Zara Aleena: what has Jordan McSweeny been charged with, what has her family said, and what did she die from?
Zara Aleena was found with serious head injuries in Cranbrook Road and died later that morning
Zara Aleena died from neck and head injuries, a coroner has heard.
The 35-year-old was attacked when walking on Cranbrook Road, Ilford, in the early hours of 26 June just minutes from her home.
Jordan McSweeney, 29, from Church Elm Lane, Dagenham, has been charged with her murder and is due to appear at the Old Bailey on 30 September.
Coroner Nadia Persaud heard how Ms Aleena was admitted to Royal London Hospital where her conditioned worsened and she was later pronounced dead.
The inquest at East London Coroner's Court was adjourned until the conclusion of any criminal proceedings.
Hundreds of people turned out for a silent vigil for Ms Aleena on Saturday 2 July to “walk her home”. The route of the poignant vigil ran along the journey she never got to finish.
Her 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”. While Ms Aleena’s aunt said her family want to bring about change in honour of her.
What happened to Zara Aleena?
Ms Aleena was found bleeding and struggling to breathe with serious head injuries in a driveway in Cranbrook Road, Ilford, the court was told.
She was dragged on to the driveway before being kicked and stamped on, prosecutors allege.
Ms Aleena, 35, was assaulted as she walked home along Cranbrook Road in Ilford, east London, towards Gants Hill station in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Jordan McSweeney, of Dagenham, east London, allegedly kicked and stamped on the 35-year-old as she walked home from a night out in Ilford, east London, in the early hours of Sunday 26 June.
The 29-year-old defendant, who is also accused of robbing the law graduate of her mobile phone, keys and handbag, and attempted penetration without consent, appeared at the Old Bailey on Friday morning.
He will next appear at the Old Bailey on September 30 for a plea hearing.
What has been said about Ms Aleena?
On Tuesday 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.”
According to reports, Ms Aleena had just passed her law degree and was working as an administrative officer at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Another friend, Nadia, told The Times: “She was a very gentle soul. She was very helpful to everyone and her neighbours.”
While Sky News reports 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.”
The University of Westminster has paid tribute to Zara Aleena, 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 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.”
Will there be a vigil?
A vigil took place on Saturday 2 July.
Ms Aleena’s 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”.
Ms Naz told reporters: “I don’t think there is going to be closure, this is just the beginning of the conversation we need to have.
“I want to reach out and do something important and act, because that’s what Zara was about – we have got to change something.
“I want to speak to the leaders of this country, I want to talk about the setting up of projects right now to prevent violence.”
Ms Naz said her niece – known to family members as Zash or Zasherooni – was conscious of the dangers women faced, particularly following the recent murders in London of Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman, Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, but felt “safe” walking in her local community where she was “known to everybody”.
Ms Naz said the family have been inundated with condolences and offers of support by members of the community, including various faith groups, friends, and the families of other women including Ms Henry, Ms Smallman, and Ms Nessa.
She said: “Our whole community has reached out to us and let us know how devastated they are, and how crushed they feel and how unsafe they feel.
“People have reached out to us and said their lives are not going to be the same.”
Ms Naz said her niece was “the happiest she had ever been”, having begun working for the Royal Courts of Justice five weeks before she was killed.
The vigil will begin at 1.30pm at Cranbrook Road, weeping, Ms Naz added: “We will never get through this, but it (the walk) will help us.”
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.