McSweeney pleaded guilty to murder and sexual assault of law graduate in Ilford, east London
Zara Aleena, 35, was attacked as she walked home from a night out in Ilford, east London, in June.Photograph: Metropolitan police/PA
The man convicted of the “brutal sexually motivated murder” of law graduate Zara Aleena after breaching his licence conditions for a previous offence has been sentenced to life in prison.
Jordan McSweeney, 29, pleaded guilty last month to the murder and sexual assault of Aleena in Ilford, east London, in the early hours of 26 June this year as she was walking home.
He was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 38 years by Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb at the Old Bailey on Wednesday.
She said: “The sentence for the brutal sexually motivated murder of Zara Aeena is imprisonment for life. The defendant will serve 38 years as the minimum term. The defendant is a pugnacious and deeply violent man with a propensity to violence.”
McSweeney refused to appear for the hearing or sentencing, a decision that the judge said showed he had “no spine whatsoever”.
George Carter-Stephenson KC, defending, told the court McSweeney knew CCTV footage would be played at the sentencing hearing and that he did not want to “relive” the incident.
After sentencing Aleena’s aunt, Farah Naz, said: “There are questions to be answered, there are lessons to be learned, and changes to be made.”
Aleena, 35, who worked as a court official, was followed, grabbed from behind, pulled from the street and dragged on to a driveway before McSweeney kicked and stamped on her.
Cheema-Grubb said: “It’s clear that he was wholly aware of what he was doing. After satisfying his lust, he proceeded to destroy the woman he had just degraded. With sickening deliberation he stamped on her.”
The judge noted Aleena suffered 46 separate injuries, including “severe blunt-force trauma to her head, deep lacerations to her scalp, bruising to her lips, eyes, nose and jaw” and “genital injuries”. The severity of the violence caused traumatic brain injury.
She added: “The defendant had the physical advantages of strength and surprise, in everything else she was better than him. She was talented, spirited, intelligent and kind.”
She noted that two of McSweeney’s partners had reported him for domestic violence and that he had threatened to kill a prison officer. She added: “Apart from the guilty pleas, I find no mitigation. He has never expressed any remorse or demonstrated empathy for the outcome of his behaviour.”
Oliver Glasgow KC, prosecuting, said: “The defendant attacked Zara Aleena with a savagery that is almost impossible to believe.” He told the court how McSweeney “tore some of her clothes from her body in order that he could sexually assault her; and then he attacked her again, kicking and stamping on her face and neck, and returning several times to continue the brutal violence”.
There was a gasp in court as video footage of McSweeney grabbing Aleena was played at the hearing.
After being treated by paramedics, she was taken to Royal London hospital, where she was pronounced dead shortly before 10am, the court heard.
Aleena had spent the evening with her friend Bhamini Bati, who sent her WhatsApp message three minutes after the attack, which read: “Y home hun?”, the court heard.
McSweeney committed the murder nine days after being released on licence from prison on 17 June for an earlier offence of robbery. The Guardian revealed last month that he had been recalled to prison two days before the attack and should not have been free.
An internal review was conducted into how McSweeney, who had 28 convictions for 69 previous offences, had failed to be recalled. The Metropolitan police confirmed that the Probation Service had started proceedings on 22 June after McSweeney missed two appointments.
The force said it was informed on 24 June and attended an address linked to McSweeney the following day to arrest him, but he was not there. He was subsequently arrested on 27 June.
The Centre for Women’s Justice said the Aleena’s murder “might have been avoided but for criminal justice failures and a more general failure to address endemic misogyny and racism in our culture”.
It called for an inquiry into how McSweeney had been released on licence despite his history of violence towards women, and why there was a delay in his recall to prison.
The Met said its review of the case identified ways to improve managing recalls to prison, but it did not identify any missed opportunities to find McSweeney in time to prevent the murder.
A separate review by the Inspectorate of Probation continues.
CCTV footage from the scene was played to the court showing McSweeney apparently observing four other women before he followed Aleena. Those women had a “very lucky escape”, Glasgow told the court.
After the killing, he was seen on other video footage returning to a caravan on a fairground, where police recovered Aleena’s bloodstained clothes.
When he was arrested, McSweeney refused to answer questions in a police interview. He “yawned and said he was bored”, the court heard. The court was told that McSweeney had previously committed a string of offences. He had been in prison for criminal damage, racially aggravated harassment and unauthorised possession of a knife in prison, the court heard.
Aleena had begun working at the Royal Courts of Justice five weeks before her death.
Her aunt told the court: “When a human is murdered, a family is murdered. And when a human is murdered, humanity is murdered. Everything she was, everything she worked so hard for, every dream was destroyed by someone she did not even know, someone else’s sense of entitlement.
“She was just walking home … If she were able to speak today, she would say: ‘I didn’t do anything wrong.’”
Carter-Stephenson said McSweeney “accepted responsibility” for his actions.
In mitigation, he said, McSweeney grew up with domestic violence and his first memory of his father was when he tried to drown his mother in a bath.
Demonstrators from the charity Refuge, which helps women and children overcome and physical and emotional abuse, and the campaign group Reclaim These Streets gathered outside the court to demand an end to violence against women and girls.