'Spineless' killer jailed for life for murdering Zara Aleena with 'a savagery that is almost impossible to believe'

14 December 2022, 13:43 | Updated: 14 December 2022, 17:56

McSweeney was jailed for life over Zara's murder
McSweeney was jailed for life over Zara's murder. Picture: Metropolitan Police
Fran Way

By Fran Way

Sexual predator Jordan McSweeney has been jailed for life for murdering Zara Aleena despite his cowardly refusal to appear in court.

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The 29-year-old sexually assaulted the aspiring lawyer before viciously stomping on her head days after being let out of jail.

He had spent the night of the murder searching for women to attack - having hunted four others - and chanced upon Zara on a residential street in East London, just 10 minutes away from her home.

McSweeney, 29, of Dagenham, Essex, who admitted her murder and sexual assault, was jailed for a minimum of 38 years on Wednesday by Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb, who branded him a "pugnacious and deeply violent man".

Footage released of Zara Aleena killer McSweeney's arrest

He refused to come out of his cell to hear the sentencing and the judge said: "The defendant's decision not to come up from the cells to court to hear the devastating impact of his crime shows that the man who took Zara Aleena's life has no spine whatsoever."

The court was told on Wednesday that Zara was attacked "with a savagery that is almost impossible to believe" in Cranbrook Road, Ilford.

"He repeatedly kicked and stamped on her head and body; he tore some of her clothes from her body in order that he could sexually assault her; and then he attacked her again," the prosecution said.

Jordan McSweeney
Jordan McSweeney. Picture: Met Police
Zara pictured as a young girl
Zara pictured as a young girl. Picture: Metropolitan Police

McSweeney attacked 35-year-old as she walked home alone from a night out early on Sunday June 26, stomping on her with "such force that he has to steady himself against the concrete balustrade" and stealing her underwear, keys and phone before throwing them away down the street.

That night, four other women had narrow escapes from McSweeney. The judge said he "prowled around, desperate to find a victim".

Read more: Zara Aleena killing shows women don't feel as safe as they should - as a parent I want to change that, Sunak says

He had been kicked out of a Wetherspoons pub for harassing a female bartender, and was caught on CCTV following a young woman for about 20 minutes down Romford Road, forcing her to to go to a supermarket to evade him.

He hid near a vegetable display outside waiting for her to come out, and she bolted, managed to get away from him before he decided to look for other women in Romford Road - with prosecutors saying it is "beyond dispute" she would have been attacked and killed.

McSweeney later followed a woman into a chicken shop, where he stared at her with his hand down his trousers, then stood outside looking at her through the windows.

Zara Aleena
Zara Aleena. Picture: Family handout
McSweeney had a history of violence
McSweeney had a history of violence. Picture: Metropolitan Police

He then saw a fourth woman, followed her on a road and into residential streets, where he overtook her and pretended he was going into a house, but the woman did not arrive at his ambush - instead entering a home back down the road.

Zara had been spending the evening with her friend and had passed on a taxi to walk home. Her family has said she preferred walking and believed women should be allowed to walk and be safe.

The attack lasted for almost 10 minutes. It was clear she struggled and fought him but he managed to overpower her in a brutal attack caught on CCTV.

"Having dragged her off the street, sexually assaulted her, repeatedly stamped on her until her body was broken, and then thrown away her clothes and possessions, Jordan McSweeney went home to bed," prosecutors told the court.

The judge said: "It is clear that she struggled and fought him but he had the advantage of surprise and strength and he was successful in subduing her."

She said McSweeney was "wholly aware of what he was doing" and having "satisfied his lust" he set about "destroying the woman he had degraded".

"She had been stamped and strangled to death," she added.

Zara was finally found by a couple who got help. Paramedics spent an hour trying to keep her alive before she was taken to hospital, where she died after suffering 46 separate injuries.

Zara's heartbroken aunt said when a person is murdered, so is their family.

"If she were able to speak today she would say I didn't do anything wrong," Farah Naz told the court.

Zara was an aspiring lawyer
Zara was an aspiring lawyer. Picture: Metropolitan Police

"We still struggle to believe this is all true. Our brains are still processing the senseless.

"The lights have gone out in our family home. My sister has lost her only child, her supporter and her carer."

She said Zara's cousins, who are teenagers, are "afraid of the world, afraid of strangers.

"Everyday it is like pushing a rock the size of a planet. We don't feel well, physically, emotionally."

She added: "We are on our knees shuffling through a horror movie."

Zara's grandmother Rashida Parreen broke down in tears as she gave her impact statement to the court.

The judge said of Zara: "She was simply a happy, healthy woman living her life in what most Londoners think of as the best city in the world."

Previously, prosecutor Oliver Glasgow KC said that Ms Aleena "stood no chance".

Court sketch of Jordan McSweeney.
Court sketch of Jordan McSweeney. Picture: Picture: Alamy

After the killing, CCTV captured McSweeney returning to a caravan on a fairground, where police recovered Ms Aleena's bloodstained clothes.

When he was arrested, he refused to answer any questions in a police interview but told officers he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and split personality disorder.

While in custody, he was also said to have threatened police officers.

The court was told McSweeney was a prolific offender and had been released from prison on licence on June 17 – just days before the murder.

He had been in prison for criminal damage, racially aggravated harassment and unauthorised possession of a knife in prison.

In all, he has 28 previous convictions for 69 separate offences including burglary, theft of a vehicle, criminal damage, assaulting police officers and assaulting members of the public while on bail.

The scene at Cranbrook Road in Ilford, just 10 minutes from Zara's home
The scene at Cranbrook Road in Ilford, just 10 minutes from Zara's home. Picture: Getty

However, last month it was revealed that the sex predator had been recalled to prison just two days before her death.

The Metropolitan Police said the probation service had commenced recall proceedings on June 22 after he missed two appointments.

The force said it was informed on June 24 and attended an address linked to McSweeney the following day to arrest him but he was not there.

He was arrested on June 27, the day after killing Ms Aleena.

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