Zara Aleena: Murderers could face longer prison sentences if they skip court after family appeal

Law graduate Zara Aleena was murdered in Ilford last year. Her killer did not attend his sentencing hearing. Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Murderers could be forced to attend their sentencing hearing after an appeal by the family of Zara Aleena who said they wanted her killer to hear how he had “completely destroyed” them.

Jordan McSweeney, 29, was handed a life sentence and jailed for at least 38 years after admitting sexually assaulting and murdering 35-year-old law graduate Ms Aleena in Ilford, in June last year.

He legally did not attend his sentencing hearing.After meeting with the family of Ms Aleena, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said he hoped to ensure murderers face longer prison sentences if they opt to skip court in future.

Ms Aleena’s aunt Farah Naz said McSweeney’s absence at the sentencing hearing was a “slap in the face” for her family.

She said the sentencing would have been McSweeney’s opportunity to be “human”.

Ms Naz told the BBC: “He needed to look at our faces and see how he hadn’t just killed Zara, he had killed a whole family.”

“My mother and myself, Zara’s grandmother, we both made victim impact statements," Ms Naz told BBC Breakfast.

“And we wanted him to hear that, and human to human we wanted him to know the impact that he, his actions, his atrocious, horrendous, horrific actions have left, the mark that he’s left on us, that he’s completely destroyed us as a family and we have years and years of finding a way through accepting what’s happened.

“And we needed that. And the other side to this is that we also feel that he needed it too, as he needed to face his actions.”

Farah Naz, Zara Aleena’s aunt Credit: David Parry/PA

In a statement after meeting Ms Naz on Thursday, Mr Raab said the Ministry of Justice is “looking carefully” at changing the law to ensure defendants can no longer “hide” from hearings.

He said: “This was a despicable crime and we apologise unreservedly to Zara Aleena’s family for the unacceptable failings in this case.

“Defendants who hide from justice can prolong the suffering of victims.

“That is why we are looking carefully at changing the law to compel offenders to attend their sentencing – making sure they face up to their actions and victims can see justice being served.”

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Raab also said that making convicts appear at sentencing hearings was “the very least the victims deserve” and a “basic principle of British justice”.

He added that he is considering granting judges the power to impose longer terms on those who refuse to appear.

Jordan McSweeney Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA

Mr Raab ordered a review of how probation staff supervised McSweeney – a career criminal who had been in and out of jail since he was 16 and had a history of violence – when it emerged he was freed from prison on licence nine days before the murder.

In that time, his licence had been revoked after he failed three times to meet probation officers – but he was not recalled to prison.

In a report published last month, chief inspector of probation Justin Russell said McSweeney was not treated as a high-risk offender when he should have been and chances to get him back behind bars sooner were missed.

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