A man has been arrested on suspicion of murder after a 35-year-old woman was beaten to death in a London street.
Zara Aleena died after what police described as a “horrific assault” close to her home, which detectives believe was carried out by a stranger as she walked in Ilford, east London.
She was found with extensive head injuries at 2.44am on Sunday by passersby. Police said a post mortem found no evidence of the use of a weapon to inflict the injuries.
On Monday the Metropolitan police said a 29-year-old man had been arrested in the Ilford area on suspicion of murder.
The killing comes amid heightened concern about the safety of women on Britain’s streets.
Murder squad detectives have been scouring CCTV from the area of the attack and more widely. They appealed for people who drove through the Cranbrook Road area of Ilford between 2am and 3am on Sunday to check their dashcams in case they had recorded anything about who was in the area.
Ch Supt Stuart Bell said: “At 02.44hrs on Sunday 26 June, Met officers were called by the London ambulance service to a seriously injured woman found by members of the public in Cranbrook Road, Ilford. The woman, who we believe to be Zara, had suffered serious head injuries and despite the best efforts of paramedics and doctors in hospital, she died later on Sunday morning.
“Zara, who lived locally, was walking along Cranbrook Road in the direction of Gants Hill station when she was assaulted. It is now believed she was the victim of an attack by a stranger. A special postmortem has been completed. Zara suffered multiple serious injuries that contributed to her death. There is no evidence at this time that weapons were used during the attack.”
Bell said Aleena’s family were being supported by specialist officers. The Ilford area on the London and Essex border is home to Asian, white and Jewish communities, and Aleena is believed to have lived at the family home.
Aleena wanted to be a solicitor and had a law degree from the University of Westminster. Since May she had worked as an admin officer at the Royal Courts of Justice in London’s Strand, and previously she had worked to resettle refugees.
Sam Tarry, the Labour MP for Ilford South, said the local community would be left fearful by the stranger attack that resulted in Aleena’s death.
Tarry said: “This is something which is incredibly shocking. People are going be very fearful. It looks on the face of it that it’s been a very random attack. Ilford isn’t somewhere where people generally are going to be fearful about going about their business. Like any part of London, of course, low-level crime is always an issue, but this is something which is out of the ordinary.”
He added: “My message really to my constituents is that we will do everything to remember this woman who’s lost her life in this horrendous way. I think over the next few days we may look at putting on a vigil, something to make sure that, you know, our community all pulls together because people will be very scared.”
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “I’m heartbroken by the murder of Zara Aleena, who had her whole life ahead of her. My thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends and the whole community who are devastated by her death.
“I am in regular contact with the police, who have been working around the clock and a man is now in custody on suspicion of murder. There will continue to be a large police presence in the area over the coming days. 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.”
A series of killings have led to pledges to increase women’s safety. Bell said: “Tackling violence against women and girls is an absolute priority for the Met. Every day our officers are working with partners across the capital to improve safety in our public spaces.
“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. It’s our job to ensure that happens – but officers cannot be in all places at all times. I would urge our community, especially women, to report any suspicious or unwanted behaviour and seek help if you feel threatened.”
On Monday evening, local residents said they were shaken by Aleena’s death. “I think I’m just scared if I’m honest,” said Zainab, 23, who has lived on Cranbrook Road all her life. “It’s a main road as well, so you don’t expect it, because there’s always people around so you just don’t expect it to happen. I don’t think my parents will be comfortable with me going out late … This is just too close to home.”
Another resident, Sarifa, who has lived in the area for 17 years, said she would be dropped home later in the evening from her sister’s house despite it being only a seven-minute walk. “I feel scared, actually,” she said. “I think it is going to have an impact on me for a while.”