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The individual responsible for the death of Zara Aleena has successfully appealed for a reduction in the minimum time of their life sentence, a ruling that has been deemed a “hollow victory” by her loved ones.
Jordan McSweeney murdered the 35-year-old law school graduate while she was walking home after a night out in Ilford, east London, in the early morning hours of June 26, 2022.
McSweeney, who declined to attend his sentencing hearing in December of last year, received a life sentence with a minimum of 38 years after confessing to the murder and sexual assault of Ms Aleena.
Last month, during a Court of Appeal hearing in London, he attempted to lower the minimum length of his sentence. He participated in the start of the proceedings through a video call from Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire.
On Friday, a panel of three judges in the appeals court decreased McSweeney’s sentence to life imprisonment with a minimum of 33 years, deeming the initial sentence to be overly severe.
After the ruling, the family of the trainee solicitor referred to McSweeney as a “repugnant man” and expressed disappointment that the decision sends a discouraging message to women.
Last year, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb sentenced McSweeney and stated that the claim that Ms Aleena had been unconscious during the nine-minute attack was only speculation. It was also found that McSweeney had taken Ms Aleena’s phone in order to prevent her from seeking assistance.
However, in a brief hearing on Friday that McSweeney participated in through a video link from prison, Lady Chief Justice Carr stated: “After correctly determining that Ms Aleena was most likely rendered unconscious early on in the attack, the judge did not have enough evidence to confidently conclude that there was further mental or physical pain that warranted an increase in the initial 30-year sentence.”
In a decision released on Friday, Lady Carr, along with Mrs Justice McGowan and Mrs Justice Ellenbogen, stated that the assault’s “sexual nature” had increased the initial sentencing range from 15 to 30 years, as outlined in the 12-page judgment.
Later, she stated that the determination that McSweeney confiscated Ms Aleena’s phone to prevent her from seeking assistance was unwarranted and should not have resulted in a longer sentence.
Lady Carr stated, “These were despicable acts.”
“They involved a planned, determined sexual assault, followed by a sustained and repeated attack which culminated in the death of a young, wonderful woman, full of promise and talent, and who was loved by so many.
She possessed a lively and clever nature, as well as being compassionate.
The senior judge clarified that the minimum term serves as a point at which an offender may be considered for release by the Parole Board, but it does not guarantee their release at the end of that term or at any subsequent time.
After the ruling, Ms. Aleena’s aunt, Farah Naz, released a statement saying that the trainee solicitor’s decision to reduce the minimum sentence for the repugnant man follows a well-established legal sentencing framework that we understand.
However, the underlying message for women is discouraging as it implies that a “life sentence” may not actually equate to a lifetime in prison. It can be seen as a superficial victory for him.
“Although he was sentenced to a minimum of 33 years, his behavior while incarcerated has been reprehensible, displaying a lack of remorse and a disregard for others. While there is a slim chance of his release after 33 years, our hope is that he will remain in prison for life.”
They stated, “Following this ruling, we opt to demote this person to insignificance, with the hope that society will forget them as a worthless and repulsive person. Our attention is now directed elsewhere.”
“Zara was a beacon of hope and a symbol of transformation. Her untimely death has become a catalyst for reexamining how society protects women. She remains a guiding force, and we invite everyone to join us in honoring her memory, supporting our advocacy work, and ensuring that her legacy lives on.”
During the hearing for McSweeney’s appeal last month, his legal representative acknowledged that there was a sexual motive behind the crime. However, they argued that the murder was not planned in advance and instead described it as a spontaneous act.
George Carter-Stephenson KC stated that he intended to seek out a sexual experience, regardless of whether or not there was consent involved.
Oliver Glasgow, KC, representing the Crown Prosecution Service, argued that the claim that McSweeney did not intend to kill Ms Aleena was not supported and that he had spent two hours following multiple women before targeting the trainee solicitor.