The aunt of Zara Aleena has called for the law to be changed after her niece’s murderer won a Court of Appeal bid to reduce the minimum term of his life sentence.
Farah Naz said her family were “extremely disappointed” by the decision to reduce Jordan McSweeney’s minimum term and questioned why the sentencing judge had been overruled by review judges.
McSweeney killed Ms Aleena, a 35-year-old law graduate, as she walked home from a night out in Ilford, east London, early on June 26 2022.
Ms Naz said the reduction in McSweeney’s minimum term sends out a “disheartening” message to women that their “suffering will not be accounted for”.
She told BBC Breakfast on Saturday morning: “This is a man who didn’t show for his sentencing, who didn’t show for previous legal proceedings.
“He spat in the face of the law, gets the law to stand up for him and he’s able to exercise his right – surely somebody who has such a disdain for law should not be given that right of appeal.
“We need to change this law. I am extremely angry.”
Ms Naz said that she was beginning to wonder if her family “can trust the judicial system”, as the law “does not really take into account the victim’s journey”.
“At no point did any of our statements have an impact on the sentencing or on the appeal,” she added.
McSweeney, who refused to attend his sentencing hearing last December, was handed a life sentence with a minimum term of 38 years after admitting Ms Aleena’s murder and sexual assault.
At a hearing at the Court of Appeal in London last month, he made a bid to reduce the minimum term of his sentence, appearing for the start of proceedings via videolink from Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire.
In a ruling on Friday, three judges at the appeal court reduced McSweeney’s sentence to life with a minimum term of 33 years, finding the original sentence was “manifestly excessive”.
Sentencing McSweeney last year, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb said a suggestion Ms Aleena had remained unconscious during the nine-minute attack was speculation and found McSweeney took Ms Aleena’s mobile phone to stop her calling for help.
But during a short hearing on Friday, which McSweeney attended via videolink from prison, the Lady Chief Justice Lady Carr said: “Having correctly found that Ms Aleena must have been rendered unconscious at an early stage in the attack, the judge had lacked a sufficient evidential basis on which to be sure that there had been additional mental or physical suffering such as to justify an increase in the 30-year starting point.”
In a 12-page judgment also published on Friday, Lady Carr, sitting with Mrs Justice McGowan and Mrs Justice Ellenbogen, said the “sexual nature” of the attack had already doubled the starting point of the sentence from 15 to 30 years.
She later said the conclusion that McSweeney took Ms Aleena’s phone to stop her calling for help was “not justified” and should not have increased his sentence.
The senior judge also noted the minimum term only determines when an offender becomes eligible to be considered for release by the Parole Board, and they “will not necessarily be released at the end of that term, or at any time after that”.
Ms Naz said she understood that the ruling appeared to “align with an established legal sentencing framework”, but criticised the overruling of the sentencing judge by review judges.
She added that the appeal process had stolen “time for recovery” from her family.
At the hearing of McSweeney’s appeal last month, his barrister said it was accepted there was a sexual motive to the crime, but argued the murder itself was not premeditated, describing it as an “opportunistic act”.
“He planned to look for a sexual encounter, with or without consent,” George Carter-Stephenson KC added.
However, Oliver Glasgow KC, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said the suggestion McSweeney had not intended to kill Ms Aleena was “unsustainable” and that he had spent two hours stalking several women before turning his attention to the trainee solicitor.
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said: “Jordan McSweeney committed a despicable crime for which the only punishment should be life behind bars.
“This is exactly why we’re pushing ahead with important reforms to keep offenders like him locked up for good. A whole life order should be handed down to murderers with sexual conduct, unless there are truly exceptional circumstances.
“This will mean for the most depraved killers life means life with no prospect of release.”
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