Zara Aleena’s murder was ‘opportunistic’, appeal court told as killer leaves having 'heard enough'

Zara Aleena (left) and her killer Jordan McSweeney (right) Credit: PA

The murder of Zara Aleena was an “opportunistic” attack, the Court of Appeal has heard.

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 last year.

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 on Friday, 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.

But, about 45 minutes into proceedings, McSweeney got up and left, telling a prison guard he had "heard enough" and returned to his cell.

Ms Aleena's family have said McSweeney’s appeal to reduce the minimum term for his sentence for the murder and sexual assault has caused them “profound distress”.

McSweeney targeted at least five women before he launched his fatal attack on Ms Aleena Credit: Family handout/Met Police

His 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 told the court: “He was obviously stalking women on that night, following them and looking for an opportunity.

“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.”

Mr Carter-Stephenson later said the “the resistance put up by the victim” caused “the level of aggression to rise” during the assault.

“I don’t mean to put any blame on the victim at all,” he added.

Judges were later told Ms Aleena was made unconscious early during the attack.

The barrister said: “Given the nature of the attack … the time for the suffering of this victim was limited. That, to some extent, must impact how one views that as an aggravating feature.”

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

Sweeney left his Court of Appeal hearing after he 'heard enough' according to an unnamed prison officer Credit: PA

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.”

He added that McSweeney was “determined to find and attack a vulnerable female and to sexually assault her, and it was inevitable, once he had embarked on that attack, that he would kill his victim”.

Around 45 minutes after the start of his bid to reduce the minimum term of his life sentence, the hearing was paused following McSweeney’s departure.

An unnamed prison officer, who appeared on the videolink with McSweeney, said: “He’s heard enough and has got everything he requires in his cell.”

The hearing continued in his absence.

Her aunt Farah Naz said: “This appeal, coming after a trial where he was sentenced, has reignited the agony of the atrocious crime committed.

"We firmly believe that his minimum sentence should not be reduced, and he should serve a life imprisonment for the inhuman act he committed.”

Referring to his refusal to attend his original sentencing hearing, Ms Naz said: “It is beyond belief that this individual, who was too spineless to attend his own sentencing, has the audacity to appeal the very sentence he couldn’t be bothered to witness.

"His cowardly absence at his sentencing displayed a lack of responsibility and accountability, and a blatant disrespect for the justice system as well a mockery of the suffering our family has endured.”

She said the family anticipates the original sentence “will be upheld” and further criticised McSweeney’s “complete lack of remorse in his behaviour”.

McSweeney spent two house stalking several women before turning his attention to Ms Aleena Credit: Family handout/ITV News

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.

The hearing before the Lady Chief Justice Lady Carr, Mrs Justice McGowan and Mrs Justice Ellenbogen is expected to conclude on Friday.

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