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Family of ‘independent’ Zara Aleena vow to bring change in wake of her death

Farah Naz, the maternal aunt of murdered law graduate Zara Aleena (Yui Mok/PA)
Farah Naz, the maternal aunt of murdered law graduate Zara Aleena (Yui Mok/PA)

The family of law graduate Zara Aleena have said they feel they will never get closure after her death but are determined to speak with political leaders to tackle violence against women and girls.

The 35-year-old Londoner died in the early hours of Sunday June 26 as she walked home from a night out along Cranbrook Road in Ilford, east London, an area she knew well and where she felt “safe”.

She was dragged on to the driveway before being kicked and stamped on, prosecutors said, while a post-mortem examination found she had suffered multiple serious injuries. A man has been charged with her murder.

Ms Aleena’s maternal aunt, Farah Naz, said her “independent” and “big-hearted” niece “was the joy, the light of our home”, and spoke of the family’s determination to “change something” in honour of the “extrovert”.

Zara Aleena death
Floral tributes left at the scene on Cranbrook Road in Ilford, east London, where Zara Aleena, 35, was murdered (Ted Hennessey/PA)

Ms Naz told reporters: “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 reach out and do something important and act, because that’s what Zara was about – we have got to change something.

“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.”

Ms Naz said her niece – known to family members as Zash or Zasherooni – was conscious of the dangers women faced, particularly following the recent murders in London of Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman, Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, but felt “safe” walking in her local community where she was “known to everybody”.

“Zara was not a woman who was unaware that there were dangers in the world,” Ms Naz said.

Zara Aleena death
Zara Aleena, 35, was killed on Sunday in Ilford, an area she knew very well (Metropolitan Police/PA)

“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.”

She added: “This is about a young woman who lost everything, and about a society who lost someone who was giving, someone who was good.

“That she spent the last few minutes of her life looking at something so horrible torments us.

“She was not ignorant to the fact that women get hurt. This isn’t about making the streets safe, it’s about changing the mindset.”

Ms Naz said the family have been inundated with condolences and offers of support by members of the community, including various faith groups, friends, and the families of other women including Ms Henry, Ms Smallman, and Ms Nessa.

She said: “Our whole community has reached out to us and let us know how devastated they are, and how crushed they feel and how unsafe they feel.

“People have reached out to us and said their lives are not going to be the same.”

Ms Naz said her niece was “the happiest she had ever been”, having begun working for the Royal Courts of Justice five weeks before she was killed.

Hundreds of people are expected to turn out for a silent vigil for Ms Aleena on Saturday afternoon, to “walk her home”.

Weeping, she added: “We will never get through this, but it (the walk) will help us.”

Suspect Jordan McSweeney, 29, of Church Elm Lane, Dagenham, east London, appeared at the Old Bailey on Friday accused of murder, attempted rape and robbery.

He entered no pleas and was remanded in custody.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Jordan McSweeney appearing by video link from HMP Thameside during a hearing at the Old Bailey, London
Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Jordan McSweeney appearing by video link from HMP Thameside during a hearing at the Old Bailey (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

McSweeney appeared via video link from HMP Thameside wearing a green jumper.

He was seen covering his face with his hands ahead of the hearing before sitting back in his chair.

McSweeney later pulled his jumper up over his face and fiddled with the microphone.

He will next appear at the Old Bailey on September 30 for a plea hearing.

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