'A joy to us all': Zara Aleena's family pay tribute after 'sickening' death

Zara Aleena

Zara Aleena - Credit: Met Police

Zara Aleena was “a carefree spirit, with the most caring heart” who believed women should be able to walk home, her family have said.

The 35-year-old was fatally attacked while walking home along Cranbrook Road in Ilford, towards Gants Hill, in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Dagenham man Jordan McSweeney, 29, has been charged with her murder as well as attempted rape and robbery and will appear in custody at Thames Magistrates’ Court today, according to the Met Police. 

In a statement following her "shocking and unimaginable" death, Zara’s family described her as a friendly, caring and hard-working woman who was "pure of heart".

They said: "She was a joy to all of us...Her tiny frame embodied a passionate spirit and indomitable energy."

Their statement follows tributes from Zara's friends, who described her as "the sweetest girl that you could ever meet" and "a very gentle soul".

Zara is remembered by relatives as happy and stoic; the "rock of our family" who "glued our community together."

Her sense of justice and fairness "led her to a life of giving and caring for others," they said.

The law graduate, who supported refugees fleeing violence, was working towards becoming a fully qualified solicitor.

Zara's family continued: "She was fierce: she didn’t just survive, she thrived.

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"She walked everywhere. She put her party shoes in a bag and donned her trainers.

"Zara believed that a woman should be able to walk home.

"Now, her dreams of a family are shattered, her future brutally taken."

Zara had been on her way home from a night out when she was "subjected to a horrific assault", police said.

She suffered serious head injuries and tragically died in hospital later that morning.

The family statement added: "In a savage, sickening, act she was murdered by a stranger. She’s not the only woman who has lost her life like this.

“In the moment of this tragedy, we extend our deepest sympathy and love to the families of Bibaa Henry; Nicole Smallman; Sarah Everard; Sabina Nessa; Ashling Murphy and many more women.

“We must prevent and stop violence against women and girls.”

Family statement in full:

Zara, 35, a beloved human, child, niece, cousin, granddaughter, friend to all, she was a joy to all of us. She was a carer for her mother, and her grandmother. Caring for others came so naturally to her. Zara was friendly, she was everybody’s friend. She was everybody’s daughter, everybody’s niece, everybody’s sister, everybody’s cousin. She was pure of heart. 

She was a joy to all of us, her sparkling eyes and the curly, jet-black hair.  Her glorious laughter and her sweet, smiling voice. Her tiny frame embodied a passionate spirit and indomitable energy. 

Zara was brought up by the whole of our family. She was our love in human form.  At the age of 5 she said she was going to be a lawyer. Shrieking with joy when she spotted the birds as a child - she would giggle and make us laugh. She was always the bigger person in any situation.

She was authentic and refused to try and impress anyone but she impressed us. She was the rock of our family. Zara was stoic and held it all together and never complained. She glued our community together. “Nobody worked harder than Zara” is what we heard from all who knew her. Zara was happy and at a point in her life when her joy was radiating and blossoming. She was ready to make a family of her own.

Her sense of justice and fairness led her to a life of giving and caring for others – supporting refugees fleeing violence, giving voice to those who had less power. She had that special habit of noticing others in need and always put their needs on her agenda. A carefree spirit, with the most caring heart. 

Zara was happy and at a point in her life that she had worked hard for, she had completed her Legal Practice Course so that she could practise as a solicitor. She only recently started working for the Royal Courts of Justice, to complete her 2-year work placement in order to become a fully qualified solicitor. She was fierce: she didn’t just survive, she thrived. 

She walked everywhere. She put her party shoes in a bag and donned her trainers. She walked. Zara believed that a woman should be able to walk home. Now, her dreams of a family are shattered, her future brutally taken. 

Sadly, Zara is not the only one who has had her life taken at the hands of a stranger. We all know women should be safe on our streets. She was in the heart of her community, ten minutes from home. 

We all need to be talking about what happened to our Zara, we all need to be talking about this tragedy. 

These last few days have been shocking and unimaginable. 

In a savage, sickening, act she was murdered by a stranger. She’s not the only woman who has lost her life like this. In the moment of this tragedy, we extend our deepest sympathy and love to the families of Bibaa Henry; Nicole Smallman; Sarah Everard; Sabina Nessa; Ashling Murphy and many more women. 

We must prevent and stop violence against women and girls. 

Our loss is irreparable and the void feels insurmountable but the warmth and kindness that our community has shown is testament to the power of Zara’s spirit. Her life has been stolen from us. She has been stolen from us all. 

REST IN POWER ZARA NATASHA ALEENA.