Rishi Sunak grilled over probation failings that led to Zara Aleena’s murder

Rishi Sunak  (Sky News)
Rishi Sunak (Sky News)

Rishi Sunak has been grilled over failings in the probation service following the murder of Zara Aleena.

At Prime Minister's Questions, Sir Keir Starmer said a "decade of underinvestment" in the "vital public service" had led to Jordan McSweeney being free to kill.

The “serious and career criminal” with a history of violence was wrongly assessed as a medium risk instead of high risk when he was freed from a ninth prison term, a report by the probation Watchdog found this week.

McSweeney should have already been returned to jail for breaching the terms of his release before he murdered Ms Aleena , 35, in Ilford on June 26 last year.

Sir Keir asked Mr Sunak whether he believed the Government had “blood on their hands” over the failings.

The Labour leader, a former director of public prosecutions, told the Commons on Wednesday that failings in the probation service were a result of "a botched-then-reversed privatisation, after a decade of underinvestment" by the Government.

"Zara Aleena was walking home from a night out with her friends when she was savagely attacked, assaulted, and beaten to death,” he said.

"Zara was a brilliant young woman, a trainee lawyer with a bright future...The inspectorate report into her case says that opportunities were missed by the probation service that could have prevented this attack and saved her life. Does the Prime Minister accept those findings?"

He added: “I spoke to Zara’s family this morning. It is hard to convey to this House the agony that they have been through. They say that the Government has blood on their hands over these failings.

“He’s accepted the findings of the report, does he also accept what Zara’s family say?”

Mr Sunak replied that "this was a truly terrible crime" and that the failings the chief inspector found "were serious and indeed, unacceptable".

He added: "These failures can be traced to failings in the initial risk assessment, and that's why immediate steps are being taken to address the serious issues raised."

"If we do want to increase the safety of women and girls out on our streets then we need tough sentencing, and that is why this Government passed the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which he opposite and his party opposed."

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell blamed a succession of failures by overloaded probation staff and the prison service for leaving McSweeney, 29, free to kill.

A failure to share information between prison and probation staff about his violent nature meant he was instead classed as only medium risk and was released to an unknown address.

Probation staff then failed to recall him quickly enough after he missed three appointments and it was only 36 hours after they finally did that he killed Ms Aleena.

McSweeney was jailed for life in December at the Old Bailey.