'She valued her independence': Zara Aleena's aunt pays tribute to law graduate

"Everybody loved her" Zara Aleena's aunt Farah Naz pays tribute to her niece

Zara Aleena's auntie has said the aspiring lawyer valued her independence "more than anything" as she paid tribute to her niece.

Ahead of a walking vigil for Ms Aleena, her aunt Farah Naz said in east London on Friday that "everybody loved" her niece, who had "strong values" and "helped the community".

"Zara was incredibly giving, supportive, insightful as to what people needed around her, empathetic and fearless," Ms Naz said.

"The one word that would describe Zara is independent, that is what she valued more than anything, her independence."

The 35-year-old Londoner died in the early hours of Sunday June 26 as she walked home from a night out along busy Cranbrook Road in Ilford, east London, an area she knew well and where she felt “safe”.

Zara Aleena died in Ilford in the early hours of Sunday

Childhood friends laid flowers at the spot where she was attacked on Friday as police say she was beaten and found with serious head injuries.

In a statement released earlier this week through the police, Ms Aleena's family described her as a "beloved human, child, niece, cousin, granddaughter, friend to all, she was a joy to all of us."

"We have to change something"

Ms Naz 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.

Zara Aleena was 'conscious of the dangers women face', her aunt told ITV News

“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.

Flowers left in tribute to Zara Aleena at the spot where she died in Ilford

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 was my best friend, she was amazing" Carolyn Sim reports for ITV News from Ilford

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.”

Suspect Jordan McSweeney, 29, of Church Elm Lane, Dagenham, east London, appeared at the Old Bailey on Friday accused of murder, attempted rape and robbery.

He entered no pleas and was remanded in custody.

He will next appear at the Old Bailey on September 30 for a plea hearing.

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