Your article (Probation service and ministers have ‘blood on hands’, say Zara Aleena’s family, 24 January) identifies the undeniable case work failures by the National Probation Service (NPS) that led to the appalling murder of Zara Aleena. But what it overlooks is the impact of the privatisation of the probation service. In 2014, it was split in two, with private “community rehabilitation companies” supervising low- to medium-risk cases, and the pre-existing NPS supervising high-risk cases.
As HM Inspectorate of Probation’s independent serious further offence review of Jordan McSweeney spells out, in 2021 McSweeney was the responsibility of the profit-driven London Community Rehabilitation Company. Despite McSweeney’s known risk being present in custody, such as his possession of weapons and threatening behaviour, as well as subsequent information received about the serious risk he posed to women, the company assessed him to be medium-risk.
With inaccurate risk assessment a key feature of the case, the inspectorate concluded that, had McSweeney been correctly assessed, the planning for the release, licence conditions and action taken by the NPS when he failed to turn up for appointments could have been considerably different.
The funding arrangements for the private, profit-oriented companies provided a monetary incentive for employees not to assess cases as high-risk, as this would result in them being passed on to the state-owned NPS, and a loss of income. Consequently, risk was routinely downgraded. If anyone has “blood on their hands”, it is the neoliberal ideologues in this government who, ignoring warnings issued in 2015 and 2016 by the inspectorate that resettlement arrangements were not fit for purpose, pursued this flawed and ultimately doomed experiment to its predictable tragic end.
Co-author, Privatising Criminal Justice
• In 2015, my twin brother, Adrian Munday, was murdered in his own home in Devon. Adrian’s killer, Stuart Hodgkin, was under the probation supervision of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall Community Rehabilitation Company, one of the new probation companies set up after Chris Grayling’s catastrophic attempt to privatise the service. Adrian had mental health issues, so was also in receipt of privatised community support.
At the murder trial, it was revealed that Hodgkin had more than 80 previous convictions, over 40 of them for assault, and three current restraining orders. This information should have been easily available to probation officers.
In 2018, Devon county council published the multi-agency safeguarding adults review (SAR) about the circumstances surrounding Adrian’s death. This report found 40 agency failings – but two pivotal mistakes came from failures to assess a “high” level of risk: first at court, when Hodgkin was sentenced to probation, not custody, for a previous crime, and second by the community rehabilitation company, which relied on the first assessment. A correct assessment would have radically changed the fatal outcome.
Following the SAR, we were assured that lessons would be learned and that these would be shared at national level. Nothing has changed. It is surely time to set up a comprehensive national database by which probation officers can access an offender’s full history easily and quickly.
Like Zara’s family, I believe the government has my brother’s blood on its hands. Let no other family have to go through this unnecessary suffering.
Glangevlin, County Cavan, Ireland