A man has been charged with the murder of aspiring lawyer Zara Aleena, who was fatally attacked as she walked home from a night out with friends in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Jordan McSweeney, 29, will appear in custody at Thames Magistrates’ Court today, where he will also face charges of robbery and attempted rape following the brutal killing of the 35-year-old in Ilford, east London.
Metropolitan Police said Ms Aleena died from severe head injuries after she was attacked in busy Cranbrook Road, with her screams waking up nearby residents.
They frantically dialled 999 but she succumbed to her injuries at hospital later that morning.
In a statement today, her heartbroken family said that last few days had been ‘shocking and unimaginable’, describing Ms Aleena as ‘everybody’s friend’ and ‘pure of heart.’
They added that she had wanted to be a lawyer from the age of five and that she ‘put her party shoes in her bag’ and ‘walked everywhere’ because ‘she believed that a woman should be able to walk home.’
Ms Aleena is feared to be the 16th woman in London and the 52nd woman in the UK to be murdered by a man in 2022, with her case bearing a tragic similarity to those of Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard, who were both killed while walking home in the capital last year.
The Met said in an update this morning: ‘Jordan McSweeney, 29, of no fixed abode will appear in custody at Thames Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, June 29 charged with the murder of 35-year-old Zara Aleena, attempted rape and robbery.
‘This follows an investigation by homicide detectives from the Met’s Specialist Crime Command.
Jordan McSweeney, 29, will appear in custody at Thames Magistrates’ Court today, where he will face charges of murder, robbery and attempted rape following the brutal killing of 35-year-old Zara Aleena (pictured) in Ilford, east London on Sunday
The Met shut down the area and put up forensic tents where she was murdered on Cranbrook Road, Ilford (pictured) in the early hours of Sunday
The road where Zara was found with horrific injuries was just a short distance from Gants Hill Station
The Met Police have launched a murder probe into the death of the victim who was found with serious head injuries in Redbridge, Ilford this morning. Pictured: The cordon and forensics at the scene
Zara Aleena, 35, died from severe head injuries after she was attacked on her way back from a night out in the early hours of Sunday morning
‘She was the rock of our family’: Read the full heartbreaking statement from Zara Aleena’s family following her shocking murder at the weekend
The family of Zara Aleena, who was killed while walking home in east London in the early hours of Sunday morning, released a statement today after a man was arrested over her death.
They wrote: ‘Zara, 35, a beloved human, child, niece, cousin, granddaughter, friend to all, she was a joy to all of us. She was a carer for her mother, and her grandmother.
‘Caring for others came so naturally to her. Zara was friendly, she was everybody’s friend. She was everybody’s daughter, everybody’s niece, everybody’s sister, everybody’s cousin. She was pure of heart.
‘She was a joy to all of us, her sparkling eyes and the curly, jet-black hair. Her glorious laughter and her sweet, smiling voice. Her tiny frame embodied a passionate spirit and indomitable energy.
‘Zara was brought up by the whole of our family. She was our love in human form. At the age of 5 she said she was going to be a lawyer. Shrieking with joy when she spotted the birds as a child – she would giggle and make us laugh. She was always the bigger person in any situation.
‘She was authentic and refused to try and impress anyone but she impressed us. She was the rock of our family. Zara was stoic and held it all together and never complained. She glued our community together. ‘Nobody worked harder than Zara’ is what we heard from all who knew her. Zara was happy and at a point in her life when her joy was radiating and blossoming.
‘She was ready to make a family of her own. Her sense of justice and fairness led her to a life of giving and caring for others – supporting refugees fleeing violence, giving voice to those who had less power. She had that special habit of noticing others in need and always put their needs on her agenda. A carefree spirit, with the most caring heart.
‘Zara was happy and at a point in her life that she had worked hard for, she had completed her Legal Practice Course so that she could practise as a solicitor. She only recently started working for the Crown Prosecution Service, to complete her 2-year work placement in order to become a fully qualified solicitor. She was fierce: she didn’t just survive, she thrived.
‘She walked everywhere. She put her party shoes in a bag and donned her trainers. She walked. Zara believed that a woman should be able to walk home. Now, her dreams of a family are shattered, her future brutally taken.
‘Sadly, Zara is not the only one who has had her life taken at the hands of a stranger. We all know women should be safe on our streets. She was in the heart of her community, ten minutes from home.
‘We all need to be talking about what happened to OUR ZARA, we all need to be talking about this tragedy.
‘These last few days have been shocking and unimaginable.
‘In a savage, sickening, act she was murdered by a stranger. She’s not the only woman who has lost her life like this. In the moment of this tragedy, we extend our deepest sympathy and love to the families of Bibaa Henry; Nicole Smallman; Sarah Everard; Sabina Nessa; Ashling Murphy and many more women.
‘We must PREVENT and STOP violence against women and girls.
‘Our loss is irreparable and the void feels insurmountable but the warmth and kindness that our community has shown is testament to the power of Zara’s spirit. Her life has been stolen from us. She has been stolen from us all.
‘REST IN POWER ZARA NATASHA ALEENA.’
‘An investigation was launched after police were called at 02:44hrs on Sunday, June 26 to reports of woman suffering injuries in Cranbrook Road, Ilford.
‘Zara was found suffering head injuries – she was taken to hospital where she died later that morning.’
Ms Aleena, who cared for her mother and grandmother, was described as ‘the rock in our family’ by relatives today.
In a statement they said: ‘She was a joy to all of us, her sparkling eyes and the curly, jet-black hair. Her glorious laughter and her sweet, smiling voice. Her tiny frame embodied a passionate spirit and indomitable energy…
‘She was authentic and refused to try and impress anyone but she impressed us. She was the rock of our family. Zara was stoic and held it all together and never complained. She glued our community together.
”Nobody worked harder than Zara’ is what we heard from all who knew her. Zara was happy and at a point in her life when her joy was radiating and blossoming.’
They added: ‘She walked everywhere. She put her party shoes in a bag and donned her trainers. She walked.
‘Zara believed that a woman should be able to walk home. Now, her dreams of a family are shattered, her future brutally taken.’
The family said the last few days have been ‘shocking’ and ‘unimaginable’ as they declared: ‘We must stop and prevent violence against women and girls.’
CCTV footage, filmed at 2.48am, some 30 minutes after Ms Aleena was attacked, shows a man walking briskly past a shop on the road, before breaking into a jog.
He was also captured on camera walking past the same shop at 2.05am – five minutes before Miss Aleena herself was seen doing so.
The shopkeeper, who asked not to be named, said police had collected footage from his CCTV camera for their investigation.
He said: ‘It is terrible what happened to that young woman.
‘I gave the police the footage because I want to do everything I can do to help solve this awful murder.’
People living along the street say they recorded footage from 2.13am that they have given to police which shows her confronting a man close to a bus stop on Cranbrook Road who was following her.
In the separate footage, Miss Aleena can be seen talking to the man and then walking off quickly. The man was seen standing still for several moments before lighting a cigarette and then continuing to follow her.
A man living in Cranbrook Road who captured the separate footage told MailOnline: ‘From the footage you can see a woman walking down the road and then a man follow around 10-feet behind her.
‘She speeds up and he does the same and they both head up towards Gants Hill. They’d been walking from Ilford up Cranbrook Road.
‘The police have seen the footage and taken it away. My daughter said she heard a woman screaming at about 2am. There were a couple of screams but that was it.
‘We live on a fairly busy road and there’s often people shouting at all times of day.
‘The police who came to collect the footage told us that the man had started following the woman by the entrance to Valentines Park.’
Miss Aleena was killed at 2.20am, less than ten minutes after she confronted the man, CCTV footage of the attack has confirmed.
Just four minutes earlier a marked police car drove past as Miss Aleena walked along the pavement with her attacker following a few yards behind her.
The Met Police vehicle did not have its emergency lights or siren on, suggesting it was not responding to an emergency call, when it passed Miss Aleena at 2.16am.
It comes as the sister of Sabina Nessa – who died in similar circumstances – yesterday described her grief after the death of Miss Aleena – the 16th woman in London and the 52nd woman in the UK to be murdered by a man in 2022.
Kind and loving: Law graduate Zara Aleena, pictured left, was killed by a stranger as she walked home and had told her best friend Lisa Hodgson, right, ‘that won’t happen to us’ after Sarah Everard’s murder
Zara’s death is the latest murder of a woman walking alone in London after the murders of Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard
Jebina Nessa, whose sister was murdered by a stranger as she walked to the pub in Kidbrooke, south-east London last year, joined the calls for more to be done to end male violence against women.
She said: ‘Words cannot describe how I felt reading yet another murder, similar to what happened to my beautiful sister Sabina Nessa… My heart goes out to her family. There are no words to describe the loss in such a way.’
Ms Aleena’s close friend Lisa Hodgson has revealed that they were meant to be together over the weekend – but they had rearranged to meet next weekend.
Ms Aleena had texted on Friday to say: ‘Miss your beautiful face this weekend xx can’t wait to see you next weekend xxx’.
Lisa said yesterday: ‘I am completely broken. My bestest friend (for the past 17 years) Zara Aleena was murdered by a complete stranger. I am shocked. I am angry. I feel sick to my stomach.
‘We spent most weekends together. We were meant to be together this weekend but I had to cancel and arranged to meet next weekend. I wish I had met her this weekend. She got f***ing murdered walking home’.
In a poignant Facebook post she described her grief at not seeing her again or hearing her voice, adding: ‘To the man that murdered Zara may he get tortured in prison. I want to look him in the eye and ask why???!!!! Justice for Zara Aleena. When will our streets be safe? Something needs to be done! Something must be done. Now you rest in peace beautiful angel’.
Flowers and cards have been left at the scene of the killing.
One tribute said: ‘Best friend I could ever have asked for ..’ xxxx. I am going to miss everything about you, your smile, the way you bite your bottom lip when you were thinking, our nights out… eating burgers on a step, laughing about anything and everything.’ Another wrote: ‘I love you to the moon and back’.
The University of Westminster has also paid tribute to its alum Ms Aleena, who they said was a ‘warm and gentle’ woman that would ‘often go out of her way to help others’.