What happened to Sabina Nessa?

The killing of London primary school teacher Sabina Nessa has fuelled calls for urgent action to improve women’s safety on UK streets.

The 28-year-old was found dead in Cator Park, Kidbrooke, in the southeast of the capital, on Saturday 18 September. She had left her nearby home the previous day at around 8.30pm to meet a date in a bar less than ten minutes away, but had not been seen since. 

According to The Telegraph, Nessa was attacked by an assailant wielding a weapon just moments after leaving her new-build flat. A police source told the paper that the suspect was captured on CCTV appearing to strike her on the head before carrying her off over their shoulder towards the park. 

Her body was discovered by a member of the public walking his dog the following morning. “At first he was talking to her, thinking it was someone drunk sleeping it off in the long grass. Then he realised she was dead,” his neighbour told the Evening Standard. An initial postmortem examination carried out on 20 September was inconclusive.

At a vigil attended by more than 500 people at Pegler Square in Kidbrooke Village on Friday night, Jebina Yasmin Islam, Nessa’s sister, broke down as she addressed the crowd. “We have lost an amazing, caring, beautiful sister, who left this world far too early,” she said, the BBC reported.

Jebina Yasmin Islam speaks at a candlelight vigil for her sister on 24 September 2021

Vigils were also held in Hackney, Newham, Bristol and Brighton, while many lit candles on their doorsteps to pay tribute to Nessa, who taught pupils aged five and six and was described by her cousin as “the kindest, sweetest girl you could meet”.

Police confirmed on Sunday that they had arrested a 36-year-old man on suspicion of murder, describing the news as a “significant development” in the case, said The Guardian. The man, who has not been publicly named, was arrested at 3am at an East Sussex address and taken into police custody. 

His arrest followed an appeal by Scotland Yard to help trace a balding man wearing grey jeans and a black jacket who was captured on CCTV images taken near Cator Park. The police have not confirmed whether the suspect is the same man as the one seen on CCTV, but it is understood that investigators are no longer appealing for help in tracing him, reported The Guardian. 

The 36-year-old is the third man to have been arrested in connection with Nessa’s murder. Last week, detectives arrested a man in his 40s on suspicion of murder but later released him under further investigation. A 38-year-old man was also arrested in Lewisham and released under further investigation.

Detectives have until the early hours of Thursday to question the latest suspect before deciding whether to charge him.

The brutal murder of Nessa comes six months after the high-profile abduction, rape and murder of 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard just eight miles away in Clapham, south London. Everard was murdered by a stranger – Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, who is currently in Belmarsh prison. He is due to be sentenced at the Old Bailey on Wednesday after pleading guilty to her murder in July.

Just nine months before Everard was killed, sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman were stabbed to death by a stranger at Fryent Country Park in Wembley, northwest London. Over the past year alone, 105 women in the UK have been murdered in cases where a man is the principal suspect, according to ITV News and Counting Dead Women – a group that tracks femicide in the UK.

Questions have been raised over why the disappearance and murder of Everard – a white woman – was initially given significantly more press coverage than that of Nessa, a woman of colour. “ALL women deserve an equal level of support and attention,” wrote the charity Women’s Aid on Twitter. “It is not good enough that victims from Black and marginalised communities do not receive the same level of profile.”

Writing for The Telegraph last week, Jamie Klingler, co-founder of the Reclaim These Streets movement that organised Friday’s vigil, said she was heartbroken by Nessa’s murder and frustrated that “nothing has been done to improve safety for women” since Everard’s murder in March. 

“That our lives and safety aren’t prioritised is something women understand,” she wrote. “There is a bigger fine for littering than harassing a woman on the street. A longer sentence is possible for stealing a dog than strangling a woman. What are our lives worth? What is our safety worth?”

Detective chief superintendent Trevor Lawry, who is responsible for policing in Kidbrooke, has insisted that the streets are safe for women. “I’d like to reassure the public around that,” he said. “I’d like to make sure that people are free to walk around, free from fear, and my officers will make sure that that can take place,” he said.

Following the discovery of Nessa’s body, Greenwich Council swiftly distributed more than 200 security alarms to women and vulnerable people in the Kidbrooke area, according to My London. The move drew considerable criticism, with many accusing the council of making male violence a women’s problem – rather than addressing its root causes. 

“Handing out alarms and increasing street lighting merely shines a brighter light on the inadequacy of the state’s response,” wrote one social media user. 

Writing for the BBC, Bethan Bell expanded on this point. “Women are not attacked because of our route home; we are not attacked because our walk was not ‘purposeful’ enough, or because of what we were wearing,” she explained. 

“If a woman is murdered by a man she doesn’t know, it is because he wanted to murder her. There is no other reason.”


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