The man who murdered Zara Aleena was ordered to be returned to prison two days before the attack, but was left free to hunt the law graduate before kicking and stamping her to death.
Jordan McSweeney, 29, pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to the murder and sexual assault of Aleena on 26 June 2022, in Ilford, east London.
Aleena, who worked as a court official, was followed, grabbed from behind, pulled from the street and dragged on to a driveway before McSweeney kicked and stamped on her.
McSweeney committed the murder nine days after being released on licence from prison on 17 June for an earlier offence of robbery.
However, the Guardian has learned, he had been recalled to prison two days before the attack and should not have been free.
Jordan McSweeney had 28 convictions for 69 previous offences and had breached his licence conditions. Photograph: Metropolitan Police/PA
The Metropolitan police said it was told he had been recalled to prison on 24 June for breaching his licence conditions, a decision taken by the Probation Service. The Met said McSweeney, a serial offender, failed immediately on his release from prison on licence to attend appointments with probation officers, missing meetings on 17 and 20 June, but police were not informed to arrest him until a week later.
The Ministry of Justice has launched an internal review into how an offender committed a serious further offence. The Met said “within hours” of being asked to find McSweeney they were searching for him, but could not find him.
The force said an internal inquiry had exonerated officers involved. The police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, said they had not been informed.
The Met said: “Any lessons learnt have been shared within the Met and with partners”, but declined to say who those were.
On 26 June McSweeney went to a pub before hunting for a woman to attack. He chose Aleena, 35, by chance as she walked on Cranbrook Road, an area she knew well.
She was found partially naked by a passerby in the street close to her home in Ilford, east London, with extensive head injuries at 2.44am. Paramedics spent more than 90 minutes at the scene trying to save her, but she died later in hospital.
As she was attacked, her screams awoke residents, who called the emergency services. So violent was the assault that McSweeney left a fingerprint in Aleena’s blood on a wall next to the driveway.
The evening before, Aleena had gone out with friends. She first went to the Great Spoon of Ilford pub at about 8.30pm. Coincidentally, McSweeney was there and can be seen on CCTV looking for women, approaching one when she went outside for a cigarette.
Jordan McSweeney seen on CCTV before to the attack on Zara. Photograph: Metropolitan police
Aleena and her friends then went to a nearby sports bar, where she drank water. She left at 2am, deciding to walk the short distance home. After she left the bar a friend checked up on her, sending her a WhatsApp message that read: “Are you home hon?”
Shortly after midnight on 26 June, CCTV shows, McSweeney was looking for women in the Cranbrook Road area. Before the attack on Aleena, he spotted another woman and pursued her, but she got away.
Aleena had wanted to be a lawyer since the age of five and had a law degree from the University of Westminster. Since May, five weeks before her death, she had been working as an administrative officer at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, and had previously worked to resettle refugees.
McSweeney was arrested in Dagenham, east London, at the funfair where he was working. A search of his caravan found bloodstained clothing and shoes stuffed in a bag, similar to those worn by the attacker on CCTV. He will be sentenced at a later date.
He had been convicted on 28 occasions for more than 69 previous offences including assaults on police, assaults on civilians, theft, burglary, racially aggravated offences and driving offences. One source said there was nothing in his criminal history flagging that he was a sexual danger to women.
After his arrest on 27 June, McSweeney refused to answer questions and spoke only to make threats to officers – threatening to bite off one officer’s face – and to say that he suffered from an attention deficit and split personality disorder.
At an earlier hearing, the prosecutor, Oliver Glasgow KC, said: “‘[This was] a stranger attack on a lone female late at night making her way home, a woman who stood no chance of survival.”
Olcay Sapanoglu, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Having followed her for several minutes, he pulled Zara into the driveway of a house, where he carried out his assault. He sexually assaulted her, then brutally stamped on her several times before appearing to walk away. Moments later he returned, only to stamp on her several times more and then, finally, leaving her for dead.
“McSweeney did not display a shred of humanity towards Zara. Indeed, having completed his initial assault he returned to inflict further injuries, leading to her death.”
DCI Dave Whellams said: “She was attacked while walking alone on a residential street. She had every right to be there. She had every right to feel safe. Instead, she was a victim of shocking violence.”
Members of Zara Aleena’s family outside the Old Bailey in London after Jordan McSweeney pleaded guilty. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA
The killing comes amid heightened concern about the safety of women on Britain’s streets.
Aleena’s aunt, Farah Naz, speaking shortly after her niece’s death, placed her family’s suffering in the context of the high levels of violence women face, saying: “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.”
Naz said the death of her niece, who the family called Zash or Zasherooni, came after the cases of recent killings of women, such as Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman, Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa.
Naz said Aleena felt safe walking the streets where she lived: “Zara was not a woman who was unaware that there were dangers in the world. 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.”