was just 19. His father’s and family’s sense of loss, pain and shock was worsened when the circumstances of his racist murder were exposed. Robert Stewart, Zahid’s cell mate, was a racist with a history of violence. After the murder, Robert Stewart pressed the cell alarm bell and said that his cellmate had had ‘an accident’. When moved to another cell, he drew a large swastika on the wall with the heel of his rubber shoe; above it he wrote "Just killed me padmate" and below it "RIP". To the family’s horror, it would later become clear that the Prison Service should have been aware of Robert Stewart’s history of alleged violence and racially motivated attacks and that Zahid should never have been in the same cell with him.


The family’s call for justice and the Human Rights Act

The Prison Service admitted fault. Investigations were undertaken by the Prison Service, the Police and the Commission for Racial Equality, but the Mubarek family wanted an independent public inquiry. The Mubareks fought for a public inquiry, against Government resistance, using the Human Rights Act 1998 which had only come into force in October 2000. The case – brought by Imtiaz Amin, Zahid’s uncle – called for the court to decide whether the Secretary of State had complied with the ‘procedural duty’ under the right to life (protected by Article 2 of the Human Rights Act) to investigate deaths where the state might be implicated. The court found in the family’s favour that the investigations surrounding Zahid’s death were not sufficient to meet the standard required by the right to life under Article 2 of the HRA. This required an investigation to be able to reach a determination of fault, independent, prompt and public and crucially the family of the victim must also be involved. As a result, a public inquiry was held.


Zahid’s murder and the importance of the Human Rights Act

It is all too easy for critics of the Human Rights Act 1988 to suggest that the Act is a waste of time or something that results in pointless legal delays. However, as its name suggests, the Act is about protecting you and me often when we cannot speak for ourselves and/or are at a significant power disadvantage in challenging and holding the State to account. If we ever face the horrors faced by the Mubareks, we want the Human Rights Act to be there. The Mubareks successfully used a Human Rights Act legal challenge to secure a public inquiry to hold the State to public account for its failures. The public inquiry identified 186 failures in the prison system, and led to changes in policy and procedures including allowing information sharing to identify high risk factors to try and prevent such tragedies in future.


If you want to know more about this case’s long lasting impact you may be interested to read the 2014 review of the implementation of the public inquiry’s recommendations. You may also be interested in the work of the charitable trust set up in Zahid’s name – the Zahid Mubarek Trust.