A sexual predator today admitted to brutally murdering aspiring lawyer Zara Aleena as she walked home from a night out in London – just nine days after he had been released from jail.
Jordan McSweeney, 29, ambushed Zara Aleena and punched her in the back of the head, before dragging the 35-year-old into a driveway and kicking her as she lay on the ground.
As the law graduate lay dying, he sexually assaulted her before grabbing her handbag, mobile phone and keys. He then walked away but returned moments later to deliver the fatal final blows.
Prosecutor Oliver Glasgow KC said the killer launched an ‘attack upon a lone female late at night making her way home, a woman who stood no chance’.
Today McSweeney, of Dagenham, Essex, pleaded guilty to murder and sexual assault over the horrific attack early on Cranbrook Road in Ilford, east London, on Sunday, June 26.
Earlier that night, he had been caught on CCTV following other women through the streets before he became ‘fixated’ on Zara – a popular student who was a carer for her mother and grandmother.
During today’s brief hearing, Sweeney entered his pleas with his hands clasped behind his back and his face fixed in an emotionless stare while Zara’s family looked on in court.
Jordan McSweeney, 29, murdered the 35-year-old as she was walking home following a night out with her friends
Zara, who had recently started work at the Royal Courts of Justice, died from blunt force trauma injury and neck compression
A court sketch showing McSweeney in court today, where he has pleaded guilty to the murder and sexual assault of law graduate Zara Aleena
Mr Glasgow told the court: ‘The defendant has been charged in connection with the violent death of Zara who was attacked in the early hours of the morning of 26 June.’
Witnesses and CCTV footage identified McSweeney as the person who carried out the ‘savage and brutal attack’.
‘He can be seen on CCTV footage following and observing a number of different women obviously interested in them and their movements,’ Mr Glasgow said.
‘Tragically for Zara Aleena, it was her on whom he became fixated.
‘Having dragged her into the driveway of number 268, he forced her around and then he is seen kicking and stamping repeatedly on her body.’
Ms Aleena’s screams woke up nearby residents who frantically dialled 999.
When she was discovered after the attack, she was already fatally wounded as a result of the ‘onslaught’.
‘She was bleeding, struggling to breathe, had clearly sustained serious head injuries and was also partially naked,’ the prosecutor said.
‘Police and paramedics attended and attempted to give life-saving first aid to her but the injuries that she had sustained… were so severe that nothing could be done to save her.’
She was taken to hospital at around 4.30am and was declared dead shortly afterwards.
Ms Aleena, who had recently started work at the Royal Courts of Justice, died from severe head injuries.
CCTV tracked McSweeney to the caravan he lived in and police found him there.
During a search, officers found ‘blood-stained clothing and shoes’ which match those seen on the attacker on CCTV.
McSweeney is further linked to the attack through forensic evidence.
Blood staining found on the wall at Cranbrook Road contained fingermarks that matched his fingerprint.
‘[This] proves beyond any doubt, we suggest, that this defendant followed, attacked and brutally murdered Zara Aleena,’ Mr Glasgow said.
McSweeney was questioned by police and sat in silence throughout all three interviews, refusing to even confirm his personal details.
All he said was that he had ADHD and split personality disorder.
After his arrest, McSweeney refused to answer questions but told officers he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Zara, pictured left, was murdered as she walked home and had told her best friend Lisa Hodgson, right, ‘that won’t happen to us’ after Sarah Everard’s murder
While in custody, McSweeney was said to have threatened police officers
McSweeney shared photos on his Facebook depicting himself as a gangster
In this image he boasted of having been convicted for robbery
Zara’s family outside the Old Bailey today, where they watched McSweeney give his pleas
While in custody, he was also said to have threatened police officers.
Having been charged with murder, he was remanded into custody after a judge found he was a ‘substantial risk’ to the public, especially lone women.
At a previous hearing, 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.
He has 28 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.
Zara’s family described her as independent, big-hearted and a joy.
Her aunt Farah Naz had said her niece had been conscious of the dangers for women after the murders of Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman, Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa.
But she had felt ‘safe’ walking in the community where she was well known.
Ms Naz said: ‘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.’
Family and friends with members of the public all dressed in white as they attended a vigil in Ilford, east London, in tribute to the law graduate
Flowers are left on Cranbrook Road in Ilford where Zara was brutally murdered earlier this year
Zara had begun working at the Royal Courts of Justice five weeks before her death and was ‘the happiest she had ever been’, her family said.
McSweeney’s plea hearing had been delayed after the defendant caught Covid in custody.
His barrister George Carter-Stephenson KC said: ‘He is still feeling unwell from Covid but realises the importance of being here today.’
Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb adjourned sentencing until December 14.
She told McSweeney: ‘You pleaded guilty to very serious matters. I’m sure you appreciate the kind of sentence you will receive.
‘But I will listen very carefully to the Crown’s opening of the case and the submissions on your behalf so it’s in your interests to cooperate with those representing you.’
Zara had begun working at the Royal Courts of Justice five weeks before her death and was ‘the happiest she had ever been’, her family said
After the hearing, Senior Crown Prosecutor Olcay Sapanoglu welcomed the pleas, saying: ‘It was an horrific attack on a woman walking home after a night out with a friend.
‘It appears clear that McSweeney was intent that night on finding a woman to attack. Having seen Zara walking home he decided to follow her.
‘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. At no stage during his police interviews did he express any sorrow for his actions.
‘Zara’s family will never recover from the senseless loss of their daughter, but I hope that these guilty pleas bring them some comfort.
‘Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the police, who worked tirelessly to trace Zara’s killer allowing us to build the strongest case possible against McSweeney.’
McSweeney will be sentenced at the Old Bailey on December 14.
The crime scene in Cranbrook Road, Ilford, is shown where Aleena was murdered in June
The Met shut down the area and put up forensic tents where Zara was attacked on Cranbrook Road, Ilford
Forensic officers at the scene in east London following Zara’s death in June
Speaking outside court, Detective Chief Inspector Dave Whellams said Ms Aleena was a beloved friend and family member.
He 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.
‘My thoughts are with her family and her friends. I cannot imagine the pain that they’ve experienced over the past five to six months. It is clear she was truly loved by all those that knew her.
‘Tackling violence against women and girls and tracking down those who wish them to do harm is amongst the Met’s highest priorities.
‘Jordan McSweeney has pleaded guilty today to the most serious offences. He’s clearly a very dangerous individual and his guilty plea today means that he is certain to serve a considerable period of time behind bars.’
EXCLUSIVE: ‘He left an imprint of his trainer on my face’: Ex-lover reveals ‘wannabe gangster’ left her in fear she was blind after stamping on her head in SAME brutal manner he murdered aspiring lawyer Zara Aleena on street
By James Fielding for MailOnline
The ex-girlfriend of murderer Jordan McSweeney has revealed to MailOnline how she endured four years of violence and controlling behaviour at his hands before summoning up the courage to leave him for good.
But Samantha Bryan, 30, now regrets not pressing assault charges against the ‘wannabe gangster’ who went on to kill aspiring lawyer Zara Aleena earlier this year.
Ms Bryan told MailOnline that McSweeney once stamped on her so badly, it left an imprint of his trainer on her face – just as he did to Ms Aleena, who suffered fatal head injuries.
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Ms Bryan told how violent McSweeney, 29, left the mark across her right eye socket and cheek after a savage beating.
Describing going to the police she said: ‘I gave them a statement, telling them just what he’d done, but I dropped the charges. I just couldn’t go through with it. At the time, my thinking was that I’d at last got rid of him from my life after four horrible years and I was still scared he – or one of his acolytes – would seek some sort of vengeance.
‘Knowing what he did to the poor woman in Ilford, I wish I had gone ahead with it. Jordan is nothing more than a wannabe gangster with no respect whatsoever for women. I hope he’s locked up for the rest of his life – no woman is safe around him.’
McSweeney would also punch, kick and bite her and once threw her out into the street after snatching her phone, forcing her to borrow a mobile from a homeless man so she could call her mother to collect her.
And Ms Bryan, who became pregnant by McSweeney, also told how he would cynically cuddle up to her at night – only in order to hide her wounds from his aunt when the young couple stayed with her.
McSweeney today admitted the murder and sexual assault of Zara Aleena as she walked home through Ilford, east London in June.
Jordan McSweeney’s ex-girlfriend Samantha Bryan (pictured together) told MailOnline she regrets not pressing assault charges against the ‘wannabe gangster’ who went on to kill aspiring lawyer Zara Aleena earlier this year
McSweeney beat Samantha for years, leaving her with injuries like this one when he booted her in the face
Samantha said that knowing what he did to Zara Aleena in Ilford: ‘I wish I had gone ahead with it. Jordan is nothing more than a wannabe gangster with no respect whatsoever for women’
Ms Aleena, 35, died after suffering traumatic injuries after she was punched in the back of the head and stamped on before McSweeney tried to sexually assault her.
The sickening details of her gruesome death sent a shiver down Ms Bryan’s spine as she revealed: ‘I know just was a nasty, horrible monster he really is.
‘My heart goes out to her, my only hope now is that nobody else has to suffer at his hands and he’s put away for the rest of his life.’
Ms Bryan, from Strood, Kent, first met McSweeney in 2007 when she was just 15 and he had recently moved to the area from Dagenham, east London.
At first she said she found him charming and funny but it did not take long for the mask to slip.
She told MailOnline: ‘I thought he was nice to begin with but he soon showed his true character and I began to realise it was all an act.
‘He pretty quickly started to control what I did and if I ever stood up to him I’d pay the price for it.
‘I moved in with him when I was nearly 17, and I lived with him, his mum and mum’s partner at their home in Rochester.
‘Jordan always expected me to stay at home, he hated me going out without him. Yet, he would disappear for hours, sometimes days, on end and wouldn’t tell me where was going or where’d he’d been.
‘There was one time when he came home after a few days away somewhere. I heard him at the door and I shouted down to him from an upstairs window asking him where he’d been.
‘He exploded with fury. He literally kicked the door off its hinges and raced up the stairs.
‘I ran to his mother’s room at the top and tried to hide there but he found me and punched and kicked me.
‘I instinctively curled up into a ball and he continued attacking me until he physically grew tired and stopped.
‘That was the first time he really weighed into me but it wouldn’t be the last.’
Ms Bryan fell pregnant with McSweeney’s baby in 2010 when she was aged 18. Tragically, she lost the child.
Soon after the couple moved 20 miles away to Dagenham, east London, to stay with his aunt.
McSweeney stalked women before choosing to attack Zara
However, life did not improve – in fact it got worse – as McSweeney’s rages continued.
Ms Bryan recalled: ‘We had one argument, Jordan had become even more volatile and violent, I think he was accusing me of cheating on him.
‘He beat me up and when he’d finished punching and kicking me, he grabbed my phone out of my hands and threw me out of his aunt’s house.
‘I didn’t know anyone else in Dagenham and it was far away from my family home and I had no means of calling anyone to pick me up.
‘I had no money on me and in the end I had to ask a homeless man to borrow his phone and call my mum to come and collect me.’
Ms Bryan said she ‘foolishly’ accepted McSweeney’s apologies and assurances that he had changed and she moved back in with him.
However, there was to be one more violent row in May 2011 that would bring her to her senses and leave him for good.
She said: ‘Jordan had again gone missing for a couple of days and left me at his auntie’s house while he was out gallivanting.
‘When he eventually returned we started rowing about it in the bedroom and then he switched.
‘He punched me to the floor, bit my arm and started kicking me. He stamped on my face with such force that you could see the imprint of his trainer on my face the following morning.
‘I thought he’d blinded me to begin with because I had trouble seeing out of my right eye immediately afterwards.
‘The most sickening aspect was that later that night he climbed into bed with me and cuddled up to me to force me away from the door in the room.
‘ I know he only did that because his aunt would sometimes come in before she went to bed if we’d had a row and check everything was alright.
‘He obviously didn’t want her to see what he’d done to me.
‘But when I went downstairs the following morning, she took one look at me and gasped and asked if Jordan had done that.
‘When I told her that he had she told me ‘listen, you have to leave him and get as far away from him as you possibly can.’
‘I left him there and then and never saw him again. When my mum had seen the damage he’d inflicted on me, she encouraged me to go to the police’.