Family's tribute to aspiring lawyer, 35, who was attacked walking home

‘She was a gentle soul’: Friend and family pay touching tributes to aspiring lawyer, 35, who was battered to death by a ‘stranger’ in ‘random attack’ as she walked home at night in East London – as police arrest man, 29, over her horrific murder

  • Zara Aleena’s cousin said she was a ‘bubbly, high empathy person’ in tribute
  • While friend Nadia, 42, a school teacher, said the ‘gentle soul’ ‘wouldn’t hurt a fly’
  • Met Police launch murder probe into attack after the aspiring lawyer was killed
  • Man, 29, has been arrested on suspicion of murder, police confirmed today
  • The heartbroken relatives of a law graduate who was ambushed and beaten to death in an ‘opportunist stranger attack’ spoke of their anguish today. 

    Zara Aleena, 35, died from severe head injuries after she was attacked in the street while walking home from a night out with friends in the early hours of Sunday. 

    Miss Aleena’s cousin described her as a ‘bubbly, high-empathy person’ and said the family were devastated.  

    Horrified neighbours also revealed how they heard loud screams following the attack on Cranbrook Road, Ilford. 

    And police announced today that a man, 29, was arrested on suspicion of her murder 

    Local MP Sam Tarry said the murder was a ‘random attack’ and also tried to assure the public that there will be a ‘flood of police on the streets’. 

    Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also said he was ‘heartbroken’ by the death of Zara. 

    PICTURED: Aspiring lawyer Zara Aleena, 35, was murdered in the early hours of Sunday morning in Ilford, East London

    PICTURED: Aspiring lawyer Zara Aleena, 35, was murdered in the early hours of Sunday morning in Ilford, East London

    The road where Zara was found with horrific injuries was just a short distance from Gants Hill Station

    The Met have closed the road and put a cordon in place at the scene while urging women to be 'alert' but not 'alarmed' by the attack

    The Met have closed the road and put a cordon in place at the scene while urging women to be ‘alert’ but not ‘alarmed’ by the attack

    Miss Aleena had been working at the Royal Courts of Justice as an administration officer while she sought a trainee solicitor role that would allow her to embark on a legal career, said her cousin, who asked not to be named.

    ‘She was a lovely person,’ he added. ‘It’s such a shock for the family. She wanted to become a lawyer, to make a success of herself so she could support the family.

    ‘She was always bubbly, brought life to the room, a warm, high-empathy person. She looked after her mum and her gran and was a very family-oriented person.’

    Nadia added that she could not understand why she had decided to walk home rather than get a taxi.

    ‘She probably thought it was nearby and… nothing like that has ever happened here – that is probably why,’ she added.

    ‘She wanted to borrow some heels and some mascara from me that night, but I couldn’t answer my phone as I was busy.

    ‘She was a gentle soul, she wouldn’t hurt a fly. She just passed her law degree and was working in central London. She wanted to become a lawyer so she could provide for herself and her family.’

    One man, who knew her and asked to remain anonymous, said: ‘It’s such a shock, she was such a lovely person. She used to look after the old folks who lived down the road.

    ‘We are going round to help her parents at this terrible time. Her parents are elderly and very upset at the moment, so they are too upset to talk right now.’

    Another neighbour, who also did not want to be named, added: ‘I knew of her [Zara Aleena], but didn’t know her well because I’ve been bed-bound for 10 years.

    ‘She used to look after an elderly woman next door. It’ so sad because she was so young.’

    Another man added: ‘Just recently she came to remove some bricks from my skip. I can’t believe that’s the same person. She just finished law school.’

    London Ambulance, who called the police at 2.44am to the scene, took Ms Aleena to hospital where she later died.

    Her family have been informed of her death after she was ambushed and brutally attacked by the stranger while walking in the direction of Gants Hill Station and the high street. 

    Zara, who lived near to where she was found, died of multiple injuries but police said that no weapons have been found yet as they continued with the probe.

    Today in a statement, Chief Supt Stuart Bell described the murder as ‘tragic’ and said a full investigation was underway.








    And local MP Sam Tarry said the murder was ‘something out of the ordinary’ for his constituents.

    Speaking at Ilford Police Station, he said: ‘I can confirm that pending formal identification that we believe the victim to be a local 35 year old woman named Zara Aleena.

    ‘At 02:44 am on Sunday, 26 June, Met officers were called by London Ambulance Service to a seriously injured woman found by members of the public in Cranbrook Road, Ilford.

    ‘The woman, who we believe to be Zara, had suffered serious head injuries and despite the best efforts of paramedics and doctors in hospital, she died later on Sunday morning.

    ‘Zara, who lived locally, was walking along Cranbrook Road in the direction of Gants Hill Station when she was assaulted

    ‘It is now believed that she was the victim of an attack by a stranger.

    ‘Her family are aware of this and as the investigation progresses they will continue to be updated and supported.

    ‘A special post mortem has been completed. Zara suffered multiple serious injuries that contributed to her death.

    ‘There is no evidence at this time that weapons were used during the attack.’

    He added: ‘We are keeping Zara’s family up to date with our progress and my heartfelt condolences are with them at this terrible time.

    ‘They are being supported by specialist officers – but I cannot imagine the pain they must be feeling.

    ‘Resources from across the Met are being drawn upon to help us identify whoever is responsible and the murder investigation is developing quickly.

    ‘Our priority is to catch the perpetrator as soon as possible and for that reason there are some aspects of the investigation I won’t be commenting on in detail.

    ‘Since the attack, officers have worked every hour to determine more about the circumstances – we are determined to catch the person responsible.’

    Police continue to work in Cranbrook Road, Redbridge, after Zara Aleena was murdered on Sunday morning

    Police continue to work in Cranbrook Road, Redbridge, after Zara Aleena was murdered on Sunday morning

    He said that a full forensic examination of the scene and the surrounding area is taking place – while officers are undertaking house to house enquiries.

    The Met have closed the road and put a cordon in place at the scene while urging women to be ‘alert’ but not ‘alarmed’ by the attack.

    Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: ‘I’m heartbroken by the [death] of Zara Aleena who had her whole life ahead of her. My thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends and the whole community who are devastated by her death. 

    ‘I am in regular contact with the police who have been working around the clock and a man is now in custody on suspicion of murder. There will continue to be a large police presence in the area over the coming days. 

    ‘Understandably, women living in the area and across London will be feeling distressed and fearful after this awful attack and the death of another woman at the hands of a man.’

    Labour MP for Ilford Sam Tarry said: ‘Cranbrook Road is part of my constituency.

    ‘It looks like, on the face of it, a random attack. This is something out of the ordinary.

    ‘And for that reason, the Met and the local authority are moving heaven and earth to ensure people’s safety and put the perpetrator behind bars.

    ‘My message to my constituents is that we will do everything to remember this woman who lost her life in the most horrendous way.

    ‘We want our community to be free of fear and go about their daily business.

    ‘People do need to be reassured, there will be a flood of police on the streets.

    ‘I don’t think people should be bowed or cowed into fear but of course people are going to be scared.

    ‘I would say to people, check your cameras, your dashcams, any small clue could help.’

    Labour frontbench MP Wes Streeting, who said she was one of his Ilford North constituents, also paid tribute to the 35-year-old. 

    Mr Streeting said: ‘Police have named the victim of the murder on Sunday morning as my 35 year old constituent Zara Aleena. 

    ‘I am heartbroken for her family and send those who loved and knew her my deepest condolences.’ 

    One neighbour said today: ‘I came home about that time, we had just been to an Ed Sheeran concert.

    ‘I heard screaming but I didn’t know whether it was a child or a fox. I didn’t think much of it. It’s a shock because it at 2am it was still busy with lots of cars.’

    She said the police had called at her house and told her father the woman was Asian and that they were looking for a white male.

    Zara Aleena was attacked while walking in the direction of Gants Hill Station and the high street

    Zara Aleena was attacked while walking in the direction of Gants Hill Station and the high street

    Mustafa Meric, 56, said his son’s friend lived opposite and his CCTV had captured footage – which he had passed to the police – of the attack.

    ‘It is not the safest of areas,’ he added. I fear for my wife and kids. I’ve told them to stop [going out late] for now.’

    Forensic officers could be seen dragging a black tarpaulin towards a house where the attack took place.

    Numerous side streets are also cordoned off and police have extended the area taped off to made it even wider.

    Another neighbour said: ‘It’s terrifying to think a killer is on the loose and women are being warned to be careful. I won’t go out after dark now, it’s just too scary. It’s just horrific to think this happened so close to home.

    He said: ‘I got up and saw flashing lights at three in the morning and heard the helicopter and a police dog. When we found out what happed, we were just in shock.

    ‘There is a house with ornamental posts outside, it was there. When you live on a main road like this you don’t know anybody.’

    Meanwhile, a local restaurant owner claimed that his sisters who live in Afghanistan are ‘safer’ than those who live in certain parts of London. 

    Tajik Ahmed, who has lived in Gants Hill for over 20 years, says the area is ‘getting worse and worse.’

    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

    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 

    He added: ‘When I first moved here there was still crime, then it got better but over the past few years it seems to have gone backwards. I have two sisters but they both live In Afghanistan. I think they’re safer there than in some parts of London.’

    Another Cranbrook Road resident, a 60-year-old father, said he ‘worries’ for other women in the area following the fatal attack – but that he believes the area to generally be safe. 

    Subhash said: ‘I have lived in the area for 15 years and this is the first time that this kind of serious incident has happened in this area.

    ‘This happened last night. I was fast asleep, but then I heard the helicopter going round around 3am. I thought something must have happened.’

    Pensioner Diana Nesen, 82, said: ‘I came out of my house to find a crime scene. The whole place was cordoned off.

    ‘It’s really a tragedy, you don’t expect to find something like that happen on a road like this – it’s awful.

    ‘We don’t know who she was but she must have been walking to the station early in the morning. But the trains weren’t running so maybe she was a local too.

    ‘It does make you feel more vulnerable. I hope they catch the killer.’

    Another resident Mubasher Khan, 45, said: ‘I heard shouting on Sunday morning and thought it was someone who was drunk.

    ‘Then I saw flashing lights at around 3.10am and someone from the police someone on my door and asked to see my CCTV.

    ‘But the camera only covered the drive so it wasn’t much help. This morning I heard about it and the girl who died.’

    She was attacked while walking along Cranbrook Road in the direction of Gants Hill Station and the high street. Pictured: Police talk to a driver as they close the road

    She was attacked while walking along Cranbrook Road in the direction of Gants Hill Station and the high street. Pictured: Police talk to a driver as they close the road 

    Detective Chief Inspector Mark Rogers, of the Met’s Specialist Crime North Command, is leading the investigation and said: ‘It is vital that my officers speak with every possible witness and everyone with information that may assist the investigation. 

    ‘We are appealing for anyone who was in the Cranbrook Road area of Ilford between 2am and 3am on Sunday morning to get in touch, including anyone who drove through the area and may have dashcam footage.

    ‘We also want to hear from anyone who saw anything suspicious in the wider Ilford area overnight.’