Failures 'across multiple agencies' contributed to murder of Zara Aleena

Failures "across multiple agencies" contributed to the murder of Zara Aleena, an inquest has found.

The 35-year-old law graduate was killed as she walked home from a night out in east London.

Her killer Jordan McSweeney was freed from prison nine days before he attacked Ms Aleena as she walked home in Ilford on 26 June 2022.

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

On Wednesday, it 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 coordinated way".

There were "significant failures to appropriately assess risk" by the prison and probation service, with McSweeney not being rated high risk.

It 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 25 June," the jury said.

Ms Aleena's aunt Farah Naz said in a statement: "Today is a difficult day for my family. It marks the two-year anniversary of the brutal murder of our precious Zara, coinciding with the conclusion of the inquest into her death and the jury's final verdict.

"We welcome the jury's conclusions under the coroner's guidance. The inquest has highlighted numerous devastating and unnecessary failings and mistakes made within and by our under-resourced justice system."

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 to 33 years.

Area coroner Nadia Persaud had asked jurors to consider whether any failings by the prison and probation services or Metropolitan Police contributed to Ms Aleena's death.

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Delays in recall to prison

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, with his mother telling staff he had passed out drunk at her house. Although it was rescheduled twice, McSweeney did not attend either appointment and his mother 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 2022.

Police were given powers to arrest McSweeney at 4.10pm the same day. In the early hours of 26 June McSweeney murdered Ms Aleena.

Probation officer: McSweeney should have been graded high risk

His recently qualified probation officer Austin Uwaifo said McSweeney should have been graded high risk and, if he had 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 he would have requested a faster out-of-hours emergency recall if McSweeney had been graded high risk.

Initial inquiries closed prematurely

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 McSweeney being a risk to the public after receiving a recall to prison notice for him on 24 June 2022.

Mr Batten also said he did not know initial inquiries into McSweeney's whereabouts were closed before the end of his shift.

Chief probation officer Kim Thornden-Edwards said: "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."