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Initial inquiries into location of Zara Aleena’s murderer ‘closed prematurely’

Jordan McSweeney was released from prison nine days before he killed the 35-year-old law graduate early on June 26 2022.

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Jordan McSweeney

A police officer who actioned the recall to prison for Zara Aleena’s murderer before the killing said initial inquiries into his whereabouts were closed prematurely and more checks should have been carried out, an inquest has heard.

Jordan McSweeney was released from prison nine days before he killed the 35-year-old law graduate as she walked home from a night out in Ilford, east London, early on June 26 2022.

Metropolitan Police operations sergeant Ian Batten told East London Coroner’s Court that he did not foresee that McSweeney was a risk to the public after receiving a recall to prison notice for him on June 24 2022.

Undated family handout photo issued by the Metropolitan Police of Zara Aleena
Zara Aleena was killed as she walked home from a night out in Ilford, east London on June 26 2022 (Family Handout/PA)

Giving evidence to the inquest, he also said he did not know initial inquiries into McSweeney’s whereabouts were closed before the end of his shift.

Ps Batten came on shift in an operations room based at Ilford Police Station at 10pm on June 24 2022 and agreed on Thursday that he was initially responsible for coordinating police efforts to locate McSweeney.

He told the coroner’s court that the operations room is responsible for identifying addresses associated with offenders and making inquiries to locate them there, before passing the responsibility on to a different unit if offenders are not found.

Ps Batten created a Computer Aided Dispatch (Cad) which generated an instruction for police to attend McSweeney’s mother’s home address to try and locate him, the jury heard.

At 2.48am, it was logged that McSweeney was not at the address and that his mother answered the door to police and told them her son was “not allowed there and she had not seen him for ages”.

The police sergeant told the court he did not see that outcome.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Jordan McSweeney appearing in the dock at the Old Bailey, central London
Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Jordan McSweeney appearing in the dock at the Old Bailey in November 2022 (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

Asked if he should have been checking for it, he said: “Yes. However I view hundreds and hundreds of Cads per shift.”

Questioned on if he would have acted on the information if he had seen it – bearing in mind he later found out McSweeney had been at his mother’s address after his release from prison – Ps Batten said: “The Cad should have remained open for at least two more visits from police at various times during the day.”

He went on to tell the court that he did not take any further action in relation to McSweeney’s recall at the end of his shift at 7am the following day.

“(I) did the handover yes, but unbeknownst to me the Cad had been closed,” he said.

Area coroner Nadia Persaud asked: “Without hindsight, this was a recall that you had started to work on, at the end of your shift it had not been concluded, isn’t that something you should have checked and handed over?”

“Yes,” Ps Batten said.

But the jury were told that the recall remained open and visible to other units despite the Cad being closed.

The court heard McSweeney was logged as “medium risk” and that his was not categorised as an “emergency recall” but was, instead, a “standard” one.

Going through the recall notification document, Ps Batten told the inquest it did not contain information that particularly indicated any risk of harm to the public or others.

Rajeev Thacker, barrister for Ms Aleena’s family, asked the sergeant what “medium risk” meant to him.

“In my mind it would be a risk of danger to the public, risk of harm to himself and from what I had seen with his antecedents he obviously did have an extensive criminal record however it was not an unusual criminal record,” he said.

“I have seen far worse, I also have obviously seen very similar.”

“I didn’t foresee any risk around any harm to the wider public,” he added.

Police constable Janet Matthews was one of the officers who attended McSweeney’s mother’s address.

Zara Aleena protest
Protesters from Million Women Rise gathered outside the Old Bailey ahead of McSweeney’s sentencing (David Parry/PA)

Body-worn camera footage played in court recorded McSweeney’s mother refusing to let the officers check the property and saying: “He ain’t here, he ain’t coming back.”

Pc Matthews told the court while giving evidence that she considered Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act which can give officers powers to force entry, but said there was not enough reason to implement such powers given she could not see or hear any movement from within the house.

The police constable also told the inquest she did not ask where else McSweeney might be after assuming his mother had no further knowledge.

Both Ps Batten and Pc Matthews offered their condolences to Ms Aleena’s family and friends before leaving the witness box at the end of their evidence.

McSweeney worked for a fairground company – where he was eventually arrested – after he was released from prison, the inquest heard.

In a statement read out in court, fairground owner John Parnham said he had known McSweeney years before and that he came back to work around June 21 2022.

Mr Parnham told of a car journey the two shared on June 26 2022, during which the fairground owner remarked that there had been a bad traffic accident after seeing a police presence on the road.

“Jordan said to me: ‘No, someone has been murdered’,” Mr Parnham said, adding that McSweeney explained he could tell by the colour of the cordon tape.

The fairground owner said he “immediately recognised” McSweeney after police showed him an image on June 27 2022, and directed them to the caravan where he was sleeping.

Kevin McKenna, a fairground worker who shared a caravan with McSweeney, told of the “heavy night” the pair had at a Wetherspoons pub on June 25 2022 before McSweeney was kicked out and left, in a witness statement read aloud in court.

McSweeney was handed a life sentence with a minimum term of 38 years at the Old Bailey in December 2022 after admitting Ms Aleena’s murder and sexual assault.

In November 2023, he won a Court of Appeal bid to reduce the minimum term of his life sentence.

The inquest continues on Monday.

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