A man has pleaded guilty to pulling Zara Aleena off the street as she walked home after an evening out, and then kicking and stamping her to death.
At the Old Bailey on Friday Jordan McSweeney, 29, admitted he murdered Aleena on 26 June 2022, in Ilford, east London.
The Guardian has learned that two days before the attack on Aleena, who worked as a court official, McSweeney had been recalled to prison, but was still free. McSweeney committed the murder nine days after being released on licence from prison on 17 June for an earlier offence of robbery.
He was recalled to prison on 24 June for breaching his licence conditions, but had not been picked up.
The Ministry of Justice has launched an internal review into how an offender committed a serious further offence.
Aleena, 35, was attacked in Ilford, east London, and found by a passerby in the street close to her home.
Police described the attack that led to Aleena’s death as a “horrific assault”. She was found with extensive head injuries and partially naked at 2.44am.
The investigation found that McSweeney had been hunting for a woman to attack. He chose Aleena by chance as she walked on Cranbrook Road, an area she knew well. She was followed, grabbed from behind, pulled from the street, dragged on to a driveway before McSweeney kicked and stamped on her, inflicting merciless violence.
Her screams as she was attacked woke up residents who called the emergency services. So violent was the attack that McSweeney left a fingerprint in Aleena’s blood on a wall of the driveway.
On the evening before the attack, Aleena had gone out with friends. She first went to the Great Spoon of Ilford pub at about 8.30pm. Coincidentally McSweeney was also there that night and can be seen on CCTV looking for women, approaching one when she went outside for a cigarette.
Aleena and friends then went to a nearby sports bar where she drank water and left at 2am. She decided to walk the short distance home. Shortly after she left the bar, a friend checked up on Aleena, sending her a WhatsApp message that read: “Are you home hon?”
Shortly after midnight on 26 June, McSweeney is seen on CCTV recovered by police, looking for women in the Cranbrook Road area. Prior to the attack on Aleena, he spots another woman and pursues her, but she gets away.
At about 2.19am McSweeney spotted Aleena and chased her. She tried to flee, but was grabbed from behind and brutally attacked. Paramedics spent more than 90 minutes at the scene trying to save her, but she died later in hospital.
Aleena had wanted to be a lawyer since the age of five and was awarded a law degree from the University of Westminster.
Since May, five weeks before her death, she had been working as an administrative officer at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, and had previously worked to resettle refugees.
McSweeney, was arrested in a caravan in Dagenham, east London, at a funfair where he was working. A search of his caravan found bloodstained clothing and shoes stuffed in a bag, similar to those worn by the attacker on CCTV. He will be sentenced at a later date. The mandatory sentence for murder is life imprisonment.
He had been convicted on 28 occasions for more than 69 previous offences including assaults on police, assaults on civilians, theft, burglary and driving offences. One source said there was nothing in his criminal history flagging that he was a sexual danger to women.
After his arrest by police on 27 June, McSweeney refused to answer questions and spoke only to make threats to officers – threatening to bite off one officer’s face – and say that he suffered from an attention deficit and split personality disorder.
At an earlier hearing, the prosecutor Oliver Glasgow KC, said: “‘[This was] a stranger attack on a lone female late at night making her way home, a woman who stood no chance of survival.
“Emergency services were called after her body was discovered on the driveway of Cranbrook Road. She was bleeding, struggling to breathe, had clearly sustained serious head injuries and was also partially naked.
“Police and paramedics attended and attempted to give life-saving first aid to her but the injuries that she had sustained … were so severe that nothing could be done to save her.”
Glasgow added: “He can be seen on CCTV footage following and observing a number of different women obviously interested in them and their movements. Tragically for Zara Aleena, it was her on whom he became fixated.”
Neither the Metropolitan police nor the Ministry of Justice, responded to questions about how McSweeney had been left free despite being recalled to prison.
The killing comes amid heightened concern about the safety of women on Britain’s streets. A vigil to honour Aleena was held days after her killing with hundreds gathering.
Aleena’s aunt, Farah Naz, speaking shortly after her niece’s death, placed her family’s suffering in the context of the high levels of violence women face: “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 speak to the leaders of this country, I want to talk about the setting up of projects right now to prevent violence.”
Naz said her niece, who had the family nicknames of Zash or Zasherooni, had followed the cases of recent killings of women such as Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman, Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa.
Naz said her niece felt safe walking in the streets where she lived and where she was well known: “Zara was not a woman who was unaware that there were dangers in the world. She did not imagine what happened to those women would happen to her. She didn’t know she was going to be on this list because in her mind she took those precautions.”