Agencies' failures factor in Zara Aleena death - inquest

Zara Aleena
Law graduate Zara Aleena was walking home from a night out [Met Police]

Failures “across multiple agencies” contributed to the death of Zara Aleena, who was raped and murdered as she walked home from a night out in east London, in June 2022, an inquest jury has found.

Jordan McSweeney was jailed for life with a minimum term of 33 years at the Old Bailey for the killing and sexual assault of the 35-year-old law graduate.

He had been released from prison on licence nine days before he attacked Ms Aleena as she walked home in Ilford - a probation report found he was not categorised as a high-risk offender when he should have been.

Ms Aleena's aunt Farah Naz said the failings recorded were "a damning reflection of our state services that are meant to protect us and were meant to protect Zara”.

HM Prison and Probation Service has apologised and said "significant steps" had been taken to address its failings.

Ms Aleena died in hospital from a blunt force head injury and neck compression, the inquest jury said.

Area coroner Nadia Persaud paid tribute to Ms Aleena, who died two years ago 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.

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.

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 17 June 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, the inquest heard.

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.

Despite the lack of contact his recall was not initiated until 22 June and the recall report was signed on 24 June.

Police were given powers to arrest McSweeney at 16:10 the same day.

Jordan McSweeney
Jordan McSweeney won an appeal to reduce the minimum term of his life sentence from 38 to 33 years [Met Police]

In the early hours of 26 June, 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.”

Mr Uwaifo 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.

The inquest was told 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.

Ms Naz said she and the family welcomed the jury's conclusions, but: "Knowing Zara's death was preventable makes me very, very sad.

"She could have been here.

"We get to the end of this process and we don’t really win anything."

Kim Thornden-Edwards, the chief probation officer, said steps taken since Ms Aleena's death included mandatory training to improve risk assessments and implementing new processes to ensure the swift recall of offenders.

"We will consider the coroner’s findings carefully and respond in due course," she added.

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