A Dagenham man has pleaded guilty to murdering law graduate Zara Aleena in a "horrific" attack as she walked home in Ilford.

Jordan McSweeney had only been released from prison just days before he targeted 35-year-old Zara early on Sunday, June 26.

At a hearing at the Old Bailey on Friday (November 18), McSweeney, 29, of Church Elm Lane, pleaded guilty to murder and sexual assault.

READ MORE'A joy to us all': Zara Aleena's family pay tribute after 'sickening' death

Prosecutor Oliver Glasgow KC had said McSweeney launched an “attack upon a lone female late at night making her way home, a woman who stood no chance”.

During the brief hearing, McSweeney stood in the dock and stared at the floor as he entered his guilty pleas while Zara’s family looked on.

The defendant had dragged Zara into a driveway in Cranbrook Road and subjected her to a ferocious assault where she was stamped on.

He sexually assaulted her and made off with her mobile phone, keys and handbag, the prosecution said.

Emergency services were called at 2.44am after she was found with severe head injuries, partially naked and struggling to breathe.

Zara was taken to hospital where she died later that morning.

A post-mortem examination found she had suffered multiple serious injuries.

Barking and Dagenham Post: Jordan McSweeney will be sentenced next monthJordan McSweeney will be sentenced next month (Image: Met Police)

After the hearing, senior crown prosecutor Olcay Sapanoglu welcomed the pleas, saying: “It was a horrific attack on a woman walking home after a night out with a friend.

“Having followed her for several minutes he pulled Zara into the driveway of a house, where he carried out his assault.

“He sexually assaulted her, then brutally stamped on her several times before appearing to walk away. Moments later he returned, only to stamp on her several times more and then, finally, leaving her for dead.

“McSweeney did not display a shred of humanity towards Zara.

“Zara’s family will never recover from the senseless loss of their daughter, but I hope that these guilty pleas bring them some comfort."

Police officers gathered CCTV footage, witness statements, DNA and fingerprint evidence.

Video footage from the area showed McSweeney appearing to target other women before he followed Zara.

After the killing, other CCTV captured him returning to his caravan in Dagenham, where police recovered Zara’s bloodstained clothes.

More bloodstains were found on a wall in Cranbrook Road with the defendant’s fingerprint identified on them.

After his arrest, McSweeney refused to answer questions but told officers he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Having been charged with murder, he was remanded into custody after a judge found he was a “substantial risk” to the public, especially lone women.

At a previous hearing, the court was told McSweeney was a prolific offender and had been released from prison on licence on June 17 – just days before the murder.

He had been in prison for criminal damage, racially aggravated harassment and unauthorised possession of a knife in prison.

He has 28 convictions for 69 separate offences including burglary, theft of a vehicle, criminal damage, assaulting police officers and assaulting members of the public while on bail.

Zara’s family described her as independent, big-hearted and a joy.

Her aunt Farah Naz had said her niece had been conscious of the dangers for women after the murders of Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman, Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa.

But she had felt “safe” walking in the community where she was well known.

Farah said: “Zara was not a woman who was unaware that there were dangers in the world. She did not imagine what happened to those women would happen to her.

“She didn’t know she was going to be on this list because in her mind she took those precautions.”

Zara had begun working at the Royal Courts of Justice five weeks before her death and was “the happiest she had ever been”, her family said.

McSweeney’s plea hearing had been delayed after the defendant suffered Covid in custody.

Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb adjourned sentencing until December 14.

She told McSweeney: “You pleaded guilty to very serious matters. I’m sure you appreciate the kind of sentence you will receive.

“But I will listen very carefully to the Crown’s opening of the case and the submissions on your behalf so it’s in your interests to cooperate with those representing you.”

Reporting by PA.

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