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Failures ‘across multiple agencies’ contributed to Zara Aleena’s death – inquest

Zara Aleena (Family Handout/PA)
Zara Aleena (Family Handout/PA)

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 in the early hours of June 26 2022, 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.”

“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 not counter-signing 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.

Area coroner Nadia 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.

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.

Ms 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.

Zara Aleena
Zara Aleena (Family Handout/PA)

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.”

He 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.

Senior probation officers must now record why they have allocated a case to a particular probation officer, including evidence that they have taken into account the complexity of the case and the officer’s experience and workload, the Ministry of Justice has said.

Chief Probation Officer Kim Thornden-Edwards said in a statement after the inquest: “The murder of Zara Aleena was a terrible crime and I, again, offer her family and friends the Probation Service’s apologies for the failings in this case.

“My thoughts have been with them throughout this inquest process.

“We have taken significant steps to address the failings previously identified since 2022, including mandatory training to improve risk assessments and implementing new processes to ensure the swift recall of offenders, and will look at any further action now required.”

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.