Murderer of Zara Aleena sentenced to a minimum of 38 years in jail
Image by Family Handout/PA Wire/MyLondon
The man who pleaded guilty to murdering Zara Aleena in a frenzied and sexually motivated attack will serve a minimum of 38 years behind bars, Metropolitan Police said in a statement.
Jordan McSweeney, 29, of no fixed address, was sentenced at the Old Bailey on Wednesday, 14 December having pleaded guilty to murder and sexual assault at the same court on Friday, 18 November.
Aleena was walking home along Cranbrook Road in Ilford in the early hours of Sunday, 26 June when she was approached from behind and dragged into a driveway by McSweeney. He subjected her to a brutal attack, returning multiple times to deliver repeated blows, leaving her with significant injuries.
Neighbours and passers-by tried their best to provide first aid to Aleena until the arrival of paramedics, with one person giving her CPR. She was rushed to hospital but sadly died later that morning. She was just 35.
Aleena’s aunt, Farah Naz, said on behalf of the family, “Today´s sentencing protects the public from a man who cannot and must not live freely in the world.
Image by Sky News
“His extreme indifference both to Zara´s life and for the law makes him a very dangerous man. We have some retribution, but no peace.
“There are questions to be answered, there are lessons to be learnt, and changes to be made.
“Zara´s life was senselessly and brutally crushed, and today, like every other day we live with the horror she was forced to face.
“Zara was the light, the warmth, the birdsong, the laughter in our family. We live with a profound loss each day and each day we are destroyed a little more.
“We are deeply touched by the kindness we have felt from so many, and this is testament to the power of Zara´s spirit.”
The investigation found that McSweeney had spent the evening of 25 June in a bar in Ilford, drinking heavily, before being ejected at around 23:00hrs.
Over the course of the next three hours, he can be seen on CCTV footage to roam around Ilford and nearby Manor Park, visibly drunk, following multiple lone women, two for prolonged periods.
One of the women was seen on camera running down a residential street to get away.
Shortly after 02:00hrs, McSweeney spotted Aleena on Cranbrook Road. He can be seen to follow her for around 10 minutes before attacking her in the driveway of a house near to the junction with Cranbrook Rise, causing the serious injuries from which she would tragically not recover.
Following Aleena’s death, detectives from the Met’s Specialist Crime Command launched an immediate investigation and identified footage that showed McSweeney – who at the time had not been identified by name – as the attacker.
His image was circulated within the Met and to the public. An officer who had dealt with him for a previous offence was able to provide detectives with his name and a fingerprint found in blood at the scene was compared with police records to confirm a match.
Simultaneously, detectives were examining footage from multiple CCTV cameras, tracking McSweeney as he calmly left the scene of the murder, walked back along Cranbrook Road and climbed over a fence into nearby Valentines Park where, at the time, a fairground was based.
On the afternoon of Monday, 27 June – around 36 hours after the attack – officers were sent to the fairground to make further enquiries. They confirmed McSweeney was staying on site and at 14:40hrs, arrested him on suspicion of murder and rape.
While he was in custody, further CCTV enquiries were carried out at the fairground. Footage showed that hours after he had murdered Aleena, he walked across the site wearing the same vest top as in the footage of the attack, carrying a bag. Minutes later he returned to his caravan, having discarded the bag and the vest.
These items were later found elsewhere on the site, with the bag containing the shoes and other items he was wearing when he killed Aleena.
In the early hours of Wednesday, 29 June, McSweeney was charged with murder, rape and robbery. The latter offence related to the removal of Aleena’s belongings, many of which were found discarded on his route away from the crime scene.
When he eventually pleaded guilty on 18 November, the indictment was amended to two counts – murder and sexual assault, rather than the original offences. McSweeney accepted, as part of his plea, that the murder was sexually motivated.
Detective Chief Inspector Dave Whellams, who led the investigation, said, “To lose a loved one in these terrible circumstances is awful, particularly in cases where the public attention is so great. Zara’s family have shown remarkable courage and strength throughout this ordeal. My thoughts and those of my team are with them and I hope they are now given the space and privacy they need.
“Jordan McSweeney is not a sophisticated criminal. He attacked Zara out in the open on a residential street and other than a clumsy effort to hide a bag containing his belongings, he did not try to cover his tracks.
“He has admitted that the attack on Zara was sexually motivated. This is consistent with what he was seen to do on CCTV on that night, when for hours he roamed around fixated on lone women who he brazenly followed right up until they managed to reach the safety of their homes.
“This was a ferocious and repetitive attack that shocked even experienced murder detectives. The length of sentence handed down by the court is an indication of its severity.
“There is no doubt McSweeney is an extremely dangerous individual. London is a safer city, particularly for women, with him behind bars.”
Senior Crown Prosecutor, Olcay Sapanoglu, said, “This was a savage attack on a woman who was making her way home. She should have been able to get home safely but was instead subjected to horrific and shocking violence at the hands of McSweeney.
“My thanks go to the police for the thoroughness of their investigation, which allowed us to build an irrefutable case against McSweeney.
“No sentence can ever repair the grief that Zara’s family and friends will be experiencing, but I do hope they now have some small measure of comfort from this life term.
“Violence against women and girls has no place in our society. At the CPS, we are determined to bring perpetrators of these devastating crimes to justice.”
The Met is determined that every woman should feel safe, and has mentioned that it remains committed to doing everything possible to ensure that this is the case. It is also supporting the Mayor of London’s refreshed strategy which champions a public health approach to ending violence against women and girls, and places a stronger emphasis on partnership working, prevention and education.
Across London, it is deploying hundreds of extra officers in town centres and high streets to reduce crime and increase confidence through greater police visibility, including for women and girls.
Aleena’s murder rocked the community in Ilford and the wider area. It focused the attention of the police and their partners on the need to redouble efforts that were already under way to ensure that women and girls can feel safe and crucially, can be safe, as they go about their lives.
In the months that have passed since, officers have worked closely with Redbridge Council and other partners to listen to women in the community and to respond to their concerns.
Chief Superintendent Stuart Bell, policing commander for East Area which includes Ilford, said, “In the days after Zara’s awful murder, officers joined the community in their shock and grief. They walked alongside hundreds of people at a vigil to show their solidarity. Their commitment to do all they can to keep women safe in this area continues.
“I know that is a commitment also shared by the local authority and other organisations we work with. The onus is not on women to change. They should not have to adapt their behaviour to feel safe. They should be able to go about their lives, without fear of abuse or violence, at any time of day or night.
“Officers have been actively seeking opportunities to listen to women and to community groups. These important conversations are informing the changes being made by the police and our partners.
“Whether it is working with the council to get cameras and lighting fitted on dark routes or in underpasses, or police officers joining council teams on patrols to enforce new and innovative local powers that target street-level harassment, or deploying additional police officers in areas where we know that women need more reassurance and confidence to feel safe, we are taking action.
“We know that this is just the start of what needs to be a long term commitment. It is one which is shared across the Met as we work tirelessly to make London a safer city for women and girls.”