Zara Aleena: Man arrested over 'stranger attack' in Ilford

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Zara AleenaImage source, Met Police
Image caption,
Zara Aleena is believed to have been the victim of a stranger attack while walking in east London

A man has been arrested on suspicion of murder following a suspected stranger attack on a woman in east London.

Zara Aleena, 35, was assaulted as she walked along Cranbrook Road, towards Gants Hill station in Ilford, in the early hours of Sunday.

The Met Police believe she was the victim of an "opportunist stranger attack". She died later in hospital.

The 29-year-old man was detained at an address in Ilford shortly after 16:00 BST.

Paramedics were at the scene of the assault at 02:45 BST on Sunday after Ms Aleena, who lived locally, was found by members of the public.

In a statement, Ch Supt Stuart Bell said: "It is now believed that she was the victim of an opportunist stranger attack. Her family are aware of this and they will continue to be updated."

He added there was no evidence of any weapons being used in the beating, which left Ms Aleena with fatal head injuries.

A post-mortem examination revealed she had "multiple serious injuries".

Image source, Amir Ahmed
Image caption,
The area around Cranbrook Road has been cordoned off

Ch Supt Bell said a full forensic examination of the scene and surrounding area had taken place, as had house-to-house inquiries.

Detectives were focused on identifying all available CCTV and anyone who may have been in the area, including those driving through, should contact the Met, he said.

He described officers as working "at pace" to establish what had happened.

Image source, Sherit Nair
Image caption,
Ms Aleena's friends said she was a "lifeline" for her mother and grandmother

Friends of Ms Aleena said she was "so soft and gentle, she never had a bad word to say about anyone".

Karina - who did not provide her surname - and Sherit Nair described her as someone who cared and looked after all her friends and was a "lifeline for her mother and grandmother" as she did all of their shopping and arranged their medication.

The friends, who had known Ms Aleena for years, said she graduated in October after extensive studying and had only been working at the Royal Courts of Justice for a few weeks.

They believe she was heading home from a night out with friends when she was attacked, adding that she walked everywhere, preferring not to drive.

Image caption,
Shopkeeper Kuldip Singh said he worried for the safety of women and the elderly in particular

Rafia Ahmed, who lives nearby, said she and her friends were worried about their safety and whether they should only go out in groups.

"Because it's literally on our doorstep it scares you. As a female you think twice about going out by yourself."

Shopkeeper Kuldip Singh said he was concerned by the level of violence in the area, highlighting how Ms Aleena's death was the third homicide in five years.

"This one was quite brutal," he said. "It was a young lady but people don't really feel safe in this location as much as they used to.

"If I was an elderly person or a female, especially in the winter months, walking through this road you could be at risk."

Subhash, 60, who lives just off Cranbrook Road, said he "worries" for other local women because this is "happening on my doorstep".

"It's not just my daughter, it's other daughters, other girls, other women in the area," he said.

"It's quite a serious matter, how safe are you in your own area."

Image caption,
A 29-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was "heartbroken" by Ms Aleena's murder.

"Understandably, women living in the area and across London will be feeling distressed and fearful after this awful attack and the death of another woman at the hands of a man," he said.

He added he was in regular contact with the police and urged anyone who was in the area at the time to contact police.

A significant police presence is expected to remain in the area in the coming days.

Ch Supt Bell said he understood Ms Aleena's death was an "incredibly distressing incident" for women.

"Women should not have to change their behaviour and should be able to go about their business feeling safe any time of day or night and it is our job to ensure that happens.

"Officers cannot be in all places at all times. We urge the community, especially women, to report any suspicious or unwanted behaviour or to seek help if you feel threatened."

Of London's 46 homicide victims in 2022, 16 (35%) have been women, according to data collected by the Met Police, British Transport Police and City of London Police.

By the same time last year, there had been 58 London homicide victims, 12 (21%) of whom were female, according to the data.

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