3 Aug 2012

Invited in for tea by Shafilea’s murderers

Home Affairs Correspondent

As a court finds Shafilea Ahmed’s parents guilty of her murder, Channel 4 News correspondent Darshna Soni recalls being invited into their family home – where no trace of Shafilea was on view.

Shafilea Ahmed: inside the family home

“Come in, come in. Join us for dinner.” Mrs Ahmed led me into the kitchen and sat me down at the table. A softly-spoken woman, with a shy smile, she made me a cup of tea.

And yet, this was the kitchen where the court heard Farzana Ahmed and her husband Iftikhar [pictured above] had murdered one of their own daughters.

Sentencing them to life imprisonment at Chester Crown Court on Friday, Mr Justice Roderick Evans told them: “Your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than the love of your child.” He went on “You chose to bring up your family in Warrington but although you lived in Warrington your social and cultural attitudes were those of rural Pakistan and it was those which you imposed upon your children.”

I first came to know the family in 2003, not long after Shafilea went missing. Theirs was a fascinating story that attracted huge headlines. They were a seemingly ordinary couple living in suburban Warrington with their four children, all of whom attended local schools. And yet they were accused of an extraordinary crime.

Shafilea Ahmed's parents found guilty of her murder

Their fifth child, Shafilea, had disappeared in September and the couple had been publicly accused of killing her. They always denied any involvement and initially, their children supported them. But over the years, I would get a glimpse of the strain this put on the family, especially on Shafilea’s sisters as they grew up.

‘A wife doesn’t question her husband’

Mrs Ahmed was always very welcoming. She would joke that I had been standing outside their home with my camera crew, reporting the latest developments on their story, and looked like I needed a cup of tea. She was a housewife and told the jury that she was very traditional: “In our culture, a wife doesn’t question her husband.”

They would never talk explicitly about “it” – about what had happened to Shafilea. There was no trace of her in the house. No photographs or mementos. Mr Ahmed would never speak of her by name, only ever referring to her as “the daughter.”

And yet this image is very different to the way in which Mrs Ahmed was caught behaving on surveillance recordings by the police. Officers had inserted a bug into the kitchen and I have listened to some of the tapes. Mrs Ahmed can be heard shouting and screaming at her husband and their children.

She uses harsh language, even calling one daughter a “slut”. She also gives them instructions about never telling anyone about “what happened,” threatening that if they did, there would be trouble: “For all your lives, we will be stuck in real trouble, remember that.”

The girls, and their brother Junyad, can be heard on the tape trying to calm their mother down. Whenever I met them, they were always very polite and well behaved. They would often be watching TV as I talked to their parents. “You can interview any of them, any time,” Mr Ahmed would say. “They’ll all tell you we had nothing to do with it.”

They would never talk explicitly about “it” – about what had happened to Shafilea. There was no trace of her in the house. No photographs or mementos. Mr Ahmed would never speak of her by name, only ever referring to her as “the daughter.”

No hint of children’s personalities

Shafilea had shared a bedroom with her three sisters. Mr Ahmed once let me and my cameraman in to film it. “We’ve got nothing to hide,” he said.

The room was immaculate: two large beds perfectly made, no clothes lying around, nor any personal items belonging to any of the children.

In fact, the entire house was pristine; not a single stray toy, not a cushion out of place nor a schoolbook left lying around. Nothing to suggest children lived there, no hint of any of their personalities.

In fact, the entire house was pristine; not a single stray toy, not a cushion out of place nor a schoolbook left lying around. Nothing to suggest children lived there, no hint of any of their personalities.

In his police interviews, Mr Ahmed was asked about this. An officer tried to get Mr Ahmed to describe each of his children individually, saying: “We know they did well at school we don’t know anything personal about them.” Mr Ahmed replied: “They’re all normal… there’s nothing different about any of them.” The officer tried several times, asking Mr Ahmed which child he’d describe as cheeky, which one as shy and so on. Mr Ahmed could not name any individual traits, saying: “I’d not noticed anything like that…they’re all the same.”

Alesha: ‘She’s fallen in with a bad crowd’

But over the years, the children would try to assert their own personalities outside of the home. The eldest, Rukesh, changed her name by deed poll to Alesha. “She’s fallen in with a bad crowd,” Mr and Mrs Ahmed told me on one occasion. Alesha had started to rebel, had left home for university and started taking drugs. She would eventually tell the police that for years, she had been trying to escape a terrible secret: that she had witnessed her mother and father kill her sister Shafilea. Without Alesha’s evidence, the prosecution would never have been brought.

Alesha only came forward after a bizarre incident at the family home. Mrs Ahmed told me she had been at home one night with the children, including Alesha, when three men broke in, tied them up and robbed them. They stole jewellery and £30,000 in cash. It turned out that Alesha had orchestrated the robbery.

Her parents insisted on reporting her to the police for her role; ironically, if they hadn’t they may never have been charged with Shafilea’s death, for it was only when Alesha was arrested about the robbery that she told officers the story of her sister’s death.