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OPINION - Fury at failings that left Zara Aleena’s killer on the streets

 (Ben Turner)
(Ben Turner)

Jordan McSweeney should have been in prison on the night he sexually assaulted and murdered Zara Aleena. The reasons he was not have been exposed in a report from the chief inspector of probation, which found a catalogue of errors that led to a serious and career criminal, with a history of violence, wrongly assessed as a ‘medium’ rather than ‘high’ risk when he was released from a ninth prison term.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab had ordered the review of how probation staff supervised McSweeney when it emerged he was freed from jail on licence nine days before Aleena’s murder.

In the report, chief inspector Justin Russell warned that until standards improved, it was “impossible to say that the public is being properly protected” from the dangers posed by criminals on probation, later saying: “It could happen again.”

When asked on BBC Woman’s Hour whether the Probation Service was fit for purpose, Russell replied: “I think the way that it assesses, manages and reviews risk of harm is not fit for purpose, and that is a key function for the Probation Service, it should be one of its priorities.”

Claire Waxman, London’s Victims’ Commissioner, said the errors reflect a justice system on its knees. “Excessive workloads, low pay, and low morale have led to a huge shortage of staff in Probation, and government must address these failings if they want to keep the public safe.”

The watchdog’s report comes a week after it revealed a separate list of failings by probation officers that occurred before a pregnant woman and three children were murdered by Damien Bendall. It also follows less than three years after serial rapist Joseph McCann carried out a series of sex attacks when he was freed from prison amid major failings by an “unstable” team of inexperienced probation staff.

Prisons minister Damian Hinds said the government was taking “immediate steps” to address the concerns raised by the McSweeney and Bendall cases, including “mandatory training to improve risk assessments” as well as the hiring of thousands more probation officers as part of £155 million programme.

Too late for Zara Aleena, Terri Harris, Lacey Bennett, John Paul Bennett, and Connie Gent amongst others who suffered the ultimate consequence of failures within the Probation Service.

Elsewhere in the paper, in a speech at Chatham House, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said that Labour would seek to “fix the Tories’ bad Brexit deal” if it won the next election, but reiterated that Britain would not rejoin the EU, single market or customs union under a Keir Starmer administration. They could start by doing something to enable Eurostar to actually fill its trains.

In the comment pages, Anne McElvoy explains why liberal icons such as Jacinda Ardern are often more admired abroad than at home. While Melanie McDonagh wants you to work until you’re 70.

And finally, how to spend a winter weekend in Florence: avoid the masses and enjoy having the Tuscan capital to yourself (sort of).

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