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, according to a watchdog.
In a damning report, chief inspector of probation Justin Russell 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.
He 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, later telling Times Radio: “It could happen again.”
McSweeney, 29, was given a life sentence and jailed for at least 38 years last month after admitting a “terrifying and ruthless” attack on 35-year-old Ms Aleena 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In that nine days, his licence had been revoked after he failed to meet probation officers – but he was not recalled to prison.
The report comes just a week after the watchdog laid bare another litany of failings by probation officers before Damien Bendall murdered three children and his pregnant partner.
It also follows concerns raised nearly three years ago after serial rapist Joseph McCann carried out a series of sex attacks when he was freed from prison amid major failings by an “unstable” team of inexperienced probation staff.
Describing McSweeney as a “career criminal” in and out of jail since 16, Mr Russell said he “should have been considered a high-risk-of-serious-harm offender”, adding: “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.”
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”, he said.
The “clear lesson” from the case was that “overworked staff” do not have the time to go back over case files, Mr Russell told Times Radio, adding: “There are over 500 serious further offences committed by people on probation each year. All of those are then investigated by the probation service itself, and it is vital that lessons are learned from that.”
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.”
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.
Grabbing Ms Aleena from behind, he 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 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.
Making 10 recommendations, Mr Russell called for an urgent review into how staff gauge the risk criminals pose to others among a series of other measures.
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.”
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