THE private probation firm that labelled trainee lawyer Zara Aleena’s violent killer “medium risk” failed to take action on 15,000 missed offender appointments in just 16 months.
Bungling MTCnovo, which held a £450million contract to run the probation service in London until June 2021, deemed evil Jordan McSweeney did not need the highest surveillance.
6Victim Zara Aleena was attacked as she walked home from a night outCredit: PA6Bungling MTCnovo deemed evil Jordan McSweeney did not need the highest surveillanceCredit: PA6Floral tributes left at the scene in Ilford, East London, where Zara was murderedCredit: PAThat was despite him saying his own anger scared him, and admitting to having weapons in his cell while in custody and to being in a gang.
The firm allowed 15,000 missed appointments by criminals who were due to discuss progress and problems.
A probe by BBC Panorama unearthed endemic failings at the heart of the justice system, that the company lost offenders and failed to see others for months and probation bosses expressed concerns seven years ago the firm’s poor handling left “the public at risk”.
Zara’s aunt Farah Naz said probation services had “blood on their hands”, adding: “Some people need to be accountable here. If I don’t do my job, I don’t deserve my job. Heads should roll.”
She told The Sun on Sunday: “There was a litany of errors. Why did information on McSweeney not get shared? Prisons and probation are supposed to be linked so what’s going on there?
“Is it because of the management of these different services?
“Is it because they are all operating in silence?
“Is it because of privatisation?
“With offenders and reoffenders it feels like an oversimplification to have just low, medium and high categories.
“If you only have three categories, it seems to me that medium risk offenders need more attention than they are currently getting.”
Repeat offender McSweeney, 29, had only been free from prison for nine days when he stalked budding lawyer Zara, 35, after she had a night out in Ilford, East London, before sexually assaulting and killing her on June 26 last year.
McSweeney, who repeatedly stamped on Zara’s head and left her with 46 injuries, was sentenced to life with a minimum of 38 years.
But a damning probation review into McSweeney last week highlighted a series of failings in the way he was handled in the years leading up to Zara’s murder.
US-based firm MTCnovo won an outsourced government contract in 2014 to look after “low to medium-risk” offenders in London and the Thames Valley as part of then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s drive to semi-privatise the probation service.
Under the name London Community Rehabilitation Company, it became one of 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies UK-wide to assess and monitor criminals for the Government.
The firm took on looking at McSweeney in March 2019, after he was sentenced to 32 months on a burglary charge.
The report on failings around him outlined that, despite concerns he had not been rehabilitated and the discovery of weapons in his cell, he was released in mid-2020.
That was halfway through his sentence — when he was deemed a “medium risk”.
In a damning assessment of MTCnovo’s care, Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell, who compiled the review, said of McSweeney: “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.
“The risk should have been reviewed by the Community Rehabilitation Company who were responsible for the case at that time.”
6Zara’s aunt Farah Naz said probation services had ‘blood on their hands’Credit: PA6Former Justice Secretary Robert BucklandCredit: EPAProbation sources say that, had his risk gone from medium to high, the monitoring of McSweeney would have been far more stringent
In June 2021, a year before Zara’s murder, the probation service was renationalised.
But today we can reveal that, six months before losing the contract, London Community Rehabilitation Company reported profits of more than £5MILLION.
The firm’s managing director when they were monitoring McSweeney was David Hood, 51, who lives in a £1million home in Kent.
On parent company MTC’s website, Mr Hood, now promoted to vice-president of MTC, bragged the “legacy” of their rehabilitation work with offenders in London had been “successful”.
But we can reveal that often their firm’s handling of the contract was anything but.
In 2016, a report by the then Chief Inspector of Probation, Glenys Stacey, found the firm had lost track of some offenders completely, while others were not seen for months.
She said: “Delivering probation services in London is never an easy task, but services have deteriorated of late, largely due to the poor performance of the London Community Rehabilitation Company, owned by MTCnovo.
“Services are now well below what people rightly expect, and the city is more at risk as a result.”
A combination of “unmanageable case loads, inexperienced officers, extremely poor oversight and a lack of senior management focus” had led to a poor quality of work, inspectors found.
The review also said that, as a result, “some offenders were not seen for weeks or months and some were lost in the system altogether”.
The report added that fewer than half of offenders — taken from a sample of 40 cases — had complied with their sentence.
In some cases the failure of offenders to turn up for courses or meet the terms of their sentence had “not even been noticed”.
At the time, a spokesman for the firm said it was “important to recognise only 40 cases were inspected” for the study but said it would address recommendations made in the report.
Yet just a year later the Panorama investigation found the firm failed to take action on 15,000 missed appointments by criminals over a 16-month period.
In 2018, Joel Urhie, seven, was killed in an arson attack at his home in Deptford, South East London. It was believed the intended victim was his elder brother Samuel, 22, who had just been released from jail.
Their mother Efe said Samuel was being monitored by probation staff from MTCnovo due to his involvement in numerous violent incidents before the fire.
But she claimed staff refused to tell her of the danger to his life and their household, because of confidentiality.
She said: “They said because my son was over 18 they had a duty of confidentiality, so they could not tell me he was in danger. I had a small child and Samuel was still living with me, so I have the right to know if he was in danger.”
Scotland Yard further added that MTCnovo failed to inform it of a meeting it had to discuss Samuel’s case a few days before the fire.
In 2021, then Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said MTC was responsible for the “unacceptable failure” at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre, a youth offender institute for 13 to 17-year-olds.
It was found that children there were kept in their rooms for 23 hours a day, with only 30 minutes’ exercise, during the height of Covid. MTC had to apologise unreservedly.
An MTC spokesperson said: “This individual was recalled to prison in early 2021.
“They returned to the community under supervision of the National Probation Service and the tragic death of Zara Aleena took place over a year after our responsibility for overseeing this offender passed to another agency.
“While we experienced challenges at Rainsbrook, we had a strong record in delivering probation services before they were renationalised.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are injecting an extra £155million a year into the Probation Service to deliver tougher supervision of offenders, with thousands more staff to keep the public safe.”
6London Community Rehabilitation Company took on looking at McSweeney in March 2019, after he was sentenced to 32 months on a burglary charge
Story Credit: thesun.co.uk