Sunak faces pressure for probation failures in Zara Aleena murder

The Prime Minister has faced questions about whether the Government has “blood on their hands” because of failures in the Parole Service that contributed to Zara Aleena’s death.

The Labor Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, pressed Rishi Sunak on whether he accepted Aleena’s family’s claim, which followed a report of the death of the probation chief investigator.

The investigation uncovered a catalog of errors made by probation officers before Jordan McSweeney carried out the fatal attack on the prospective lawyer.

Labor leader Keir Starmer speaks during Prime Minister's Questions

Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said failures in the Probation Service were the result of ‘unsuccessful and then reversed privatisation’ (House of Commons/PA)

McSweeney, 29, was sentenced to life in prison and sentenced to at least 38 years after he admitted to sexually assaulting and murdering a 35-year-old law graduate in Ilford, east London, in June.

Following the Observer report, Aleena’s aunt, Farah Naz, said the Probation Service “had blood on her hands”.

In an unusually quiet and somber start to the Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir questioned whether Mr Sunak had accepted the report’s findings before proceeding with the family’s decision.

The leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons said: “Zara Aleena was walking home from a night out with her friends when she was brutally assaulted, assaulted, and beaten to death. Zara was a bright young woman, a trainee lawyer with a bright future.”

He said McSweeney was “not fit to walk the same streets,” and added: “But that’s exactly the problem. He was free to walk the same streets.

“The investigative report on his case says that opportunities were missed by the Probation Service that could have prevented this attack and saved his life. Does the Prime Minister accept these findings?

Mr. Sunak said “this was a truly terrible crime” and that the shortcomings the chief inspector found were “serious and indeed unacceptable”.

Sir Keir continued: “The report also says that roster vacancies and excessive workload contributed to these fatal setbacks. And it makes it absolutely clear that this was not a one-off.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during Prime Minister's Questions

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the Government is taking steps to fill the staffing shortage in the Probation Service (House of Commons/PA).

“As stated in the report, these are systemic problems in the Probation Service. These are clearly ministerial responsibilities. Does the Prime Minister also accept these findings?”

Mr. Sunak replied: “Let me summarize with him exactly what steps we have taken, and this is to ensure that mandatory training is put in place to improve risk assessments.

“Perform mandatory checks with the police and juvenile services before a probation officer advises the court to hand a convicted offender an electronically tracked offense and implement new processes to guarantee the speedy recall of offenders.

The action we take is already making a difference, for example we are seeing a decrease in the number of electronically monitored curfews issued by the courts.”

Sir Keir concluded his questions on the case by describing the failures in the Probation Service as a result of the Government’s “privatisation, which failed and then reversed after ten years of insufficient investment”.

“I spoke to Zara’s family this morning. It is difficult to convey their suffering to this House. They say the government is bloody because of these failures.

“He accepted the report’s findings, does he agree with what Zara’s family said?”

Mr. Sunak did not directly answer the question, but said his “heart, of course, is with Zara’s family,” adding that the Government is taking steps to address staffing shortages and other issues in the Probation Service.

The Prime Minister added: “If we want to increase the safety of women and girls in our streets, then we need harsh punishments and that is why this Government passed the Law on Police, Crime, Sentences and Courts which he (Sir) has passed. Keir) is opposed and his party is opposed.”

Sir Keir replied: “In light of the Zara incident, I really don’t think the Prime Minister should boast about the protection he provides for women.”

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