Pak-British parents guilty of killing ‘rebel’ daughter
LONDON: The parents a British Pakistani girl, Shafilea Ahmed, were found guilty of murdering their eldest daughter for bringing “shame” on the family.
Iftikhar Ahmed, 52, a taxi driver, and his wife Farzana, 49, face imprisonment for life for killing the daughter who wanted the freedom to wear western fashions, dye her long dark hair with a streak of red and choose her own boyfriends. The promising 17-year-old, who dreamt of one day becoming a lawyer, resisted the traditional path set out by her family of an arranged marriage in Pakistan, and paid for her disobedience with her life.
The verdict brings to an end a long-running murder inquiry into one of Britain’s most high-profile “honour” crimes. Over the past decade, Shafilea became a symbol for teenage British-Pakistani girls caught between two cultures. For years the couple had tried to beat the child into submission, to crush her will, culminating in the teenager’s repeated attempts to run away from the suburban home in Great Sankey, Warrington, a county of Cheshire in North England. Shafilea swallowed bleach in Pakistan and was in hospital for three months, her weight plummeting to five stone, because she feared she was being forced into an arranged marriage with a cousin. She was picking up her sixth-form studies when her parents decided that that she must be killed because she had brought “shame” on the family.
On the evening of September 11, 2003, Shafilea had displeased her mother when she emerged from the call centre in Warrington that night carrying her cardigan, exposing her bare shoulders above her T-shirt. Farzana was angered because her daughter had been seen by another British-Pakistani family. The argument continued back at home when Farzana told her husband, angry that his daughter was “messing again”, in Punjabi: “Just finish it now.” Alesha Ahmed, then 15, told the court how Shafilea was pinned down on the sofa in full view of her sisters and brother, beaten and a plastic bag forced down her throat until she suffocated to death. The younger sister recalled how her father delivered one final, gratuitous punch to Shafilea’s chest before preparing to dispose of her body. Later she heard her father drive away.
The body was not discovered until five months later when workmen stumbled over the badly decomposed remains in thick undergrowth beside the River Kent, near Sedgwick, in the Lake District. The couple’s three surviving daughters, Alesha, now 23, Mehvish, 21, a 16 year-old (who cannot be named) and a son Junaid, now 22, were ordered to keep the “terrible secret” under threat of a similar fate.
Cheshire Police launched a highly visible missing person’s inquiry, ostentatiously searching waste ground close to the family home and recruiting Shobna Gulati, the Coronation Street actress to read lyrics written by Shafilea about her plight. The parents later upstaged a police press conference by publicly insisting on their innocence, and claiming racial discrimination. In January 2008 the parents faced down a full-blooded inquest hearing, which concluded that Shafilea had been the victim of a “very vile murder”.
It was only in August 2010 after Alesha was arrested for setting up a serious armed robbery at the family home that she broke her silence and told detectives what her parents had done. She is now in a witness protection programme.
The trial still had a number of twists and turns to run before its conclusion. Shanin Munir, 22, a psychology student, came forward after the trial had started to tell the authorities that her friend Mehvish had once entrusted an account of the murder to her and had admitted, in a meeting in a park, that her father had suffocated her sister. Mehvish, who remains loyal to her parents, insisted it had simply been a piece of fictional writing. As the trial drew to a close Farzana Ahmed broke ranks with her husband and his wider family, dramatically changing her story. She said that she had seen her husband beating Shafilea on the night of the murder.