Zara Aleena: Hundreds gather at vigil to remember aspiring lawyer as alleged killer appears in court


Hundreds of mourners have gathered at a silent vigil dedicated to aspiring lawyer Zara Aleena who was killed as she walked home from a night out with friends.

The law graduate was just minutes from her home on Cranbrook Road, Ilford, when she was attacked in the early hours of Sunday, June 26. 

On Saturday, nearly a week on from her death, a memorial organised by Ms Aleena’s family traced the walk home the 35-year-old would have taken.

Farah Naz, a relative who tearfully addressed the media earlier this week, stopped just yards from the family home and thanked the crowd for taking part in the walk.  

‘She was on the home stretch, thank you so much for doing the walk and holding her in your hearts, praying for her, keeping her safe on this journey’, she said.

‘At this point now we ask you to go home and thank you so much for being here today because this is our Zara, this is our issue, this something that we must all change, it must never happen again. Thank you for being here.’

The majority of those walking along Cranbrook Road wore white clothing as requested by the family, others held flowers and pictures of Ms Aleena aloft.

Dozens of other mourners left bouquets of flowers and cards in tribute to the latest high profile victim of violence against women in the capital.

Roads have been closed in the area to allow the crowd to walk the 10-minute journey from the scene of her attack to her home. 

On Saturday, nearly a week on from her death, a memorial organised by Zara Aleena’s family traced the walk home the 35-year-old would have taken before she was set upon

A woman holds another mourner in a tight embrace as hundreds of people turned out for Zara Aleena's silent vigil on Saturday afternoon

A woman holds another mourner in a tight embrace as hundreds of people turned out for Zara Aleena’s silent vigil on Saturday afternoon

Farah Naz, (left) a relative who tearfully addressed the media earlier this week, stopped just yards from the family home and thanked the crowd for taking part in the walk

Farah Naz, (left) a relative who tearfully addressed the media earlier this week, stopped just yards from the family home and thanked the crowd for taking part in the walk

Labour and Ilford North MP Wes Streeting (right) joined the vigil for Zara Aleena on Saturday

Labour and Ilford North MP Wes Streeting (right) joined the vigil for Zara Aleena on Saturday

Police have said they believe Ms Aleena was the victim of an 'opportunistic stranger attack'

Police have said they believe Ms Aleena was the victim of an ‘opportunistic stranger attack’

Those attending the vigil met at 1.30pm opposite Cranbrook Rise in Ilford before commencing the walk at 2.17pm – mirroring the time in the morning on June 26 when Ms Aleena was set upon.

Her family have requested attendees wear white and remain ‘silent and sombre’ as ‘we walk Zara home in our hearts’.

Marai Larasi, a member of campaign group Million Women Rise, said: ‘We’re here to support the family, we’re here to bring her home in spirit, we’re here to honour her life, and we’re here with absolute exhaustion because we’re tired of vigils, we’re tired of crying and we’re tired of having to bury women of all ages and stages in life.’

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: ‘Zara was an incredible woman and an inspiration to us all.

‘She rightly believed that every woman should be able to walk home safely and today her loved ones and so many from the local community and across the country came to finish the journey she started.

‘My thoughts and prayers are with them all today.

‘I’m clear that women should not have to change their behaviour and every woman and girl is entitled to be safe, and to feel safe – whatever the time of day and wherever they are.

‘We owe it to Zara to do everything possible to bring an end to violence against women and girls.’

Floral tributes were left at the scene in Cranbrook Road, Ilford where Zara Aleena was attacked in the early hours of Sunday morning

Floral tributes were left at the scene in Cranbrook Road, Ilford where Zara Aleena was attacked in the early hours of Sunday morning

A friend of Ms Aleena’s aunt, Ash Vickers, 54, said: ‘It’s tragic news. She called me on the way from the airport when she heard the news after it happened last Sunday.

‘I’m a solicitor and I know that Zara wanted to train as a lawyer, so Farah would often speak to me and let me know how her progress was getting on.

‘Tragically, 17-18 years ago my own niece was attacked and also died on the streets of London and also studied law so very tragic, but 17-18 years later, the same thing is happening.’

Sharman Islam Siraj, 38, from Ilford, said: ‘My mum lives in the area. We are from the area. This is our home. This is our community.

‘She was someone that we used to see all the time walking past our house. She was in the same school as my sister, you know. She was just a local girl, and I feel like if this could happen to her, this could happen to anybody.

‘It’s shocking that it can happen to her. It’s shocking that it happened here. So I’m here to support the family. I’m here to show love, support, solidarity.’

Anjum Mouj, co-chairwoman of London Black Women’s Project and who was liaising with Ms Allena’s family, spoke to the crowd ahead of the vigil.

She said: ‘Grandma, mother, aunties, cousins, friends, family, have asked me to thank you from their heart, their heartfelt thanks for you all to be here today, to do this walk with us to take Zara Natasha Aleena home, the steps that she couldn’t take – she could see, it’s in touching distance of her home, it’s in touching distance, she could see her home almost and she couldn’t walk there.’

In anticipation of the silent vigil for Ms Aleena, women have been sharing photos of their shoes to social media with the hashtag #SafelyHomeInOurShoes.

The Londoner had been returning home from a night-out when she was dragged, kicked and stamped on, prosecutors said. A post-mortem examination found she had suffered multiple serious injuries. 

Miss Aleena was dragged onto the driveway - just 10 minutes from her home - before being kicked and stamped on, prosecutors allege

Miss Aleena was dragged onto the driveway – just 10 minutes from her home – before being kicked and stamped on, prosecutors allege

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’.

She told reporters on Friday: ‘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.’

The vigil is taking the form of a silent walk that traces the route Ms Aleena had been taking but never got to complete, ‘to bring her back where she belonged safely’.

Alleged killer Jordan McSweeney is said to have dragged the 35-year-old law graduate into a driveway on the early hours of Sunday morning and repeatedly stamped on her after trying to rape her, the Old Bailey heard yesterday.

Police have said they believe Ms Aleena was the victim of an ‘opportunistic stranger attack’. 

McSweeney, from Dagenham, east London, is also accused of robbing the law graduate of her mobile phone, keys and handbag, and attempted penetration without consent, the court heard. 

He has been charged with murder, robbery and attempted rape. 

‘We will never get closure’: Family pay tribute to ‘independent, big-hearted’ Zara as they vow to tackle violence against women  

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’.

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’.

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.

‘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.’

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