Jordan McSweeney, who pleaded guilty to murdering Zara Aleena in a frenzied and sexually motivated attack, will serve a minimum of 38 years behind bars.
McSweeney, 29, of no fixed address, was sentenced at the Old Bailey last week having pleaded guilty to murder and sexual assault at the same court in November.
Zara was walking home along Cranbrook Road in Ilford in the early hours of June 26 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 Zara 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.
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.”
The investigation found that McSweeney had spent the evening of June 25 in a bar in Ilford, drinking heavily, before being ejected at around 11pm.
Over the course of the next three hours, he was seen on CCTV footage roaming 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 2am, McSweeney spotted Zara on Cranbrook Road. He was seen following 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 Zara’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.
In the early hours of June 29, McSweeney was charged with murder, rape and robbery. The latter offence related to the removal of Zara’s belongings, many of which were found discarded on his route away from the crime scene.
When he eventually pleaded guilty on November 18, 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.”
And 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.”