Zara Aleena’s family may sue over murder by released prisoner

The family of Zara Aleena are considering taking legal action over the disastrous failings that led to her murder by a recently released prisoner, the Guardian has been told.

It follows an official report that found Jordan McSweeney, 29, who murdered the aspiring lawyer in June 2022, should have been assessed by probation officers as a high-risk offender, but was classed as posing a medium risk when he was released part way through a sentence.

He kicked and beat Aleena, 35, to death as she walked home after an evening out, near her home in Ilford, east London, and has been jailed for life for her murder.

Jordan McSweeney.
Jordan McSweeney. Photograph: Metropolitan police/PA

McSweeney killed Aleena nine days after being released on licence from prison on 17 June. Two days before the murder, he had been recalled to prison for breaching his release conditions – with the first breach having happened a day after he was freed.

The report by the probation inspectorate found McSweeney had a long history of misogynistic and racially aggravated incidents, the chief inspector of probation, Justin Russell, said.

The report found staff had huge caseloads, worsened by large-scale vacancies.

Farah Naz, Aleena’s aunt, who has acted as the family spokesperson since the murder, told the Guardian the family still had questions and would fight for them to be answered.

Naz said if the probation service had acted correctly, Aleena would still be alive. “This would not have happened,” she said. “This could have been prevented.”

Farah Naz
Farah Naz: ‘There has been failing after failing after failing.’ Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

She said the family would sue, adding that they would use an inquest to get the answers they needed if officials had not been honest and open with them before then.

Naz said the failing system emboldened offenders, and cited McSweeney as an example: “There has been failing after failing after failing. He was not scared of the consequences.

“This was a busy road [where Zara was attacked and killed]. A main road. He spent considerable time there attacking her. He was not scared of attacking her, he was not scared of prison.

“He knew how to play the system, there was no deterrent.”

Naz said report after report found huge problems with the prison and probation services, echoing sentiments expressed by MPs in a parliamentary debate on Tuesday. It was the responsibility of those who ran the services, and those who inspected them, to speak out about lack of resources, she said. “You need to make a loud noise and say: ‘We are not getting enough money and mistakes will be made,’” she said. “We need to say to the deputy PM [Dominic Raab]: ‘What are you going to do about it?’”

It is understood that, after the blistering inspectorate report, Raab, who is also the justice secretary, is considering meeting the family.

In his report, Russell said the probation staff involved were experiencing unmanageable workloads, made worse by high staff vacancy rates – “something we have increasingly seen in our local inspections of services”.

In the Commons, the justice minister Damian Hinds said he was “profoundly sorry” for the blunders and claimed the government was recruiting more staff. Hinds said: “The probation service needs more staff and that’s why we’ve invested heavily in getting additional funding of more than £155m a year to deliver tougher supervision of offenders, reduce case loads, and recruit thousands more staff to make the public safer.”

Steve Reed, the shadow justice secretary, said the probation service was in “freefall” and said: “McSweeney’s repeated failure to attend probation appointments should have triggered swift action. He was recalled to prison two days before he attacked Zara, but he was never arrested and brought in. If he had been, Zara would still be alive.”

Reed added: “The fact is, these are all problems the government knew about but failed to act on with urgency. For that reason the government must shoulder its share of responsibility.”

Naz said the the family were still stunned by Aleena’s brutal killing. “It is a struggle for us. It has only been seven months. Our lives have been affected forever. We have this man who walked into our lives and destroyed us.”


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