Zara Aleena’s killer wins Court of Appeal bid to reduce minimum term of life sentence

Jordan McSweeney killed the 35-year-old law graduate as she walked home from a night out in Ilford, ITV News Correspondent Sejal Karia reports

The murderer of Zara Aleena has won a Court of Appeal bid to reduce the minimum term of his life sentence.

Jordan McSweeney killed the 35-year-old law graduate as she walked home from a night out in Ilford, east London, early on June 26 2022.

McSweeney, who refused to attend his sentencing hearing last December, was handed a life sentence with a minimum term of 38 years after admitting Ms Aleena’s murder and sexual assault.

At a hearing last month, he made a bid to reduce the minimum term of his sentence, appearing for the start of proceedings via videolink from Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire.

The Court of Appeal of England and Wales sits at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Credit: PA

In a ruling on Friday, three judges at the appeal court in London allowed McSweeney’s appeal, finding that the sentencing judge had imposed too high an “uplift” to the minimum term, replacing it with a life sentence with a minimum term of 33 years.

The Lady Chief Justice Lady Carr, sitting with Mrs Justice McGowan and Mrs Justice Ellenbogen, said: “Having correctly found that Ms Aleena must have been rendered unconscious at an early stage in the attack, the judge had lacked a sufficient evidential basis on which to be sure that there had been additional mental or physical suffering such as to justify an increase in the 30-year starting point.”

McSweeney’s barrister George Carter-Stephenson KC said: “At the outset can I make it clear that it is accepted that the attack and murder in this case was particularly savage and brutal, and nothing I intend to say in this address is in any way meant to detract from that.”

The barrister said the sentencing judge, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb, had wrongly factored in the “aggravating features” in the case.

Mr Carter-Stephenson said it was accepted there was a sexual motive to the crime, but argued the murder itself was not premeditated.

He added: “The attack was an opportunistic act rather than anything that was planned in advance, though there was clearly a sexual encounter in mind.

“He planned to look for a sexual encounter, with or without consent.”

Zara Aleena was found with severe head injuries and struggling to breathe Credit: PA

However, Oliver Glasgow KC, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said the suggestion McSweeney had not intended to kill Ms Aleena was “unsustainable”.

He told the court McSweeney had spent two hours stalking several women before turning his attention to Ms Aleena.

Mr Glasgow said in written submissions: “The submission that the intention to murder Ms Aleena was formed ‘on the spur of the moment’ flies in the face of the applicant’s behaviour preceding the violence.

“The sexual assault of Ms Aleena was the culmination of hours of planning and premeditation.”

The Old Bailey previously heard McSweeney stalked Ms Aleena along Cranbrook Road before grabbing her from behind and dragging her into a driveway.

The attack, caught on grainy CCTV, lasted nine minutes and resulted in 46 separate injuries.

Ms Aleena, who was training to be a solicitor, was found struggling to breathe and later died in hospital.

Mr Glasgow described the attack as “utterly abhorrent” and said the sentencing judge was right to find McSweeney had no mitigation aside from his guilty pleas.

Farah Naz, Ms Aleena's aunt, described the decision as a "shallow triumph" for the convicted killer.

She told ITV News: "Today's ruling, which reduces the minimum sentence for that repugnant man, aligns with an established legal sentencing framework.

Farah Naz, Zara Aleena’s aunt Credit: David Parry/PA

"Yet, it conveys a disheartening message to women, suggesting that a 'life sentence' may not truly mean a lifetime behind bars. It is, in all honesty, a shallow triumph for him.

"In the wake of this ruling, we choose to relegate this man to obscurity, hoping that society forgets him as a meaningless and despicable individual. Our focus now lies elsewhere."

Ms Naz described her niece as a "symbol for change" and said her family will continue their fight to "make a difference in the lives of women".

"Zara, a beacon of hope, a symbol of change. Her tragic murder stands as a catalyst for reshaping how society safeguards women," she said.

"She serves as our guiding light, and we invite each and every one of you to stand with us in preserving her memory, supporting our advocacy efforts, and ensuring that her legacy is not forgotten."

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