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Alex Malcolm inquest: Man who beat boy, five, to death over lost trainer ‘left free to kill by probation failings’

Maya Oppenheim
Alex Malcolm suffered fatal head and stomach injuries

“Systemic failings” on the part of the probation service led to the “unlawful killing” of a five-year-old boy by his mother’s former boyfriend, an inquest has ruled.

Marvyn Iheanacho, who has a history of violence, became incensed after Alex Malcolm lost a trainer in a park in Catford, southeast London, in 2016 and beat him to death.

Liliya Breha, the deceased boy’s mother, was only alerted to the fact Iheanacho had a series of convictions for violent offences against women and children, and authorities deemed him to be a high risk to both, after her son was murdered.

Iheanacho, of Hounslow in west London, had been under the supervision of the National Probation Service (NPS) when the murder took place. He had been released from jail six months earlier on licence, after serving time for an assault on an ex-girlfriend.

His release conditions stipulated he should not be allowed to have any unsupervised contact with children younger than 16 and probation officers were supposed to keep tabs on any relationships with women.

A jury in Southwark coroner’s court has now found after a 12-day hearing that the probation service failed to make sure his ex-partner Ms Breha was notified of his violent past.

The jury reached the conclusion that Alex’s death was partly caused by key changes to the probation service implemented under former justice secretary Chris Grayling in 2014 – saying his overhaul caused higher workloads which “may have affected the effectiveness of the system to deal with high-risk offenders”.

It also found the service was understaffed and failed to properly share information across different agencies – as well as incorrectly classifying Iheanacho.

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The probation service admitted Iheanacho, who was convicted of Alex’s murder in 2017, was incorrectly classified before being released from jail – with the jury concluding this failing partly contributed to the death of the five-year-old boy.

Selen Cavcav, senior case worker at charity Inquest, said: “The critical conclusion of the jury once again exposes the consequences of the rushed and ill-informed ‘transformation’ of probation services. Multiple opportunities to protect Liliya and Alex were missed, as their safety was put in the hands of inexperienced individuals working in overstretched services. This inquest has performed a vital function in publicly scrutinising these systemic failings, which must urgently be addressed at a national level.”

The inquest concluded “a serious of individual failures by NPS probation officers coupled with inadequate support and supervision” and “the failure of relevant agencies to identify, request and share relevant information” contributed to the boy’s death.

Ms Breha, Alex’s mother, said: “I would really like to say that Alex didn’t have to die for system failures to be identified and for people to start to do their jobs properly. Alex was my heartbeat and I miss him so much. He should be here right now going to school, playing with his friends.

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“Someone took this away from him for no reason and the systems meant to protect us did not. I now hope changes will be made. I would also like to thank everyone who has been supporting and helping me during this horrible time.”

Alex was provided with emergency treatment after the attack but died from head and stomach injuries in hospital two days later.

Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, said: “This case highlights just how important it is for all those working in the criminal justice system, from police through to probation, to have a proper understanding of the dynamics and risks of domestic violence and coercive and controlling behaviour. With the necessary insight and proper resourcing, this tragic death like many other domestic homicides could have been averted.”

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Our deepest condolences remain with the victim’s family, and we apologise unreservedly for the unacceptable failings in this case – we will now carefully consider the coroner’s findings.

“In the three years since Alex’s tragic death, the National Probation Service in London has undertaken a huge programme of work to improve standards and better protect the public. Over 1,300 probation staff in London have attended specialist domestic violence and child safeguarding training and we have recruited a further 180 trainee probation officers over the last year.”

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