Scotland Yard is investigating whether the primary school teacher Sabina Nessa was killed by a stranger who is still at large, a senior officer has said.
Nessa, 28, is suspected to have been murdered as she walked through Cator Park in south-east London on what should have been a five-minute journey to the pub from her nearby home at about 8.30pm last Friday.
Her body was found near the OneSpace community centre in the park off Kidbrooke Park Road, Greenwich, on Saturday.
Speaking from the crime scene, DCI Trevor Lawry, of the Metropolitan police, insisted London’s streets “are safe for women”, although he was unable to rule out that Nessa’s killer could strike again.
Her killing, which follows the high-profile murders of Sarah Everard and the sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, has once more prompted debate over the safety of women and girls on Britain’s streets.
DCI Lawry said he was “keeping a completely open mind” on the motives of the attacker but was concerned that they were still on the loose.
Asked whether the Met was worried that the killer could attack someone else, he said: “We have lines of inquiry that we’re pursuing at the moment. It’s always a concern that it may happen, but that’s not something that we have any intelligence on at this time.”
Asked whether he believed a stranger was behind the attack, Lawry added: “That’s definitely a line of inquiry that we’re looking at.” He went on: “The streets are safe for women, I’d like to reassure the public around that, 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.”
Nessa is understood to have been heading towards the Depot bar in Pegler Square, Kidbrooke Village, when she was attacked. A postmortem examination, carried out on Monday into the cause of death, was inconclusive.
A man in his 40s who was arrested on suspicion of murder has been released under further investigation.
DI Joe Garrity, who is leading the murder inquiry, said: “Sabina’s journey should have taken just over five minutes but she never made it to her destination. We know the community is rightly shocked by this murder – as are we – and we are using every resource available to us to find the individual responsible.”
Colleagues and neighbours have paid tribute to Nessa. Her colleague Lisa Williams, the headteacher of Rushey Green primary school in Lewisham, called her a brilliant teacher and said the school was “devastated”.
Annie Gibbs, the vice-chair of the Kidbrooke forum community group, said people in the area were shocked and scared. “We are a loving community and we have a strong sense of solidarity,” she said. “Everyone wants the same thing – to support Sabina’s family and to make sure that we find whoever did this so that she can get justice.”
She added: “We want people to respect and honour her life and make sure that we send a loud and clear message that we are a united community and this violent act isn’t going to divide us. Violence isn’t welcome here and we will stand up against it. Although many people didn’t know Sabina, our community is one.”
A vigil will be held at 7pm on Friday evening in Pegler Square for Nessa, supported by the group Reclaim These Streets, which organised a similar vigil after the murder of Sarah Everard in March.
Campaign groups have said that for too long the burden of women’s safety has been on women, adding that a woman dies at the hands of a man every three days in England.
In July, the government released a strategy to help prevent violence against women and girls and promised better support services for minority communities, as well as a public health campaign that will focus on perpetrator behaviour.
Gibbs, the founder of the community interest company Amour Destiné, which supports black women and girls, said despite growing anger about violence against women, the government was still not listening.
“The focus is still very much about making women feel safe, and we’ve got great strategies around that. But how much longer is it going to be women’s responsibility to keep themselves safe? What we need is a strategy that is going to focus on stopping people’s harmful behaviours.”