Shafilea Ahmed murder trial: Parents guilty of killing

Media caption,
Shafilea Ahmed's body was on the banks of the River Kent in Cumbria in February 2004

The parents of Shafilea Ahmed have been jailed for life after being convicted of her murder.

The 17-year-old went missing from her home in Warrington, Cheshire, in 2003 and her body was found in the River Kent in Cumbria six months later.

Iftikhar, 52, and Farzana Ahmed, 49, had denied her murder but the jury at Chester Crown Court returned guilty verdicts against them both.

Mr Justice Roderick Evans said they would both serve a minimum of 25 years.

The judge told them: "Your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than the love of your child."

The couple suffocated Shafilea with a plastic bag after years of abuse.

After the trial. Det Supt Geraint Jones described the killing as a "vile and disgraceful act against someone they should have been very proud of".

He added: "For me this is not an 'honour killing', it's a clear case of murder."

The police and Crown Prosecution Service said they will review conflicting evidence that emerged during the trial and later make a decision on whether any further action will be taken.

The prosecution claimed she was murdered by her parents because they believed she brought shame on the family.

Shafilea went missing on 11 September 2003 and was reported missing by a teacher a week later.

After several police appeals to find her, workmen found her decomposed remains in February 2004 and she was identified by her dental records and jewellery.

Two post-mortem examinations failed to determine how she died but a verdict of unlawful killing was recorded at her inquest in 2008.

Image caption,
Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed were both found guilty after two days of deliberations

Police investigating the murder were so convinced her parents had killed the teenager they "bugged" the family home to listen in on their conversations.

The breakthrough came when Shafilea's younger sister, Alesha Ahmed, was arrested in connection with an armed robbery at the family home in August 2010.

It was in a police interview that she said she had seen her parents kill her sister seven years earlier.

During the trial, she told the court her parents pushed Shafilea on to the settee in their house and she heard her mother say "just finish it here".

She said the parents then forced a plastic bag into the teenager's mouth and killed her in front of their other children.

Taxi driver Mr Ahmed had claimed Shafilea ran away from home in the middle of the night and he never saw her again.

Mrs Ahmed had denied claims that they had attacked Shafilea, but during the three-month trial she changed her account, claiming she saw her husband beat their daughter on the night of the murder.

She also claimed he had threatened to do the same to her and their other children if she ever asked him what happened to Shafilea.

Media caption,
Melissa Powner and Kat Moore say they "needed justice" for their friend Shafilea

As the verdicts were delivered by the jury after two days of deliberations, Iftikhar Ahmed stood impassively. Mrs Ahmed wiped tears from her eyes with a tissue.

As Mr Ahmed was taken down to the cells, he swore at police officers.

Their children Junyad, Mevish and the youngest, who cannot be named for legal reasons, all broke down in tears.

During the trial, Alesha Ahmed had told the court how her parents repeatedly attacked and abused Shafilea.

She said Shafilea was torn between the allure of a Western lifestyle and their demands she wear traditional clothes and agree to an arranged marriage.

Speaking about the night her sister died, she said: "You could tell she was gasping for air."

Alesha went on to describe how the other children ran upstairs to their bedrooms in shock and she saw her father carry Shafilea's body to the car wrapped in a blanket.

The children were later told to say nothing to the authorities amid a fear that they would suffer the same fate as their sister.

Image caption,
Mevish Ahmed supported her parents' defence during the trial

Alesha's story was corroborated in writings her younger sister Mevish gave to her friend Shaheen Munir in 2008.

The writings emerged shortly after Alesha began giving evidence at the trial.

Mevish, who supported her parents' defence, said the writings were a "fiction" which Alesha used to base her story on.

Speaking after the verdicts, close friend of Shafilea Melissa Powner paid tribute to her and spoke about the pain of having to watch as her killers avoided justice.

She said: "We have waited for this day for many years.

"We have watched as her killers roamed free.

'Destructive and cruel'

"Yet today we heard those important words - words that have finally brought our friend the justice she deserves."

On sentencing, Mr Justice Evans told the couple: "A desire that she understood and appreciated the cultural heritage from which she came is perfectly understandable, but an expectation that she live in a sealed cultural environment separate from the culture of the country in which she lived was unrealistic, destructive and cruel."

He added: "You killed one daughter, but you have blighted the lives of your remaining children.

"Alesha escaped but she is unlikely to be able to avoid the legacy of her upbringing.

"Mevish, after a period of trying to live independently, was recaptured and brought home, and has since become compliant with your wishes."

He added: "As to Junyad, he remains supportive, especially of you Iftikhar Ahmed.

"Whether that is simply out of filial affection or the result of the warped values you instilled in him is impossible to tell.

"There is only one sentence that I can impose upon you and that is a sentence of imprisonment for life."

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