Zara Aleena: probation failings left law graduate’s killer ‘free’ to stalk and kill her, watchdog finds

Jordan McSweeney should have been treated as a “high-risk offender”

Serious failings by probation officers left a sexual predator “free” to stalk and kill law graduate Zara Aleena just days after he was released from jail, a watchdog has found.

A damning report highlighted a catalogue of errors in the Probation Service’s handling of Jordan McSweeney which meant he was not treated as a high-risk offender when he should have been.

Last month, McSweeney, 29, was given a life sentence and jailed for at least 38 years after admitting a “terrifying and ruthless” attack on the 35-year-old aspiring lawyer in Ilford, east London, in June.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab ordered a review of how probation staff supervised McSweeney – who had a string of convictions and a history of violence – when it emerged he was freed from prison on licence nine days before the murder. In those nine days, his licence had been revoked after he failed to meet probation officers, but he was not recalled to prison.

Zara Aleena was attacked as she walked home from a night out (Photo: Metropolitan Police / PA)

In the report, chief inspector of probation Justin Russell described McSweeney as a “career criminal” who has been in and out of jail since the age of 16, and “should have been considered a high-risk-of-serious-harm offender”.

But he was wrongly assessed as a "medium" risk because "each of the offences, his behaviours in prison and his criminal history had been reviewed in isolation".

He said: “If he had, more urgent action would have been taken to recall him to prison after he missed his supervision appointments on release from custody. The Probation Service failed to do so and he was free to commit this most heinous crime on an innocent, young woman.”

Mr Russell said the findings bring into “sharp focus the consequences of these missed opportunities and reveals a Probation Service, in London, under the mounting pressure of heavy workloads and high vacancy rates”.

One worker faced disciplinary action over the case. But the watchdog’s report, published on Tuesday, said: “HR investigations procedures were initiated in respect of two staff members. These have now concluded, with no further action taken in either case.”

ordan McSweeney who has been jailed for life at the Old Bailey for a minimum term of 38 years (Photo: PA)

On the night McSweeney stalked Ms Aleena as she walked home from a night out, he had already been thrown out of a pub for pestering a female member of staff and tried to target at least five other women. He grabbed Ms Aleena from behind and dragged her into a driveway where he repeatedly kicked and stamped on her head and body before sexually assaulting her.

The attack – minutes from Ms Aleena’s front door and caught on grainy CCTV – lasted nine minutes and resulted in 46 separate injuries. Ms Aleena, who was training to be a solicitor, was found with severe head injuries and struggling to breathe. She later died in hospital.

In court, prolific thief McSweeney was described as a “damaged person” who had a troubled childhood where domestic violence was the “norm”. He was taken into care, expelled from school and started drug dealing and bare-knuckle fighting for money.

He had 28 past convictions for 69 separate offences over 17 years, including burglary, theft of a vehicle, criminal damage, assaulting police officers and attacking members of the public while on bail.

He also had a history of violence towards ex-partners and was handed a restraining order for an offence against a woman in 2021.

The watchdog made 10 recommendations in the report and called for an urgent review into how staff gauge the risk criminals pose to others among a series of other measures, and warned that until standards improve, it is “impossible to say that the public is being properly protected” from the dangers posed by criminals on probation.

Prisons and probation minister Damian Hinds said: “This was a despicable crime and I apologise unreservedly to Zara Aleena’s family for the unacceptable failings in this case.

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

“We are also investing £155 million a year into the Probation Service to recruit the thousands more officers who will deliver tougher supervision, protect the public and ensure these sorts of tragedies can never happen again.”

‘We need more than an apology’

Responding to the probation watchdog’s findings after the murder of Zara Aleena, her aunt Farah Naz said it was an “extremely distressing report… revealing a litany of errors”.

Speaking to BBC Radio Four’s Woman’s Hour programme about the Probation Service failures laid bare in the report, she said: “This is not a service that’s doing its best with inadequate resources. This is a service that is incompetent and has the failures by people at the top to ensure a quality service.”

Asked if the Probation Service can be trusted to keep the public safe, in particular women and girls, Ms Naz said: “Well, I think not. I think it’s clear that, actually, women and girls are not safe if probation is not doing its job.”

In a statement, prisons and probation minister Damian Hinds apologised “unreservedly” to Ms Aleena’s family for the “unacceptable failings” in this case, but Ms Naz said they need “much more than an apology”.

She told the BBC Radio Four programme: “We need much more than an apology. These recommendations have been made before and people have been promised that they’re going to be followed.

“So, actually, what we need is action and we need accountability. We need accountability not just from people on the front line, these are managers, these are leaders that have failed here. Because if assessment isn’t correct, it means the leaders are making mistakes.”

Ms Naz added that she first learned of the apology being made by government ministers on Tuesday morning (24 January), adding: “We haven’t had a personal apology, we read it in the paper. That’s totally inappropriate, actually, because we’ve lost a member of our family and a loved member of our family for absolutely nothing.”