The Government has “apologised unreservedly” for “unacceptable failings” in probation services which contributed to a five-year-old boy being beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend.
An inquest into the death in November 2016 of Alex Malcolm concluded on Thursday that his death was an unlawful killing.
Alex suffered fatal head injuries after being battered in a south London park by Marvyn Iheanacho, who flew into a rage at the little boy for losing a trainer.
Iheanacho, then-boyfriend of Alex’s mother Lilya Breha, had a string of previous convictions for violent offences, including attacks on former girlfriends.
At the time of the incident in 2016 he was under supervision by the National Probation Service (NPS), having been released from prison less than six months earlier.
In a narrative conclusion the jury identified that a series of failures by the NPS, as well as system defects following major changes to probation services under the Transforming Rehabilitation policy, contributed to Alex’s death, the charity Inquest said.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman apologised “unreservedly” for “unacceptable failings” in the case.
He added: “Our deepest condolences remain with the victim’s family, and we apologise unreservedly for the unacceptable failings in this case – we will now carefully consider the coroner’s findings.
“In the three years since Alex’s tragic death, the National Probation Service in London has undertaken a huge programme of work to improve standards and better protect the public.
“Over 1,300 probation staff in London have attended specialist domestic violence and child safeguarding training, and we have recruited a further 180 trainee probation officers over the last year.”
Iheanacho was convicted of Alex’s murder in 2017 and jailed for life with a minimum of 18 years. This was later increased to a minimum of 21.
After a twelve-day hearing, the inquest jury gave a narrative conclusion which found that “numerous system defects more than minimally contributed” to Alex’s death, Inquest said.
These included the major changes in probation services following former justice secretary Chris Grayling’s “controversial” Transforming Rehabilitation policy in 2014, it added.
Inquest said that these changes led to higher workloads within the NPS, which the jury found “may have affected the effectiveness of the system to deal with high-risk offenders”.
Inquest added that the jury also found three key issues that “more than minimally or trivially” contributed to Alex’s death.
These were individual failures by probation officers; agencies failing to identify, request and share relevant information; and the NPS failing to adequately challenge or take action to recall the perpetrator at an appropriate stage in response to his failures to comply with licence conditions.
Alex’s mother Ms Breha said: “I would really like to say that Alex didn’t have to die for system failures to be identified, and for people to start to do their jobs properly.
“Alex was my heartbeat and I miss him so much.
“He should be here right now going to school, playing with his friends.
“Someone took this away from him for no reason and the systems meant to protect us did not.
“I now hope changes will be made.”
Inquest said that the jury had heard evidence that the probation officer supervising Iheanacho before Alex’s death had qualified that year, but was immediately allocated his and other high-risk cases with minimal supervision.
The jury narrative found that Iheanacho was a manipulative and high-risk offender, who intimidated the probation officer, making it more difficult to manage the risk adequately, Inquest added.
Selen Cavcav, senior caseworker at Inquest, said: “The critical conclusion of the jury once again exposes the consequences of the rushed and ill-informed ‘transformation’ of probation services.
“Multiple opportunities to protect Lilya and Alex were missed, as their safety was put in the hands of inexperienced individuals working in overstretched services.
“This inquest has performed a vital function in publicly scrutinising these systemic failings, which must urgently be addressed at a national level.”