The murder of law graduate Zara Aleena has been described as a “serious reminder of the price women pay for government policies” following the release of a report on probation deficiencies that led to her death.
Women’s safety activists said a lack of funding is partly responsible for the litany of mistakes that left Jordan McSweeney “free” to kill the 35-year-old last year, just nine days after he was released from prison.
This comes after a report by chief probation officer Justin Russell outlined how McSweeney was not being treated as a high-risk offender or summoned to prison as quickly as he should have.
Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said the report showed the judiciary was struggling to protect women after “decades of austerity”.
The head of the charity said: “This serious and appalling failure by the Probation Service is yet another way the criminal justice system is catastrophically failing to protect women and girls and prevent further violence and abuse.”
“The probation service, like many of our public services, is buckling under the pressure of a decade of austerity and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic – not helped by the service’s catastrophic structural reform (recently reversed) since 2012,” she added.
“Zara’s murder is a stark reminder of the price women pay for government policies.”
Harriet Wistrich, director of the Center for Women’s Justice, said the criminal justice system was “collapsing” and women were not protected from violent men. She blamed part of the problem on “chronic underfunding”, urging Justice Secretary Dominic Raab to “take urgent action to transform the system”.
She said: “It’s devastating to hear about another murder that could have been avoided had it not been for the failures of the Probation Service.
“Failure to identify the level of danger this man posed and not to properly supervise him resulted in the tragic death of a young woman who had so much to offer society.
“This is outrageously just one of a series of murders that could have been avoided over the past few years had the public’s protection systems been in place.”
London Victims Commissioner Claire Waxman said the “damned review” highlights “a litany of errors and omissions” and “paints a clear picture of a chaotic system that struggles to properly protect the public”.
“There was an almost complete failure to adequately assess McSweeney’s risk and no holistic approach was taken to his background,” she said.
“These are truly tragic circumstances and reflect a justice system that is on its knees.
“Excessive workloads, low wages and low morale have led to a massive understaffing during the trial period and these shortcomings must be addressed by the government if it is to ensure public safety.”
Mrs. Waxman expressed her condolences to Mrs. Aleena’s family.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the suspension deficiencies were “symptoms of wider issues” that “must be addressed immediately”.
Mr Khan said: “My thoughts are with Zara’s family and loved ones on this extremely difficult day.
“This is a damning report that makes it clear that even before Zara’s brutal murder, McSweeney was a dangerous, prolific and brutal predator who should never have allowed himself to take the life of an innocent young woman.
“The probation service failed in this case, and this failure is a symptom of wider problems after 13 years of chaotic government policies and cuts that need to be addressed immediately.”
McSweeney was sentenced to life in prison and sentenced to a minimum of 38 years in prison last month after pleading guilty to the murder of Mrs Aleena in Ilford, east London, on June 26 last year.
A judicial overseer’s report released on Tuesday reveals how errors in handling McSweeney’s case resulted in him not being identified as a high-risk offender when he should have been.
It also describes how McSweeney missed many probation appointments and should have been recalled to prison two days before Ms. Aleena was killed.
McSweeney had a history of 28 convictions for 69 separate crimes over 17 years, including burglary, vehicle theft, bodily harm, assaulting police officers, and assaulting members of the public while on bail.
He also had a history of violence against former partners and received a restraining order for a crime against a woman in 2021.