Trigger warning – article contains themes of sexual assault, violence and murder.
Zara Aleena was murdered on Sunday 26 June while she was walking home in East London.
The 35-year-old law graduate was found by members of the public with "serious head injuries" at approximately 2.45am. According to documents, she was found partially naked, badly beaten and struggling to breathe. She later died in hospital.
The "opportunist stranger attack" took place 10 minutes from Aleena's home, on Cranbrook Road, Ilford, with chilling CCTV footage showing Jordan McSweeney, 29, following multiple lone women home that night, before singling out Zara Aleena.
The sexual predator labelled "a danger to any woman" had only recently been released from prison, and had 28 previous convictions, including assault.
“On the night of 25 June 2022, [Jordan McSweeney] had left a pub in Ilford and roamed the streets looking for a woman to attack and to sexually assault,” stated prosecutor Oliver Glasgow KC, via the Evening Standard.
“He followed a number of different women and, given what happened to Zara, there can be no doubt that they were lucky to have escaped unharmed. Tragically for Zara Aleena, she was not as fortunate as the others."
This week, McSweeney was sentenced at the Old Bailey to life in prison, after pleading guilty to Zara Aleena's murder last month. He refused to attend his sentencing in person.
Following the sentencing, the family of Zara Aleena issued a statement, read by Aleena's maternal aunt, Farah Naz, paying tribute to her niece and calling for urgent action on street safety and an end to violence against women.
"It is uncomfortable to stand here and present my family´s personal private response to the murder of our Zara, but we are compelled to work with others to change society, to act, so other peoples´ daughters can be safe and protected in a way that Zara was not," Farah Naz announced from outside the Old Bailey, following the sentencing of Jordan McSweeney.
"We share our suffering here today to deepen understanding of how a family is destroyed in such a short time. And to encourage more in depth, intelligent, honest conversations about what we all need to do as a society. This is our chance to have impact. Zara was murdered in some 20 minutes in a senseless, merciless, brutal attack. She became a victim. She lost everything. We lost her and more.
"Zara was faced with horror, hatred, pain, mercilessly stamped on, to her death," the statement later continued. "She suffered physically, emotionally, mentally in her last hours. Everything she was, everything she worked so hard for, every dream she had yet to live was destroyed by someone she didn’t even know, someone else´s sense of entitlement.
"Zara lost her freedom, she was just walking home. Zara had a strong sense of justice, and a strong moral compass. One of the things she would confidently say was, ´I know I´m a good person´, this would give her the confidence to speak up for herself, her mother, her grandmother, the rest of her family, and her friends. If she were able to speak here today she would say, 'I didn’t do anything wrong'. We lost someone valuable. It is hard for us to even talk about our pain because our suffering pales into nothing when we think of Zara´s horrific end. We find it difficult to think of ourselves when we are alive and safe.
The statement later added: "How do we continue to believe in a society that breeds such violence towards women, how do we continue to have faith in systems that failed to protect her, to live in a community that didn´t respond to her screams? The question for us every day is, how do we live? What should we believe in, how can we act, how should we think? We have a life sentence with no reprieve.
"We have to find a way to live a new life but the pathway is littered with visions that belong in a horror movie. We do not feel safe in our own minds, in our homes, in our streets, in our community. We find ourselves looking over our shoulders in fear."
Our thoughts are with Zara Aleena’s loved ones.
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Jenny Proudfoot is an award-winning journalist, specialising in lifestyle, culture, entertainment, international development and politics. She has worked at Marie Claire UK for seven years, rising from intern to Features Editor and is now the most published Marie Claire writer of all time. She was made a 30 under 30 award-winner last year and named a rising star in journalism by the Professional Publishers Association.
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