The parents of 17-year-old Shafilea Ahmed are found guilty of killing their daughter in an apparent “honour killing” over her desire to lead a “westernised” lifestyle.
Iftikar Ahmed, 52, and his wife, Farzana, 49, of Cheshire, were alleged to have forced a plastic bag down the throat of their daughter, Shafilea, and suffocated her until she had died, accusing her of bringing shame on the family because she wanted to live a “westernised” life.
Iftikhar Ahmed stood impassively as the verdicts were given while Mrs Ahmed wiped tears from her eyes with a tissue. Their son Junyad, daughter Mevish and their youngest daughter who cannot be named for legal reasons, all broke down in tears. Mevish Ahmed put her head in her hands and wept as the judge began discussing sentencing, which will take place this afternoon.
Chester Crown Court heard how the schoolgirl disappeared in September 2003, but was only reported missing a week later by her teacher.
Her badly decomposed remains were discovered by workmen on the bank of the River Kent in Cumbria the following February, but the case was only brought to trial this year because it was not until August 2010 that a witness – her sister – came forward after she was implicated in a robbery at the family home.
Throughout the 10-week trial, Mr Ahmed, a taxi driver, and Mrs Ahmed denied murder. Her father claimed his daughter ran away from home in the middle of the night and he never saw her again.
Her mother changed her evidence mid-way to claim that she had witnessed her husband beating Shafilea on the night in question. Claiming that she did not know what her husband had done with her daughter, she said he had “probably killed” the teenage girl, but threatened he would “do the same” to her and her children if she ever spoke of what had happened.
One of the most dramatic moments in the trial came when a friend of Shafilea’s sister unexpectedly came forward with new evidence, writes Channel 4 News correspondent Darshna Soni who was in court during the case:
Mevish Ahmed, one of Shafilea’s sisters, had always stood by her parents. I had met the family several times over the years, and Mevish had always insisted her parents had nothing to do with Shafilea’s disappearance. She was due to give evidence as a defence witness. However, one afternoon in court the judge announced that one of Mevish’s friends had come forward with evidence that meant she would now be called by the prosecution instead.
Mevish’s friend Shahin Munir, told the jury that in 2010, Mevish had told her that her parents had killed Shafilea. Shahin kept a diary of everything Mevish told her and this was read out in court. It was a turning point in the trial.
Extracts from Shahin Munir's diary:
"Oh my god. Today I met up with Mev. And we went to the park. I asked her to read out what she wrote down and she couldn't. She was very nervous. Her arm kept shaking and she said that's what happens when she gets paranoid... Eventually she told me what happened with her sister Shafilea ...
That night, like when everything happened, Shafilea came home from work and they started shouting at her because she had a T-shirt and she forgot her coat. They sat her down on the chair. The chair that Mev has to sit down on. Her dad went mad and started proper hitting her. Mev tried to stop it but her mum pushed her away, they didn't think she was still in the kitchen ... they used the bag to suffocate her. 1-2 minutes gone. Just like Mev wrote, That's it, that's how it happened ..
Mev's mum tried to tell her Shafilea had ran away. Then they disposed of the body.
But Mev's scared. They say things like 'you know what happened to the other one' ...
I don't even know what to say. I told her if anything happens again she should come straight to mine. She's scared for her life."
During the trial, a picture of Shafilea emerged which suggested that she had been trying to battle her parents’ wishes for her to lead a traditional Pakistani life.
The court heard how she had drunk bleach the year that she died when she was taken to Pakistan, as her parents attempted to “force” her into marriage. Her mother claimed she had drunk it accidentally instead of mouthwash.
Shafilea’s sister, Alesha, who is now 23, told the court that she had seen her parents kill her.
In evidence described by prosecutor as Andrew Edis QC as “the final piece of the puzzle”, she said had seen her parents “acting together” to force a bag into Shafilea’s mouth and put their hands over her face to stop her from breathing.
Afterwards, her sister said, she looked out of the window and saw her father with a large object wrapped in bin bags which she assumed was the body of her sister.
Earlier, she said that the night Shafilea died, her mother had picked her up from work and was unhappy Shafilea was wearing western clothing.
Mrs Ahmed told the court that her husband had beaten her since their marriage, and that she had lied to police because she was scared.
During the night of the death, she said, she came downstairs to find her husband hitting Shafilea in the kitchen.
“He slapped her twice and he punched her twice,” she said.
She said her daughter was not screaming but was crying, and that her husband said: “We have done so much for you and you are still messing about.”
However Shafilea’s sister, Alesha had claimed that her mother was involved in her death, allegedly saying: “Just finish it here.” Mrs Ahmed denied that she had said the statement.
During the trial, her father broke down as he denied ever hurting his daughter or having anything to do with the murder.
Even after his wife had changed her story, he added, he loved her “to bits”.
Asked how he felt when his daughter’s body was found, he struggled to respond, adding in a strained voice: “We couldn’t believe it when we heard.”