Zara Aleena's aunt wants to speak to UK leaders

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Zara Aleena's aunt Farah Naz describes her niece as "supportive and fearless"

An aspiring lawyer killed in a street attack in London was "fearless" her aunt has said, as she vowed to speak with political leaders to tackle violence against women and girls.

Zara Aleena, 35, was walking home along Cranbrook Road, Ilford, when she was attacked in the early hours of Sunday.

Prosecutors said she was dragged on to a driveway.

Her aunt Farah Naz said: "She was incredibly giving, supportive, insightful... empathic and fearless."

She added: "The one word that would describe Zara would be independent."

Earlier, Jordan McSweeney, 29, of Dagenham, appeared in court charged with murder, attempted penetration without consent and robbery.

Appearing via video link from HMP Thameside and wearing a green jumper, Mr McSweeney was seen covering his face with his hands ahead of the hearing before sitting back in his chair.

Ms Naz added: "That was what she valued more than anything, her independence. She was quite different to the rest of us because Zara didn't have any fear.

'Got to change something'

"Whenever Zara walked, that was home for her because she knew everybody.

"In her life, and every single place that she's lived in, everybody knew her, everybody loved her."

Ms Aleena was found bleeding and struggling to breathe with serious head injuries, the court was told.

She was dragged on to the driveway, prosecutors allege, and a post-mortem examination found she had suffered multiple serious injuries.

Ms Naz said she wanted to bring about change following Ms Aleena's death: "That's what Zara was about, we have got to change something.

"I want to speak to the leaders of this country, I want to talk about the setting up of projects right now to prevent violence."

Image source, Metropolitan Police
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Zara Aleena was training to become a fully qualified solicitor

Ms Naz said hundreds of people, many of whom the family had never met, had told them they had had conversations with Ms Aleena, known to family members as Zash or Zasherooni, following her death.

The family had been inundated with condolences and offers of support by members of the community, including various faith groups, friends, and the families of Sabina Nessa and sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, all killed in London.

She described her niece, who had hoped to practise as a solicitor and had completed her Legal Practice Course, as "everyone's daughter".

The law graduate was as happy as she had ever been to be offered a job at the Royal Courts of Justice five weeks ago in order to become a fully qualified solicitor.

'Thinking, planning, dreaming'

"She's a family person, but she's more than a family person," Ms Naz continued.

"She's also a loyal friend and community person so she would give herself to people and that interrupted some of her studies, which is why she didn't get it done as fast as she would have liked."

Image source, Sherit Nair
Image caption,
Post-mortem tests revealed Ms Aleena had "multiple serious injuries"

Ms Aleena's work included helping to resettle refugees fleeing violence whilst "always supporting the family" and having fun with her friends.

She said: "She had a great balance, but she did do a lot of things. She really pushed herself, Zara never sat down.

"She was working, studying, thinking, planning, dreaming but she wasn't a dreamer, she was acting towards her dreams."

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Farah Naz said Ms Aleena was "on a road towards her dreams"

One of the reasons she wanted to become a lawyer was because equality for women was something she fought for, her aunt said.

"She never saw herself as less than a man. She never, ever assumed that a man would see her less than either," Ms Naz added.

"She never thought that. She always saw herself as equal, as strong, as powerful, as capable [as a man] - she thought she could help everyone.

"She had a big heart," she added. "She had empathy, sympathy, compassion and she wanted to change things."

Mr McSweeney will next appear at the Old Bailey on September 30 for a plea hearing.

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