Friends of a woman who was beaten to death in east London are among those calling for urgent action to make Britain’s streets safer for women.
Zara Aleena, 35, was attacked in the early hours of Sunday morning in Ilford while walking home after a night out. She was found with serious head injuries and died in hospital. A 29-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of murder on Monday.
Her friends described her as a “beautiful person” who looked out for others, and expressed their fury that she was not able to walk home safely. A march in her memory is being planned in Ilford on Saturday.
Aleena suffered multiple injuries after she was attacked walking along Cranbrook Road in Ilford towards Gants Hill station. Police said it did not appear that a weapon had been used.
Describing her horror at the attack, Aleena’s friend Nadia wrote on Instagram: “She was walking home from meeting friends. When will it be safe for a woman to walk home safely??”
Writing on a GoFundMe page set up in her memory, Nadia Butt said: “Everyone that met Zara always mentioned how kind and selfless she was. She was truly a gentle soul. She loved caring for animals. In fact, that’s how we met and became friends. We were both trying to rescue a stray cat!”
Lisa Hodgson, Aleena’s best friend since they studied together as teenagers, wrote on Facebook that she was “completely broken” by the news.
“I am shocked, I am angry, I feel sick to my stomach,” she posted. “We spent most weekends together. We were meant to be together this weekend but I had to cancel and arranged to meet next weekend.”
A screenshot of her final message from Aleena sent on Friday evening said: “Miss your beautiful face this weekend xx can’t wait to see you next weekend.”
“I wish I had met her this weekend,” Hodgson wrote. “I will never see her again! I will never hear her voice again. We always spoke every day!!!! I will never get over this ever!”
Calling for justice for her friend, she wrote: “When will our streets be safe? Something needs to be done! Something must be done!”
Lisa’s older brother, Lee Hodgson, 40, said their family had known Aleena since she and Lisa were teenagers.
He said Aleena had taken many years to complete her studies part-time because she worked so hard to support her family, taking jobs throughout her 20s in train station branches of the clothing retailer Tie Rack.
Lee told the Guardian: “I’m not sure my words could do her justice at all but she really was so caring and an all-round beautiful person.
“Zara rarely touched alcohol so she would always look out for my sister when they went out; my mum and I always felt good knowing Lisa was with Zara, too, as Zara was always very sensible and level-headed.”
He added: “Just because she had a night out and was coming home late that shouldn’t have put her life in danger.”
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 had previously worked to resettle refugees and as a paralegal at a central London law firm.
Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “We are devastated and angry at the murder of another woman who had every right to be safe. Our thoughts and solidarity are with Zara’s family and loved ones.
“How many more women must die before work to prevent male violence against women is taken seriously and properly resourced? We have the right to be free from the threat of violence in every sphere of life – from our homes to public places and online spaces.”
Simon added: “We’re exhausted at the constant ‘safety advice’ that misplaces responsibility on women to not be attacked. This is victim blaming. We demand justice, accountability and for the focus to be where it belongs: on addressing men’s attitudes and behaviours and stopping perpetrators.”