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Immigration detainee unlawfully killed after Home Office failings, inquest jury finds

AN elderly man was “unlawfully killed” while locked inside an immigration detention centre by a fellow inmate, an inquest jury has found.

Business owner Tarek Chowdhury, 64, was fatally “attacked and beaten” at Colnbrook removal centre in west London on December 1, 2016.

The perpetrator, 33-year-old Iraqi detainee Zana Assad Yusif (alias Zana Ahmad), later pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a criminal trial at the Old Bailey on the basis of diminished responsibility.

Today a separate coroner’s inquest found that a litany of failures by the Home Office, Prison Service and private contractors culminated in the tragic death of Mr Chowdhury, a married father-of-two from Bangladesh.

His family have welcomed the findings of West London Coroner’s Court, which concluded that the killer was too dangerous to be held in immigration detention and his mental health was not properly assessed.

Systems for sharing information about the killer’s mental health and violent tendencies were found to be flawed.

Inappropriate staffing arrangements in the hours leading up to the killing may also have contributed to Mr Chowdhury’s death.

The jury’s findings came after a two-week inquest, which opened with bereaved relatives describing Mr Chowdhury as a gentle, soft and polite man who was never in trouble with law.

He was due to be removed to Bangladesh due to a lack of immigration status and was only detained due to a mistake by the Home Office.

By contrast, his killer was a hardened criminal who had previously attacked a prisoner at Wormwood Scrubs with a table leg.

The brazen assault took place the day before the Home Office decided he was safe to transfer to immigration detention - where security was lower – despite earlier assessments to the contrary.  

Mr Yusif soon went on a sinister spree of bizarre behaviour that led immigration detainees to warn staff he was “crazy”.

These warnings were never relayed to the right authorities because of failures with Home Office IT systems — problems that were meant to have been fixed after the death of another detainee at Colnbrook, Brian Dalrymple, eight years ago, but are still persisting to this day.

When Mr Chowdhury was killed in 2016, the IT issues meant immigration officers were kept “in the dark about any intelligence” on Mr Yusif held by the prison service, who knew he was a volatile inmate.

Instead guards at Colnbrook had to discover for themselves just how dangerous Mr Yusif was, with one guard finding he had a “violent aura” that made her “scared of him.”

The day before the killing, Mr Yusif dressed up in his room mate’s clothes — “bizarre” behaviour that the jury found was caused by a “drug induced psychosis.”

He spent the night alone in his cell but was allowed to roam around the wing unsupervised for forty minutes after he was unlocked in the morning due to staffing shortages.

CCTV footage, which was supposed to be monitored, showed that for at least nine minutes that morning Mr Yusif wandered around naked from the waist down.

At quarter to nine he followed Mr Chowdhury into a cell, “set upon him and beat him and inflicted injuries” so serious that he died in St Mary’s hospital later that day. The jury heard that the beating lasted 1 minute 27 seconds.

Assistant coroner Richard Furniss said he intends to send a Prevention of Future Deaths report to the Home Office and Ministry of Justice to ensure mistakes are not repeated.

He told Mr Chowdhury’s family that they “have this court’s deepest condolences”.

Speaking after the inquest, Tarek Chowdhury’s family, said: “We want to take this opportunity to thank the Coroner and the jury for considering carefully the evidence that led to our beloved Tarek’s death.

“These proceedings have shown us that the systems are broken and that it is time for agencies to do some soul searching.

“The perpetrator should never have been in an immigration detention centre and no one took responsibility for ensuring that it was safe for him to be there.

“Tarek became victim to his horrific assault. To make matters even worse, we found out that Tarek himself shouldn’t have been in detention.

“Tarek’s wife and daughters were expecting their husband and father to join them back home in Bangladesh, instead they received news of his death.”

Bharine Kalsi of Deighton Pierce Glynn, solicitor for the family, said: “The jury in this case have heard of a catalogue of systemic failings by various agencies, but in particular the immigration detention estate, that allowed this brutal killing to occur.

“Mr Chowdhury’s family will have to live with the fact that had the perpetrator been adequately risk assessed and information shared, their loving husband, father, grandfather and brother would not have been killed.

“No family should have to be confronted by this fact. It is now time for agencies to rectify the catastrophic system failings that have come to light during this inquest.”

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