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Christian abuse charity says system failed Zara Aleena, calls for overhaul

by Heather Preston

A Christian abuse charity has responded to the failings of the Probation Services found by a new report into Zara Aleena's Killer.

Jordan McSweeney - who had a history of violence and a string of convictions - attacked Ms Aleena in east London last year, nine days after being released from prison.

A watchdog found a catalogue of errors made by probation officers allowed the brutal attack to happen.

Following his release, McSweeney's licence had been revoked after he failed three times to meet probation officers - but he was not recalled to prison.

McSweeney was not treated as a high-risk offender when he should have been, allowing him to stalk, sexually assault and murder the 35 year-old law graduate.

Bekah Legg, CEO of Christian abuse charity Restored told Premier these failings point to a systemic problem that needs fixing.

"It's always devastating to realise that any one man or woman has been stalked, murdered, raped, killed. But to discover that actually, it was preventable, that actually, what we're talking about is a killer who was already known who had already been in prison and that actually, it's other people's mistakes that have given them the freedom to recommit crimes like this is doubly devastating. It makes the whole thing seem even more pointless than it already would be."

Legg says strain on the probation services and a lack of staff are - in part - to blame for this terrible crime and urged the government to step in.

"The reality is we're seeing a shortage in all kinds of jobs, in all manners of different areas of our government and society, and it's leading to mistakes. The probation service has been under immense pressure over the last decade, and it's gone from being privatised to being taken back, all under the auspices of the government. And in all of those changes, they've lost staff, they've lost funding.

"There's a huge amount of vacancies in the probation service at the moment. Every probation officer is carrying huge caseloads. And the problem, of course, with something of this seriousness, when you are a probation officer and the kind of people you're dealing with, mistakes cost lives.

"This is a whole systemic problem that needs to be fixed.

"They labelled him as a medium risk, when, of course, he was a very high risk needed to be kept under very tight control. But it also looks like he had his licence revoked, and yet, he wasn't called back to prison. And that's a failing in the system as well.

"There just needs to be a wholesale review of the system, there needs to be a totally different recruitment drive to be able to get more people into the service so that it isn't under so much pressure. But fundamentally, they've got the right rules and procedures and policies in place they need to follow them."

Legg says incidents like this can be triggering for further victims of abuse as they "can't rely upon the service" to protect them. She advises anyone living in fear that something could happen to them to reach out for support and therapy if needed.

"[Restored] are creating a whole network of churches called restored beacons - churches, which are passionate about creating safe spaces, and about speaking out against abuse and challenging a culture that is toxic and not good, but fundamentally is committed to walking alongside survivors of domestic abuse in particular, but actually survivors of any kind of abuse and helping them to be able to rediscover what it means to live life to the full."

McSweeney was handed a life sentence and jailed for at least 38 years last month after admitting sexually assaulting and murdering the 35-year-old law graduate in Ilford, east London, in June.

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