Zara Aleena: Woman killed in Ilford was kind soul, say friends

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Zara AleenaImage source, Met Police
Image caption,
Zara Aleena suffered fatal head injuries

A woman killed in a suspected stranger attack in the early hours of Sunday was a "kind soul" friends have said.

Zara Aleena, 35, was assaulted walking along Cranbrook Road, towards Gants Hill station in Ilford, east London. She died later in hospital.

A 29-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder, in what police say was an "opportunist stranger attack".

Her friend Sophie said of the recent graduate: "She was the nicest person you could ever meet, always positive."

"She lit up the whole room," she added. "She could talk to anyone for hours."

Image caption,
Sophie described her friend's death as "really tragic"

Paramedics were at the scene of the assault at about 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.

The BBC has seen CCTV footage which shows a young woman, who friends believe is Ms Aleena, being followed by a man moments before the killing.

In the first few frames of the footage, the man is seen marching at a fast pace towards a young woman as she walks along the street.

The CCTV footage has been handed to the police.

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

Karina - who did not provide her surname - and Sherit Nair described her as someone who cared about 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 have 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.

Image caption,
Jamsin Hossein said that a vigil could be held soon

Jamsin Hossein told the BBC it was a "shock" to lose her "amazing" friend.

"She didn't have a bad bone in her. She was kind, she was loving, she was - like all her friends and family said - a lifeline for her grandma and her mum," she said.

"And she was just so innocent, so pure."

Another friend has told the BBC that Ms Aleena refused the offer of a taxi home after a night out, preferring to do the two-mile journey on foot. She loved walking and was known as a fast walker.

Image caption,
Floral tributes have been arriving throughout the day

Rafia Ahmed, who lives nearby, said she and her friends were worried about their safety and wondered 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."

Image caption,
A crime scene remains in place

A third of London's 45 homicide victims in 2022 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 of whom were female, including the murders of Sarah Everard who was killed by a policeman and primary school teacher Sabina Nessa.

Image source, Amir Ahmed
Image caption,
A police presence will remain in the area for some days, the Met said

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".

"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."

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