Pentonville Prison murder trial: Three inmates cleared of killing Jamal Mahmoud
- Credit: PA
Three inmates have today been cleared of stabbing a new father to death in a war over phones and drugs smuggled into Pentonville Prison.
Jamal Mahmoud, 21, was killed in October last year as the 175-year-old jail in Caledonian Road struggled with overcrowding, staffing, and violent factions fighting to control the lucrative contraband trade.
During an Old Bailey trial which started on September 14, jurors were told CCTV which might have captured the killing on the upper floor of G Wing had been deactivated years ago.
On a tour of the heavily-criticised jail, the jury saw a gaping hole in netting above the building designed to stem the flow of contraband by drone.
The jury deliberated for more than one-and-a-half weeks to find Basana Kimbembi, 35, Robert Butler, 31, and Joshua Ratner, 27, not guilty of murder.
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However, the 11 men and women convicted Kimbembi of wounding Mr Mahmoud's friend Mohammed Ali with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. The defendants nodded and Butler said "thank you" to the jurors following the verdicts.
Judge Richard Marks QC adjourned Kimbembi's sentencing until Monday.
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Jurors were told the victim, nicknamed Kaos, was leader of a "Somali" gang which clashed with Congolese Kimbembi over the delivery of a package of drugs and phones into G Wing on sheets.
Mahmoud demanded his share and warned "If you want war, I'll give you war", the court heard.
An anonymous inmate gave evidence about the dispute under the false name Bobby Dorset from behind a screen and speaking through a Darth Vader-style voice modulator. But after less than an hour in the witness box, he was accidentally identified in court and refused to continue with his evidence.
Supervising officer Dizzy Vergo compared marshalling inmates with "playing a game of Pac-Man".
She let out the defendants on the day of the stabbing, but only after ordering Mahmoud's fifth floor to remain on lockdown, she said.
It was alleged that the defendants armed themselves to confront Mahmoud on the top level over G Wing, where there are no CCTV cameras.
During the violent melee, Mahmoud was stabbed in the chest and his friend, Ali, was wounded by Kimbembi who had a large combat knife, jurors were told.
Kimbembi and Butler both denied delivering the fatal wound to Mahmoud and said their co-accused, Ratner, was not involved.
Butler told jurors he swung out blindly with a folding knife after he was stabbed in the back and attacked with a weighted sock when he tried to take a "neutral" role over the package.
On why he bought the knife for £150 behind bars, Butler said: "The majority of G Wing prisoners have weapons. I've seen lots of people get stabbed and I didn't want it to be me."
Ratner's lawyer, Charles Sherrard, told jurors the case against him was built on "speculation and vague inferences".
He said: "While it was needless and pathetic on any level, there was an element of 'live by the sword, die by the sword' both metaphorically and literally here."
The category B and C jail, which housed the likes of Oscar Wilde and George Michael, has been criticised in recent inspections for being dirty, overcrowded, unsafe and under-staffed.
As well as packages being thrown over the perimeter wall, jurors heard that Mr Mahmoud had been connected with drone delivery.
Mahmoud's family, who sat in court throughout the trial, are thought to be considering suing over his death.
Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "This trial has shed an uncomfortable light on the reality of life in one of our oldest and most overcrowded prisons.
"Attention will inevitably focus on the actions of some individuals and the prison's management. But in the 21st century it is an indictment of successive governments that we still have a prison like Pentonville at all.
"Every week an endless procession of the weak, disadvantaged and unwell pass through the same gates as the seriously dangerous. Inside, staff struggle to build the relationships that will both protect the vulnerable and identify those who pose the most risk.
"Every day, the governor's ability to deliver a safe and decent way of life is compromised by the mismatch between the prison's physical and human resources and the job it is being asked to perform.
"The operational problems are plain for all to see, but they require a political solution."
Dave Todd, Prison Officers' Association representative for Pentonville, said proper staffing levels, less overcrowding and a good management plan could avert tragedy.
He said: "The prison officers did a fantastic job in trying to save him and protect him. They put themselves in front of the prisoner who was being kicked. You can only imagine how horrific it was."
On the lack of operational CCTV, he added: "There have been a lot of funding issues regarding CCTV but CCTV can only capture the evidence, it does not stop this type of thing happening."
Reporting by Press Association