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Man handed life sentence for murder of Zara Aleena in Ilford

Jordan McSweeney admitted to the murder and sexual assault of Zara Aleena (credit: Met Police)

A man has been sentenced to life in prison for the murder and sexual assault of a 35-year-old law graduate in Ilford.

Jordan McSweeney, 29, pleaded guilty to murdering and sexually assaulting Zara Aleena while she was walking home after a night out with friends in the centre of the town.

He was sentenced at the Old Bailey today (Wednesday, 14 December) but refused to leave the cells and enter the courtroom for sentencing.

The judge, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb proceeded – he was sentenced to a minimum term of 38 years in prison.

McSweeney, who had recently been released from prison, had been thrown out of a bar for being heavily drunk at around 11pm on 26 June.

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.

McSweeney spotted Zara at around 2am, followed her for 10 minutes before dragging her into the front garden of a property in Cranbrook Road and started assaulting her shortly after.

Zara suffered a significant head injury during the assault and was sexually assaulted.

Passers-by came to her aid and one woman gave her CPR until an ambulance arrived. She was then taken to hospital where she died later that morning.

Zara Aleena had recently started working at the Royal Courts of Justice (Credit: MPS)

Detectives immediately started investigating the attack and found Zara’s belongings strewn along the road and in gardens near to where she had been attacked.

They collected CCTV footage which revealed McSweeney had climbed over a fence in Valentines Park after making off from the murder scene. Officers were sent to the park and he was found in a caravan in a funfair site where he had been working.

McSweeney was arrested on suspicion of murder and charged in the early hours of 29 June.

He admitted to murder and sexual assault at the Old Bailey on Friday, 18 November.

Today, during sentencing the judge described the murder as “brutal” and “sexually motivated” before giving the sentence.

Zara’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.

“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.”

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.”

For more on this story, and the latest on our other local and national news, listen to Time 107.5FM

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