Zara Aleena: Jordan McSweeney admits murdering 35-year-old in Ilford as she walked home

Jordan McSweeney, 29, appeared at the Old Bailey where he admitted murdering Zara Aleena as she walked home

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A man has admitted murdering Zara Aleena as she made her way home from a night out. At a hearing on Friday, Jordan McSweeney, 29, of Dagenham, Essex, pleaded guilty to murder and sexual assault.

Ms Aleena was minutes from her front door when killed when she was attacked as she walked home from a night out along Cranbrook Road in Ilford, east London, on 26 June, an area she knew well and where family said she felt “safe”.

McSweeney had only recently been released from prison and had targeted more than one woman before he preyed on the 35-year-old as she walked home from a night out.

Prosecutor Oliver Glasgow KC had said McSweeney launched an “attack upon a lone female late at night making her way home, a woman who stood no chance”. The defendant had dragged Ms Aleena into a driveway in Cranbrook Road, Ilford, east London, where he subjected her to a ferocious assault.

He sexually assaulted the law graduate and made off with her mobile phone, keys and handbag, the prosecution said. Emergency services were called at 2.44am after she was found with severe head injuries, partially naked and struggling to breathe. Ms Aleena was taken to hospital where she died later that morning.

Jordan McSweeney, 29, pleaded guilty of murdering Zara Aleena. Credit: Met PoliceJordan McSweeney, 29, pleaded guilty of murdering Zara Aleena. Credit: Met Police
Jordan McSweeney, 29, pleaded guilty of murdering Zara Aleena. Credit: Met Police

When was Jordan McSweeney released from prison previously?

Police officers gathered CCTV footage, witness statements, DNA and fingerprint evidence. Video footage from the area showed McSweeney appearing to target other women before he followed Ms Aleena.

After the killing, other CCTV captured him returning to his caravan in Dagenham, where police recovered Ms Aleena’s bloodstained clothes. More bloodstains were found on a wall in Cranbrook Road with the defendant’s fingerprint identified on them.

After his arrest, McSweeney refused to answer questions but told officers he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While in custody, he was also said to have threatened police officers.

Having been charged with murder, he was remanded into custody after a judge found he was a “substantial risk” to the public, especially lone women.

At a previous hearing, the court was told McSweeney was a prolific offender and had been released from prison on licence on 17 June – just days before the murder.

He had been in prison for criminal damage, racially aggravated harassment and unauthorised possession of a knife in prison. He has 28 convictions for 69 separate offences including burglary, theft of a vehicle, criminal damage, assaulting police officers and assaulting members of the public while on bail.

Zara Aleena was killed as she made her way home.Zara Aleena was killed as she made her way home.
Zara Aleena was killed as she made her way home.

Ms Aleena’s death prompted renewed calls for action to tackle violence against women and girls, and saw hundreds of people join a silent march in her name.

Speaking after her murder her maternal aunt, Farah Naz, said her “independent” and “big-hearted” niece “was the joy, the light of our home”, and spoke of the family’s determination to “change something” in honour of the “extrovert”.

In a tribute after her death her family said everyone needed to be talking about what had happened, and said: “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, 10 minutes from home.”

When will McSweeney be sentenced?

McSweeney’s plea hearing had been delayed after the defendant suffered Covid in custody. His barrister George Carter-Stephenson KC said: “He is still feeling unwell from Covid but realises the importance of being here today.”

Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb adjourned sentencing until 14 December. She told McSweeney: “You pleaded guilty to very serious matters. I’m sure you appreciate the kind of sentence you will receive.

“But I will listen very carefully to the Crown’s opening of the case and the submissions on your behalf so it’s in your interests to cooperate with those representing you.”

What has the CPS said?

After the hearing, Senior Crown Prosecutor Olcay Sapanoglu welcomed the pleas, saying: “It was an horrific attack on a woman walking home after a night out with a friend.

“It appears clear that McSweeney was intent that night on finding a woman to attack. Having seen Zara walking home he decided to follow her. Having followed her for several minutes he pulled Zara into the driveway of a house, where he carried out his assault.

“He sexually assaulted her, then brutally stamped on her several times before appearing to walk away. Moments later he returned, only to stamp on her several times more and then, finally, leaving her for dead.

“McSweeney did not display a shred of humanity towards Zara. Indeed, having completed his initial assault he returned to inflict further injuries, leading to her death. At no stage during his police interviews did he express any sorrow for his actions.

“Zara’s family will never recover from the senseless loss of their daughter, but I hope that these guilty pleas bring them some comfort.

“Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the police, who worked tirelessly to trace Zara’s killer allowing us to build the strongest case possible against McSweeney.”