Reports of Zara Aleena’s killer attacking others in prison ‘not shared’

Jordan McSweeney’s prison offender manager did not speak to him in the seven months he was in HMP Pentonville in 2021, an inquest heard.

Jordan McSweeney
Jordan McSweeney (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Jordan McSweeney’s prison offender manager did not share reports of alleged offences including attacking others with improvised weapons and being high on spice while in custody the year before he attacked Zara Aleena, an inquest has heard.

McSweeney, who killed the 35-year-old law graduate as she walked home from a night out in Ilford, east London, early on June 26 2022, was in HMP Pentonville in 2021 and while there his prison offender manager did not have one conversation with him in seven months, East London Coroner’s Court heard on Wednesday.

Emmerson Cole, McSweeney’s prison offender manager at HMP Pentonville, was asked by McSweeney’s community offender manager in February 2022 to provide prison records, but as he was on annual leave he did not reply, and did not chase up with the team whether anyone else replied, the inquest heard.

Zara Aleena
Zara Aleena

Mr Cole told the jury he did not have a conversation with McSweeney due to “Covid protocols” and sent him two letters introducing himself and filled out a basic custody screening tool in February 2021.

Reading Mr Cole’s statement to the inquest, area coroner Nadia Persaud said Mr Cole was “tasked with supporting Jordan McSweeney” as far as he recalled, and “primary responsibility was the community offender manager’s”.

Asked if he had any communication with the community offender manager between March and October 2021 when McSweeney was in HMP Pentonville, Mr Cole said: “No ma’am, I have no recall.”

Ms Persaud put to Mr Cole that there were a number of intelligence reports and adjudications, and asked him if these should have been the sort of things he had communication with the community offender manager about.

He replied: “If requested.”

Put to him that he did not have any proactive communication with the community offender manager, Mr Cole said: “No ma’am.”

In his statement, Mr Cole said “in normal times I would have attempted to see (McSweeney) in person as well as sending a letter, face-to-face meetings were restricted due to Covid protocols in place at the time”.

He added that he “cannot recall having a face-to-face meeting with Jordan McSweeney”.

A community offender manager sent an email on February 24 2022 to Mr Cole and to the offender manager unit asking for McSweeney’s prison records for the previous 12 months as his trial was on April 11 and “given time he has spent in prison on remand there’s a possibility of immediate release”.

The jury was told Mr Cole did not respond as he was on annual leave.

Ms Persaud asked if Mr Cole made any enquiries to see if anyone had responded.

Mr Cole replied: “I can’t remember asking, the usual procedure would be if something comes into that mailbox then the person in the mailbox if it’s any of my cases and I’m not on, we have a rota where we have a duty prison offender manager, I don’t know if that was the case on that particular day.”

There were 15 or 16 intelligence reports about McSweeney between March and October 2021, Ms Persaud said.

These included a record of McSweeney allegedly assaulting a prisoner with an improvised weapon – a kettle base – McSweeney allegedly being “too high to walk” on another occasion and on a separate date McSweeney allegedly being under the influence of “what appeared to be spice and vomiting all over his cell”.

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

Another record described McSweeney as allegedly dealing cannabis to other inmates, and on another date reportedly assaulting a server worker with an improvised weapon made from a tuna tin.

Put to him that the information would have been helpful to the community offender manager, Mr Cole agreed.

Mr Cole said he was not aware of the incidents.

Asked if there was communication between wing staff and prison offender managers, Mr Cole said: “There should be but there’s a lot of cases where it doesn’t happen.”

Asked if he recalled going through McSweeney’s records to get this intelligence information, Mr Cole said: “We do go through records but sometimes there are prisoners we do miss and unfortunately he was one of them.”

Rajeev Thacker, barrister for Ms Aleena’s family, put to Mr Cole: “In essence, all you did in relation to Mr McSweeney was sent him two letters and then fill out the resettlement form, that’s all you did isn’t it?”

Mr Cole responded: “Yes.”

Asked if he thinks he did an adequate job, Mr Cole said: “Not 100%.”

Mr Thacker asked why Mr Cole was not able to make a phone call to McSweeney as face-to-face meetings were not allowed during Covid protocols, and he replied “because the phones in the offices aren’t compatible to the phones on the landings”.

Asked why Mr Cole did not take steps to find McSweeney’s prison recall report which has prison recommendations on, he said “in hindsight I should’ve done that, I’m not sure why I didn’t”.

Mr Thacker said: “I don’t want to be unkind, but is it that you weren’t very good at your job?”

Mr Cole replied: “I wouldn’t say that.”

Peter Kerr was McSweeney’s prison offender manager from April to June 2022 at HMP Belmarsh.

An intelligence report written on McSweeney’s first night in HMP Belmarsh listed a number of alleged previous offences including having an improvised tattoo gun, possessing a mobile, threatening to break an officer’s jaw and threatening to take an officer hostage.

Mr Kerr said: “I wish I’d been offered that information, that’s the first time I’ve seen it.”

Asked by the coroner if during the time he was McSweeney’s prisoner offender manager he took any steps to “deal with any of his needs”, Mr Kerr responded: “No, it wasn’t a requirement for me at the time.”

Mr Thacker put to Mr Kerr: “Did you ever think in all your years as a prison offender manager, ‘What’s the point in me’?”

Mr Kerr responded: “I didn’t second-guess it at the time. It would be good to have a point of contact.”

McSweeney had been released from prison on licence on June 17 2022 and, after breaching the conditions of his licence, his recall to prison was initiated on June 22 2022, the recall report was signed on June 24 2022 and police were given powers to arrest him at 4.10pm the same day, East London Coroner’s Court heard.

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.