Zara Aleena: Failures 'across multiple agencies' contributed to death, inquest finds

Law graduate Zara Aleena was murdered by Jordan McSweeney as she walked home from a night out in Ilford, east London, in June 2022  (PA Media)
Law graduate Zara Aleena was murdered by Jordan McSweeney as she walked home from a night out in Ilford, east London, in June 2022 (PA Media)

Failures "across multiple agencies" contributed to the death of Zara Aleena who was murdered as she walked home from a night out in east London, an inquest jury has found.

Jordan McSweeney killed the 35-year-old law graduate as she walked home from a night out in Ilford, east London, early on June 26 2022, just nine days after he was released from prison.

The jury found “Zara’s death was contributed to by the failure of multiple state agencies to act in accordance to policies and procedures – to share intelligence, accurately assess risk of serious harm, (and) act and plan in response to the risk in a sufficient, timely and co-ordinated way.”

There were “significant failures to appropriately assess risk by HMPPS (HM Prison and Probation Service) – the risk registered at medium and should have been high from February 2021”, it said.

These included failure to identify “significant events” which should have led to the risk being re-evaluated, and that information sharing, decision making, supervision and training were “inadequate”.

They added there was “failure to define, understand and execute roles and responsibilities across multiple agencies to manage the offender effectively.”

Jordan McSweeney (PA Archive)
Jordan McSweeney (PA Archive)

“Attempts (by the Metropolitan Police) to arrest the offender post-recall were impeded by a number of factors, including inaccurate data on the recall and a lack of professional curiosity and follow-ups on Saturday June 25.”

The force broke policy by failing to counter-sign the recall within 24 hours, they said, and recall was “significantly delayed”.

“If the risk was correctly assessed as high, it would have justified an emergency recall to prison, initiating a more urgent response”, they said, and even at a medium risk “reasonable recall opportunities were overlooked”.

Based on the evidence, recalling McSweeney could have started on June 20 2022, they added.

A statement from Farah Naz, Zara Aleena’s aunt, said: “While we take some comfort in the fact that Zara’s murder has prompted substantial, meaningful and hopefully sustainable changes in probation, police, and local authority policies and practices, we remain devastated by our enormous loss.

“Zara should be alive today. Her brutal murder could and should have been prevented.”

Ms Naz continued: “It is clear from the evidence we have heard that there are significant issues of under-resourcing across the system.

“Additionally, at numerous stages in this process, there were instances where responsibilities were not carried out effectively, professionally and within necessary timelines, initiative was not taken, and there were glaring gaps in knowledge among some officers in prison probation, community probation and the police about their own roles.

“We also learnt that some operational policies are not fit for purpose. We hope that lessons will be learned, improvements will be made and discussions will be facilitated as a result of this inquest.”

She added:We ask that there are clear and measurable audit trails of the changes made.

“We ask that the Prevention of Future Deaths Report to be presented by the coroner in due course will be given the serious attention it demands and that it is acted upon by the Justice Secretary and other relevant ministers, and given the appropriate and necessary resources.

“We recognise the swift actions of the Metropolitan Police in finding the killer and the judicial process which led to his sentencing, and now the care taken during this inquest. All involved have treated Zara’s memory with the utmost respect and care.”

Ms Aleena died in hospital from a blunt force head injury and neck compression, the jury said on Wednesday.

Floral tributes left at the scene on Cranbrook Road in Ilford, east London, where Zara Aleena, 35, was murdered (PA Archive)
Floral tributes left at the scene on Cranbrook Road in Ilford, east London, where Zara Aleena, 35, was murdered (PA Archive)

McSweeney was handed a life sentence with a minimum term of 38 years at the Old Bailey in December 2022 after admitting Ms Aleena’s murder and sexual assault.

In November 2023, he won a Court of Appeal bid to reduce the minimum term of his life sentence.

Area coroner Nadia Persaud had asked jurors to consider whether any failings by the prison and probation services or Metropolitan Police contributed to Ms Aleena’s death.

Police were unable to make contact with McSweeney after he was released on licence on June 17, 2022, but probation waited five days before initiating his recall to prison.

He missed his probation appointment on the day he was let out, and his mother told staff he had passed out drunk at her house.

It was rescheduled twice but McSweeney did not attend either appointment, and when officers approached his mother again she said she did not know where he was.

Despite the lack of contact his recall was not initiated until June 22 and the recall report was signed on June 24 2022.

Police were given powers to arrest McSweeney at 4.10pm the same day.

In the early hours of June 26, McSweeney murdered Ms Aleena.

His probation worker, recently qualified Austin Uwaifo, said McSweeney should have been graded high risk and, had he been, he would have pushed for him to have been recalled to prison earlier.

Mr Uwaifo said: “At the time, the thinking was that because he came out on the Friday, my thinking was to give him the opportunity to return – possibly he came out and decided to, for whatever reason, decided to go out and get drunk.”

Mr Uwaifo said the probation office was not staffed over the weekend but that he would have requested a faster out-of-hours emergency recall if McSweeney had been graded high risk.

The police officer who actioned McSweeney’s recall said initial inquiries into his whereabouts were closed prematurely and more checks should have been carried out.

Metropolitan Police operations sergeant Ian Batten said he did not foresee that McSweeney was a risk to the public after receiving a recall to prison notice for him on June 24 2022.

Sgt Batten also said he did not know initial inquiries into McSweeney’s whereabouts were closed before the end of his shift.

On Wednesday Ms Persaud paid tribute to Ms Aleena, who died two years to the day, and said: “I would like to send my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Zara.”

A video montage of pictures and videos from throughout Ms Aleena’s life was played to East London Coroner’s Court on Wednesday.