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Date Published
June 27, 2024

Yesterday, (26th June 2024), an inquest found that failings across multiple agencies contributed to murder of Zara Aleena two years ago.

Giving their verdict, the jury found that multiple state agencies’ failures to act in line with policies and procedures contributed to Zara’s murder. This includes failures 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.

Zara was sexually assaulted and murdered by Jordan McSweeney on 26th June 2022. The inquest has now found significant failures to appropriately assess risk in the prison and probation service, with McSweeney not being rated high risk, as well as failure to define, understand and execute roles and responsibilities across multiple agencies to manage him effectively.

These findings follow the HM Inspectorate of Probation’s Independent Serious Further Offence review of Jordan McSweeney in January 2023, which found that given McSweeney’s long history of violence and convictions, he should have been considered a high risk of serious harm offender.

McSweeney had 28 previous convictions for 69 separate offences dating back 17 years, and a history of violence towards ex-partners. He was handed a restraining order for an offence against a woman in 2021. The Probation Inspectorate found that if he had been considered a high risk of serious harm offender, more urgent action would have been taken to recall him to prison after he missed his supervision appointments on release from custody. These failings were echoed by McSweeney’s probation worker in evidence provided at the inquest.

The inquest also found that the Metropolitan Police’s attempts to arrest McSweeney post-recall to prison were hindered by a number of factors, including inaccurate data on the recall and a lack of professional curiosity and follow-ups.

Failings also occurred within the Prison Service, including McSweeney’s prison offender manager failing to share reports of alleged offences, including attacking others with improvised weapons and being high on spice while in custody previously.

These combined failings left McSweeney free to stalk several women with intent to attack them, before he murdered Zara Aleena.

Crumbling public services and failures to prevent harm

The Probation Service, as with so many of our public services, is buckling under the pressure of a decade of austerity policies and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The service was also negatively impacted by the disastrous structural reform of the service (recently reversed) which took place from 2012. We echo Zara’s family in highlighting the impact of under-resourcing of public services, with Zara’s murder a grave reminder of the price women pay for government policies.

Zara’s aunt, Farah Naz, told the jury that her niece’s murder highlighted the “crumbling justice system” which is meant to protect us. She added that the family was “tortured with the thought that Zara’s death was preventable”.

Often, we see a focus on extended prison sentences, but we must look at what is actually happening in prison and after prison to ensure that dangerous men are identified, and their behaviours are tackled.

No one wakes up one day and decides to murder a woman. There are almost always indications and often prior contact with the police and the criminal justice system. These incidents must be taken seriously, and more done to intervene and save women’s lives.

Lack of government focus on preventing violence against women and girls has meant that the Probation Service escaped scrutiny provided by the government’s Operation Soteria and Rape Review, which focused on the criminal justice system’s response to rape from report to court.

It is simply inexcusable that the government doesn’t invest time and resource into prevention work, including managing perpetrators and preventing offending from happening in the first place. It is deeply shameful that Zara’s death, like so many other women’s, was entirely preventable.

Yesterday’s findings also highlight the importance of the Human Rights Act in ensuring the prevention of violence against women and girls, including inquests into state failings. Not only do these inquests provide answers for families, but they also allow for proper scrutiny of decisions by public bodies in the lead-up to women’s deaths, including police, social services and probation services.

Responding to the verdict, Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said:

“This verdict will not bring Zara back, but we hope that in illustrating systemic issues across our justice agencies, it will help drive transformation that prevents this from happening ever again.

These grave and appalling failings in the probation service and Metropolitan Police constitute yet more evidence of the ways in which the criminal justice system is catastrophically failing to protect women and girls from known perpetrators. Alongside rapid improvement and accountability for these failings, we have to focus on early intervention to prevent violence against women and girls, and tackle the misogynistic attitudes and behaviours that drive this violence.

Zara’s murder was entirely preventable. True justice means no more lives lost to male violence. We stand with Zara’s family and loved ones in calling for her legacy to be meaningful change for women and girls.”

In a statement yesterday, Zara’s aunt, Farah Naz, said:

“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 thank the coroner and the jury for their time and consideration.

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.

Our questions have been answered by a rigorous, thorough, and excellent process.

While we take some comfort in the fact that Zara’s murder has prompted substantial, meaningful, and hopefully sustainable changes in probation, police, and local authority policies and practices, we remain devastated by our enormous loss.

Zara should be alive today. Her brutal murder could and should have been prevented.

It is clear from the evidence we have heard that there are significant issues of under-resourcing across the system.

Additionally, at numerous stages in this process, there were instances where responsibilities were not carried out effectively, professionally and within necessary timelines, initiative was not taken, and there were glaring gaps in knowledge among some officers in prison probation, community probation, and the police about their own roles.

We also learnt that some operational policies are not fit for purpose. We hope that lessons will be learned, improvements will be made, and discussions will be facilitated as a result of this inquest.

And we must hold on to the hope that this verdict will help protect the lives of women and girls from male violence.

We ask that there are clear and measurable audit trails of the changes made.

We ask that the Prevention of Future Deaths Report to be presented by the coroner in due course will be given the serious attention it demands and that it is acted upon by the Justice Secretary and other relevant ministers and given the appropriate and necessary resources.

We recognise the swift actions of the Metropolitan police in finding the killer and the judicial process which led to his sentencing, and now the care taken during this inquest. All involved have treated Zara’s memory with the utmost respect and care.

We thank Probation, Police and the Local Authority for aiding the investigative process.

Today brings both sorrow and a semblance of closure as we reflect on Zara´s life. While true justice for our precious Zara may never be fully realised, we remain committed to campaigning to end male violence against women and girls in her name.

We hope Zara’s legacy will be real change for women and girls. Please stand with us and help us to achieve this.”

Media contact

Sinead Geoghegan, Head of Communications, EVAW: 07960 744 502

Date Published
June 27, 2024
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