Failings in the Probation Service enabled a violent criminal to murder a woman just days after release from prison, according to a new report by HM Inspectorate of Probation. Zara Aleena was murdered in June 2022 by Jordan McSweeney, who had been released from prison on probation only nine days before. The Probation Inspectorate found that he had been wrongly classified as ‘medium risk’, despite 28 previous convictions, including a history of violence against women.
Had McSweeney been accurately assessed as ‘high risk’, “more urgent action would have been taken to recall him to prison”, said Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell. Nonetheless, probation officers were content to delay their response and wait to see if McSweeney “rocked up”. In an interview with the BBC, Russell attributed these mistakes to wider systemic issues of inexperienced and overworked staff. Russell revealed that 50% of probation posts had not been filled; probation officers had too many cases. Consequently, it was ‘impossible to say’ if the public were safe.
Last week, similar findings were released regarding Damien Bendall. As previously reported in The Justice Gap, Bendall was mistakenly categorised as a medium-risk offender and a low risk to partners and children. In February 2021, a “very poor” pre-sentence report was provided by the probation service following Bendall’s conviction for arson, which “significantly misrepresented the risk of harm Bendall posed to others”. Bendall was given a suspended sentence. Months later, he raped an 11-year-old child and murdered her along with two other children and their mother.
The Centre for Women’s Justice described the McSweeny report as ‘devastating’. ‘It is outrageously only one of a series of murders that might have been avoided.’
‘The criminal justice system is in collapse, women are not being protected from violent men, and at least part of the problem is down to chronic underfunding and disastrous attempts to privatise by the government. Dominic Raab, having commissioned this investigation, now needs to take urgent action to transform the system.’