Hundreds gather for vigil to honour murdered law graduate Zara Aleena
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Labour MP Wes Streeting joined family, friends, campaigners and well-wishers in Valentine’s Park, Ilford, to remember the 35-year-old, who was killed on June 26 last year just minutes from her front door on nearby Cranbrook Road.
Crowds wore white and carried pictures of Ms Aleena reading “I am Zara”, with many dressed in T-shirts printed with photographs in her image.
Members of Ms Aleena’s family led the crowd on the route home she would have taken on that night, inviting Mr Khan to walk alongside them at the front.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Ms Aleena’s aunt Farah Naz said the family remembered Zara as “so sweet” and for her belief in social justice.
Ms Naz said: “She was so sweet, her voice was so sweet and at the same time she was a proponent for justice.
“She was an aspiring lawyer, she had finished her qualifications, so we would also like to remember her as a fighter for justice and to stand in resistance with her, to stand in solidarity today with her, in their hearts and to work towards a vision of ending violence towards women and girls.”
Mr Khan, who attended with his wife and daughter, said there exists an “epidemic of violence” for which men were responsible.
In a speech, Mr Khan said: “Zara’s not the first woman to be brutally murdered on our streets, and she’s not the last woman to be murdered on our streets.
“We have in our country an epidemic of violence against women and girls and my gender, my sex is responsible for violence against women and girls, so the mission today is to remember Zara, the mission is to give some comfort to Zara’s family.”
He added: “Today is also a day for us to really, really, really redouble our efforts to end violence against women and girls.”
Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence against Women coalition, told PA: “There’s an awful lot of systemic change that needs to take place, but what we can never do is make women responsible for these changes.
“It starts with men taking accountability and with agencies that exist to protect all of the public stepping up and ensuring that they stop making all of the same mistakes.”
Ms Simon added: “Within communities we’re coming together to say that we don’t want more women’s lives taken by male violence.”
Before her death, Ms Aleena had started work with the Crown Prosecution Service in a two-year placement to qualify as a solicitor, having completed her legal practice course, according to her family.
She was sexually assaulted and killed by recently released offender Jordan McSweeney, 29, as she returned from a night out.
He was jailed for life with a minimum term of 38 years.
Mr Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North, made a speech at the end of the vigil in which he highlighted the political actions needed to reduce male violence, while thanking the police officers involved in Ms Aleena’s case.
He said: “So often the perpetrators don’t even see the inside of a courtroom, let alone the inside of a prison cell.
“The police know, they’ve got lot to change too. Not just more policing on our streets, but better policing.”
He then told the PA news agency: “If the criminal justice system had done their job properly he (McSweeney) wouldn’t have been walking the streets and so I think we’ve got to look very seriously at whether the law’s in the right place, but also that the resourcing of the system, particularly probation is in the right place.
“I hope that out of this awful awful disaster for Zara’s family we can make sure that changes are made so that other families don’t have to go through this unimaginable loss.”