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McSweeney murder highlights probation staffing concerns

His Majesty’s Inspector of Probation has today published another serious further offence review revealing the tragic consequences of the chronic under-staffing of the probation service.

Following last week’s SFO review of the case of quadruple murderer Damien Bendall, (see our coverage here)  the inspectorate has now issued its independent serious further offence review of Jordan McSweeney.

Mr McSweeney should have been recalled to prison since he was not attending his probation appointments before he sexually assaulted and murdered Ms Zara Aleena.

Background

On 14 December 2022, Jordan McSweeney was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum term of 38 years, having pleaded guilty to the murder and sexual assault of Ms Zara Aleena. These offences occurred as Ms Aleena walked home, alone, with McSweeney following her, before he subjected her to a sustained physical and sexual assault. Jordan McSweeney was subject to probation supervision when these offences occurred.

Failures 

As in the Bendall case, the review highlights a long list of failings. These are summarised briefly below.

Inaccurate assessments and under-estimation of risk 

Mr McSweeney was managed as a “medium risk of serious harm Integrated Offender Management (IOM) acquisitive individual” however inspectors concluded that his level of risk should have been escalated to “high” in February 2021, based on the range of information available on his past history of violence as well as acquisitive offending.

McSweeney had 28 previous convictions for 69 separate offences dating back 17 years including burglary, theft of a vehicle, criminal damage, assaulting police officers and assaulting members of the public while on bail. He also had a history of violence towards ex-partners and was handed a restraining order for an offence against a woman in 2021.

There was information known about risks present in custody, such as possession of weapons, violent and threatening behaviour. In addition, he had carried weapons in the community, as well as the risks posed to known adults. The risk to the public, staff and other prisoners, should have been assessed as high risk of serious harm.

The risk of serious harm to known adults should also have been high based on information related to offences against a known female received in 2021, which resulted in a restraining order being imposed.

If he had correctly been assessed as high risk, he may well have been released to a probation hostel (approved premises) and been subject to joint MAPPA management, both of which measures would have resulted in more supervision and knowledge of Mr McSweeney. It is also likely that he would have been promptly recalled after missing his first two probation appointments on release.

Case allocation 

Inspectors criticised the case allocation process as “confusing and cumbersome”. In Mr McSweeney’s case, although he was sentenced to 16 months, he only had two months to serve when he was eventually sentenced (having spent a long period on remand). Delays in allocating his case made it difficult for his supervision probation officer to undertake a thorough risk assessment.

Failure to recall 

Although Mr McSweeney had a history of not complying with probation requirement, “delayed decision-making by probation staff and ineffective management oversight” meant that recall was too late and efforts to locate him insufficient. Recall should have been initiated on 20 June 2022.  However, recall was not initiated until the 22 June, and not signed off until the 24 June. In this case, that 4-day delay was critical as Mr McSweeney committed his murder on 26 June.

Diverse needs

Inspectors also point out the fact that throughout probation and prison records, Mr McSweeney’s differing needs are highlighted. These included: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Personality Disorder (PD) and depression. He was stated to be medicated at various times for ADHD, but inspectors found that little analysis was undertaken of how this affected his day-to-day cognitive functioning and learning styles, and if there were links with his serious offending behaviour.

Conclusion 

In his press release, Chief Inspector Justin Russell again draws attention to the consequences of the London Probation Service being “under the mounting pressure of heavy workloads and high vacancy rates”.

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