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

Women and girls are not safe on the streets of London, the family of murdered law graduate Zara Aleena warned as they hit out at probation service “incompetence” and other failings which left her killer free to strike.

Jordan McSweeney, a “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 and should have already been returned to jail for breaching the terms of his release.

But delays meant that he was still free when he sexually assaulted and murdered Ms Aleena, 35, left, in Ilford as she walked home in the early hours on June 26 last year after a night out at a bar.

Jordan McSweeney being arrested (PA)
Jordan McSweeney being arrested (PA)

McSweeney, who had never met Ms Aleena, had trailed other lone women earlier that night before launching his brutal and fatal attack on her.

She was left badly beaten, struggling to breathe and partially naked and died in hospital later that morning.

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

Ms Aleena’s aunt Farah Naz said she had died because of “incompetence” and warned that other women would remain in peril unless action was taken.

“It’s clear that women and girls are not safe if probation is not doing its job,” she said, adding that today’s report had revealed a “litany of errors” and failures — from front-line staff to managers and ministers responsible for overseeing the system.

“The errors are not necessarily down to lack of resources or overwork, but down to incompetence, leaders not putting recommendations from previous reports... into place, poor management,” Ms Naz told BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

“One instance in the report says that six staff were off on leave at one point so public safety was at stake.

 (PA)
(PA)

“Not following good practice in release planning, not following protocols on recall, not taking into account history of offences and assessing correctly, not taking into account his behaviour and not compliance throughout his adult and teen life.

“This is not a service doing it’s best with inadequate resources. This is a service that is incompetent. There are people given a licence to do what they want on our streets. Recommendations have been made before... what we need is action and we need accountability, not just from people on the frontline... These are leaders who have failed. We have ministers that haven’t responded to previous recommendations and they are answerable here.”

Ms Naz also hit out at ministers for failing to apologise personally to Ms Aleena’s family over the errors which led to her murder.

“We haven’t had a personal apology. We read it in the paper. That’s totally inappropriate because we’ve lost a member of our family, a loved member of our family, for nothing.”

Tuesday’s report by Mr Russell says that McSweeney should have been classed as a “high risk of harm” offender when freed and subjected to strict controls, potentially including a GPS tag, joint monitoring by police and probation staff, and release into a secure hostel.

Jordan McSweeney (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Wire)
Jordan McSweeney (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Wire)

He says that a failure to share information between prison and probation staff about his violent nature, including weapons offences behind bars, meant he was instead classed as only medium risk and that he was also released to an unknown address.

Probation staff then failed to recall him quickly enough after he missed three probation 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.

Responding to the findings, policing minister Chris Philp said Ms Aleena’s murder was “absolutely heartbreaking” and insisted that action was being taken to prevent further tragedies occurring.

Women’s safety campaigners said that a lack of funding is partly to blame for the litany of errors.

Andrea Simon, director of End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said the report shows that the justice system is struggling to protect women after “a decade of austerity policies”.

 (PA)
(PA)

The charity boss said: “This grave and appalling failing on the part of the Probation Service constitutes yet another way in which the criminal justice system is catastrophically failing to protect women and girls and prevent further violence and abuse.”

Claire Waxman, London’s Victims’ Commissioner, said the “damning review” highlights a “litany of errors and oversights” and “paints a clear picture of a disjointed system that is struggling to properly protect the public”.

“There was a near total failure to adequately risk-assess McSweeney, and no holistic approach taken to look at his past,” she said.

“These are truly tragic circumstances, and reflect a justice system that is 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.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the probation failings are “symptomatic of wider issues” which “must be addressed immediately”.

Mr Khan said: “My thoughts are with Zara’s family and loved ones on this extremely difficult day.

“This is a damning report which makes clear that, even before Zara’s brutal murder, McSweeney was a dangerous, prolific and violent predator who should never have been left at liberty to take the life of an innocent young woman.

“The Probation Service has failed in this case and this failure is symptomatic of wider issues after 13 years of chaotic Government policies and cuts, that must be addressed immediately.”