Watchdog finds serious probation errors in Zara Aleena’s killer

According to one watchdog, the probation officers’ failures left the sexual abuser “free” to pursue and kill law graduate Zara Aleena just days after she was released from jail.

In a scathing report, probation chief investigator Justin Russell highlighted a catalog of errors in the Probation Service’s handling of Jordan McSweeney; this meant that he was not treated as a high-risk offender when he should have been.

He warned that until standards improved, it was “impossible to say the public was adequately protected” from the dangers posed by offenders on probation, and later told Times Radio: “It could happen again.”

McSweeney, 29, was sentenced to life imprisonment and sentenced to at least 38 years in prison last month after admitting to a “gruesome and brutal” attack on 35-year-old Ms Aleena in Ilford, east London, in June.

Death of Zara Aleena

Zara Aleena was attacked while walking home while on a night out in London in June (Family statement/Metropolitan Police/PA)

Attorney General Dominic Raab has ordered a review of how probation staff oversees when it was revealed that McSweeney, who has a string of convictions and a history of violence, was released from prison with a license nine days before the murder.

In those nine days, his license was revoked for not being able to see the probation officers – but he was not recalled to prison.

The report comes just a week after the watchdog revealed another failure of the probation officers before Damien Bendall killed his three children and pregnant partner.

It also follows the concerns that arose nearly three years ago after serial rapist Joseph McCann carried out a series of sexual assaults when he was released from prison for major setbacks by an “unbalanced” team of inexperienced probation personnel.

Mr. Russell, who described McSweeney as a “career offender” who had been in and out of jail since the age of 16, said he “should be seen as a criminal with a high risk of serious harm” and added: “More urgent action would be required if there were oversight over his release from custody. He was taken to prison to recall them after missing their appointment.

“The Eviction Service failed to do that, and he was free to commit this most heinous crime against an innocent young woman.”

The findings “bring a sharp focus on the consequences of these missed opportunities and reveal a Probation Service in London under the increasing pressure of heavy workloads and high vacancy rates,” he said.

Death of Zara Aleena

Jordan McSweeney caught on CCTV following a woman in Ilford (Metropolitan Police/PA)

The “clear lesson” from the case was that the “overworked staff” didn’t have time to go back to the case files, Mr. Russell told Times Radio: “There are more than 500 other serious crimes committed by people on probation each year. All of which are then prosecuted. It is investigated by the litigation service, and it is vital to learn from it.”

One worker received disciplinary action for the incident.

But the observer’s report, released on Tuesday, said: “HR investigation procedures have been initiated against two staff members. These were finalized with no further action in either case.

McSweeney had already been kicked out of a bar for harassing a female staff member the night Mrs. Aleena was walking home from a night out and had tried to target at least five other women.

He grabbed Miss Aleena from behind and dragged her into a driveway where he repeatedly kicked and stamped her in the head and body before sexually assaulting her.

Minutes from Ms. Aleena’s front door and caught on hazy CCTV, the attack lasted nine minutes and resulted in 46 separate injuries.

Ms. Aleena, who was training to become a lawyer, was found with severe head injury and difficulty breathing. She died in the hospital.

In court, the prolific thief McSweeney was described as a “damaged person” who had a troubled childhood where domestic violence was “the norm”.

Death of Zara Aleena

Jordan McSweeney arrested June 27 (Metropolitan Police/PA)

He was taken into care, expelled from school, and began selling drugs and bare-finger fighting for money.

He had 28 convictions for 69 separate offenses over 17 years, including theft, vehicle theft, criminal harm, assaulting police officers, and assaulting the public while on bail.

He also had a history of violence against his ex-partners, and in 2021 he ordered a restraining order for a crime against a woman.

Making 10 recommendations, Mr. Russell called for an urgent review of how staff measure the risks posed by criminals to others, among a number of other measures.

Damian Hinds, minister of prisons and probation, said: “This was a heinous crime and I apologize unconditionally to Zara Aleena’s family for the unacceptable failures in this case.

“We are taking urgent steps to address the serious issues raised by the Jordan McSweeney and Damien Bendall cases. This includes mandatory training to improve risk assessments, the implementation of new processes to ensure the speedy recall of offenders, and we have taken disciplinary action where appropriate.

“We are investing £155m a year in the Probation Service to recruit thousands more officers who will ensure tighter enforcement, protect the public and ensure that such tragedies never happen again.”

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