Zara Aleena was brutally attacked when walking home in the early hours of 26 June 2022 - and later died in hospital from neck and head injuries.
She had been stalked by 29-year-old Jordan McSweeney, who went on to repeatedly kick and stamp on her head and body before sexually assaulting her. He has been given a life sentence and jailed for at least 38 years after admitting to the “terrifying and ruthless” attack.
But on Tuesday (24 January), a damning report has said the tragedy could have been avoided had it not been for a catalogue of errors by the Probation Service, which had meant McSweeney was not treated as a high-risk offender when he should have been.
He had 28 past convictions for 69 separate offences over 17 years, including burglary, theft of a vehicle, criminal damage, assaulting police officers and attacking members of the public while on bail. He also had a history of violence towards ex-partners and was handed a restraining order for an offence against a woman in 2021. On the night he murdered Ms Aleena’, he tried to target at least five other women, as seen in footage captured by CCTV.
Ms Aleena’s horrific case shook the nation when it first emerged, with hundreds turning up to a silent vigil in July to “walk her home” along the journey she never got to finish. Her family have also paid tribute to “a beloved human, child, niece, cousin, granddaughter, and friend”, who they said was “a joy to all of us.”
What happened to Zara Aleena?
Jordan McSweeney, of Dagenham, London, stalked Ms Aleena as she walked home from a night out on June 26, 2022. He had already been thrown out of a pub for pestering a female member of staff and tried to target at least five other women, as seen in CCTV footage that has since been released.
He grabbed Ms Aleena from behind and dragged her into a driveway, where he repeatedly kicked and stamped on her head and body before sexually assaulting her. The attack lasted nine minutes and resulted in 46 separate injuries.
Ms Aleena was found with severe head injuries and struggling to breathe. She died in hospital.
What has been said about Ms Aleena?
Ms Aleena’s family released a statement via the Met Police, describing how Zara was “a joy to all of us”, “everybody’s friend” and “pure of heart”. Her aunt Farah Naz said her niece was “the happiest she had ever been” at the time of her murder - and added that her family want to bring about change in honour of her.
Ms Aleena’s friend Sophie told BBC News: “She was just a kind soul, the sweetest girl, she could never harm a fly. Always polite, always bubbly, the sweetest girl that you could ever meet really. So much going for her.” Another friend, Nadia, told The Times: “She was a very gentle soul. She was very helpful to everyone and her neighbours.”
Meanwhile, Sky News reported that Ms Aleena’s best friend Lisa posted “I will never see her again. I will never hear her voice again. We always spoke every day. I will never get over this, ever.” She went on to write: “Now you rest in peace, beautiful angel.”
According to reports, Ms Aleena had just passed her law degree and was working as an administrative officer at the Royal Courts of Justice. The University of Westminster has paid tribute to her, describing her as a “warm and gentle” woman who would “often go out of her way to help others”.
A spokeswoman for the university said: “We are shocked and deeply saddened by the news that our former Law School student and graduate, Zara Aleena, has lost her life in such a tragic way. Our thoughts are with Zara’s family and loved ones at this dreadful time.
“Zara was awarded the LL.B with Honours in 2011 and the Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice in 2021. She is remembered clearly and fondly by all who taught her. She was a warm, gentle and open young woman, popular with both staff and fellow students. She would often go out of her way to help others.”
What happened to Jordan McSweeney?
Last month, McSweeney, 29, was given a life sentence and jailed for at least 38 years after admitting a “terrifying and ruthless” attack on Ms Aleena.
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab ordered a review of how probation staff supervised McSweeney after it emerged he was freed from prison on licence just nine days before the murder. He fhad a string of convictions and a history of violence, including burglary, theft of a vehicle, criminal damage, assaulting police officers, and assaulting members of the public while on bail.
During the nine days, his licence had been revoked after he failed to meet probation officers, but he was not recalled to prison.
Now, a damning report has concluded that serious failings by probation officers left a sexual predator “free” to stalk and kill Ms Aleena. Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell described McSweeney as a “career criminal” who had been in and out of jail since the age of 16, and “should have been considered a high-risk-of-serious-harm offender” - instead of the “medium” risk category he was placed in.
He said: “If he had, more urgent action would have been taken to recall him to prison after he missed his supervision appointments on release from custody. The Probation Service failed to do so and he was free to commit this most heinous crime on an innocent, young woman.”
What is a stranger attack?
According to the Office for National Statistics in the year to the end of March 2021 in England and Wales 6% of female victims and 18% of males were killed by strangers. Figures from the Metropolitan Police show that 14 of the 44 victims of suspected homicides so far in 2022, not including Ms Aleena’s death, were women.
In 11 of these cases the suspect is a relative or friend of the victim, another died in a house fire, and the relationship between suspect and victim in the remaining two is not yet clear.
Chief Superintendent Stuart Bell said tackling violence against women and girls is an “absolute priority” for the Met. He said: “Every day our officers are working with partners across the capital to improve safety in our public spaces.
“Women should not have to change their behaviour and should be able to go about their business, feeling safe, any time of day or night. It’s our job to ensure that happens – but officers cannot be in all places at all times.
“I would urge our community, especially women, to report any suspicious or unwanted behaviour and seek help if you feel threatened. Everyone should be able to their lives free of the fear of violence.”
Family tribute to Zara Aleena in full
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 five 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 two-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, 10 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.