PICTURED: Murder suspect, 29, charged with murdering Zara Aleena

PICTURED: Murder suspect, 29, as he appears in court charged with killing and trying to rape aspiring lawyer Zara Aleena, 35, while she walked home from night out with friends

  • Jordan McSweeney, 29, will appear in custody at Thames Magistrates’ Court today, Metropolitan Police said
  • He also faces robbery charge following the killing on Cranbrook Road, in Ilford, east London Sunday morning
  • Ms Aleena’s heartbroken family today described her as ‘their rock’ and ‘pure of heart’ in a touching tribute
  • This is the first picture of the 29-year-old ‘stranger’ accused of beating to death aspiring lawyer Zara Aleena as she walked home from a night out with friends is east London.

    Jordan McSweeney has appeared Thames Magistrates’ Court today, charged with murder, robbery and attempted rape following the brutal killing of the 35-year-old in Ilford in the early hours of Sunday morning.

    He appeared in the dock in Bow this lunchtime. McSweeney wore a grey tracksuit to the short five-minute hearing, in which no plea was indicated. He was denied bail and remanded in custody to attend the Old Bailey on July 27.

    Some of Ms Aleena’s family and friends were present in court.

    The Metropolitan Police has said Ms Aleena died from severe head injuries after she was attacked in busy Cranbrook Road, with her screams waking up nearby residents who frantically dialled 999. 

    Paramedics rushed to the scene where they performed CPR for two hours before taking Ms Aleena to hospital at around 4.30am. She was declared dead shortly afterwards. 

    In a statement today, her heartbroken family said the 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 the 16th woman in London and the 52nd woman in the UK to be killed by a man in 2022, with her case bearing a chilling similarity to those of Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard, who were both slain while walking home in the capital last year. 

    Ms Aleena is said to have recently told a friend: ‘That won’t happen to us’, while discussing Ms Everard’s case, before tragically suffering a similar fate. 

    A vigil for Ms Aleena is set take place this Saturday, with mourners planning to walk from the site of her attack to her home nearby. Attendees have been asked to wear white and to keep the mood ‘silent and sombre’ as they help to ‘bring her back to where she belonged safely.’  

    First picture: Jordan McSweeney has appeared Thames Magistrates' Court today, charged with murder, robbery and attempted rape following the brutal killing of 35-year-old Zara Aleena in Ilford in the early hours of Sunday morning

    First picture: Jordan McSweeney has appeared Thames Magistrates' Court today, charged with murder, robbery and attempted rape following the brutal killing of 35-year-old Zara Aleena in Ilford in the early hours of Sunday morning

    First picture: Jordan McSweeney has appeared Thames Magistrates’ Court today, charged with murder, robbery and attempted rape following the brutal killing of 35-year-old Zara Aleena  in Ilford in the early hours of Sunday morning

    Miss Aleena was attacked as she walked home from a night out along Cranbrook Road in Ilford, towards Gants Hill station, in the early hours of Sunday morning

    Miss Aleena was attacked as she walked home from a night out along Cranbrook Road in Ilford, towards Gants Hill station, in the early hours of Sunday morning

    The Met shut down the area and put up forensic tents where Ms Aleena was attacked on Cranbrook Road, Ilford (pictured) in the early hours of Sunday

    The Met shut down the area and put up forensic tents where Ms Aleena was attacked 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, on Sunday 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, on Sunday 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

    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.’

    Advertisement

    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.’

    A 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.

    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.’

    Ms Aleena was killed at 2.20am.

    Just four minutes earlier a marked police car drove past as Ms Aleena walked along the pavement.

    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 Ms 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 Ms Aleena – the 16th woman in London and the 52nd woman in the UK to be killed by a man in 2022.

    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: ‘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… 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’.

    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

    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

    The crime scene in Cranbrook Road, Ilford, is shown where Aleena was attacked on Sunday

    The crime scene in Cranbrook Road, Ilford, is shown where Aleena was attacked on Sunday

    Zara's death is the latest murder of a woman walking alone in London after the murders of Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard

    Zara's death is the latest murder of a woman walking alone in London after the murders of Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard

    Zara’s death is the latest killing of a woman walking alone in London after the murders of Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard

    Slain Zara Aleena told her friend: ‘That won’t happen to us’, while discussing murder of Sarah Everard – before tragically suffering a similar fate

    A law graduate killed by a stranger as she walked home had reassured her best friend ‘that won’t happen to us’ after Sarah Everard ‘s murder.

    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.

    She was walking near to her mother’s house in Ilford, north-east London, moments before she was attacked from behind and beaten to death. 

    Ms Aleena’s devastated best friend drew chilling parallels with the murder of Ms Everard, 33, and Sabina Nessa, 28.

    Lisa Hodgson, who studied at Westminster Kingsway College with Ms Aleena, said: ‘We spoke a lot about Sarah Everard together, and Sabina Nessa too. Of course we didn’t know those girls but we were both really affected by it – Zara was quite shaken.

    ‘I even said to Zara, ‘Can you imagine something like that happening to us?’ And she said, ‘It’s awful, I know. But don’t worry, it won’t happen to us’. Everyone believes that won’t happen to them until it does.’

    Marketing manager Miss Everard was kidnapped, raped and murdered in March last year by Scotland Yard firearms officer Wayne Couzens.

    Ms Hodgson said: ‘After what happened to Sarah you would expect to see big changes to prevent it happening again.

    ‘But what has been done? It has happened again, to my best friend. And I want to kill the man who has done it with my bare hands but it’s too late now, my beautiful, kind and loving friend has gone.

    ‘These predators out there don’t seem to care – they’re not scared. We should be able to walk home alone at night without being terrified, looking over our shoulders fearful that something like this will happen. Why shouldn’t we feel safe?’

    Jebina Nessa, whose sister Sabina was murdered in Kidbrooke, south-east London last September, joined calls for more to be done to end male violence against women.

    She said: ‘My heart goes out to her family.’ 

    It was typical for Ms Aleena, who worked at the Royal Courts of Justice while seeking a trainee solicitor role, to walk rather than take a taxi.

    Ms Hodgson said: ‘She was fearless. I spoke to her friend about what happened – they said they got in a cab and Zara wanted to walk. That’s Zara, 100 per cent.’

    As the attacker fled, neighbours rushed out to find Ms Aleena bleeding. Paramedics performed CPR for two hours and took her to hospital at about 4.30am but she was declared dead shortly afterwards.

    Advertisement

    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’. 

    The unprovoked attack is already being compared to the murders of teacher Sabina Nessa, 28, and marketing manager Sarah Everard, 33, who were both killed while out alone in London. Both their killers were opportunistic and chose them at random.

    Ms Aleena’s friend Nadia, 42, a school teacher, said: ‘She just decided to walk home because it was close by.. nothing like that has ever happened here.

    ‘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’.

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

    Friends recalled her excitement as she asked to borrow high heels and mascara for a night out that ended in tragedy.

    Ms 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.’

    Scotland Yard said Ms Aleena was found badly beaten at about 2.44am not far from her home in Ilford, north-east London. Paramedics took her to hospital but she died of her injuries shortly afterwards.

    People living nearby said there was a helicopter hovering over the area from 3am as police hunted for Ms Aleena’s killer.

    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.’

    Chief Superintendent Stuart Bell, of Scotland Yard, said: ‘Tackling violence against women and girls is an absolute priority for the Met. 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.’

    Ms Aleena’s LinkedIn page says she graduated with a law degree from the University of Westminster in October last year.

    She had been working at the Royal Courts of Justice since May but was seeking a paralegal or trainee solicitor position.

    This is the last exchange Zara's closest friend had with her on Friday. On Sunday morning she was killed

    This is the last exchange Zara’s closest friend had with her on Friday. On Sunday morning she was killed

    Police work in Cranbrook Road, Redbridge, after Zara Aleena was killed on Sunday morning

    Police work in Cranbrook Road, Redbridge, after Zara Aleena was killed on Sunday morning

    The Labour MP for Ilford South, Sam Tarry, said: ‘It looks like, on the face of it, a random attack. This is something out of the ordinary. The Met and local authority are moving heaven and earth to ensure people’s safety and put the perpetrator behind bars.

    ‘We will do everything to remember this woman who lost her life in the most horrendous way.’

    He added: ‘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.’

    Rafia Ahmed, who lives nearby, said she and her friends will now only walk in groups at night.

    ‘Because it’s literally on our doorstep it scares you. As a female you think twice about going out by yourself’, she told the BBC.

    Ms Aleena 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

    Ms Aleena 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 

    Shopkeeper Kuldip Singh said he was concerned by the level of violence in the area.

    He said: ‘This one was quite brutal. It was a young lady but people don’t really feel safe in this location as much as they used to.

    ‘If I was an elderly person or a female, especially in the winter months, walking through this road you could be at risk.’

    Subhash, 60, who lives just off Cranbrook Road, said he ‘worries’ for other local women. He said: ‘It’s not just my daughter, it’s other daughters, other girls, other women in the area. It’s quite a serious matter, how safe are you in your own area.’

    A spokeswoman for Zara’s 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.

    ‘We have pastoral support available for our students and colleagues affected by the tragic news.’