Found dead February 2004
Shafilea Ahmed (17), a school student, was found dead in Cumbria in February 2004. Her parents Iftikhar (52), a taxi driver, and Farzana (49) are accused of murdering her at their home on Liverpool Road, Warrington, Cheshire, in September 2003. In May 2012 they went on trial at Chester Crown Court. They deny the charges.
Shafilea was reported to have disappeared from home in September 2003 and a week later was reported missing by teachers. Her decomposed and dismembered body was found in a flooded Cumbrian river. Due to decomposition, the cause of death could not be determined by the coroner, despite two post mortems.
Shafilea was born in Bradford and wanted to become a lawyer. It is alleged that her parents killed her because she wanted to live an independent non-traditional life. She had allegedly refused an arranged marriage to a cousin in Pakistan.
It is reported that Shafilea swallowed bleach during the trip to Pakistan in 2003, not long before she died, though her parents denied any attempts to pressurise her. Her father was reported to have claimed that she drank it during a power cut, thinking it was a bottle of fruit juice. Her mother is reported to have suggested the family say she drank it thinking it was mouth wash. Shafilea left poems which suggest she was in despair and confirm that she had run away in the past.
The bleach badly scarred her throat – an injury which required constant medical attention – and she was allowed to return to the UK, where she had to go into hospital for a considerable period of time.
Shafilea’s sister Alesha (23), who would have been 14 at the time of her death, has accused her parents of the murder. Though police had suspected a possible honour killing – and allegedly two of her siblings had been heard at school shortly after her disappearance talking about her murder – her parents were not charged with the death until in Alesha spoke to the police in 2010. The prosecution said it provided the “final piece of the puzzle” about her death.
The court heard that while in custody over an alleged robbery at the family home that she herself had arranged, Alesha told a solicitor and a police detective she had witnessed the murder. On 7 September 2011, Cheshire Police announced that Shafilea’s parents had been charged with her murder.
When Andrew Edis QC for the prosecution asked why Alesha had waited almost seven years to talk about her sister’s murder, she said: “It all got too much, and to be honest I think it was a relief more than anything to be able to tell someone finally.” adding “I just had to let it out. It has been haunting me for a long time.”
Alesha, is in witness protection and gave evidence behind a screen. She said her relationship with her parents “completely broke down” when she went to university, where she realised “how wrong family life was” during trips home at weekends and holidays.
The court heard that the Ahmeds murdered their daughter as they believed she had ‘dishonoured’ them and was too ‘Westernised’. It is alleged they subjected her to constant pressure, threats and domestic violence.
Alesha told the court that on the day of her death there had been an argument about Shafilea’s clothing. Allegedly Shafilea’s brother Junjade, then 13, had been asked by her parents to check Shafilea’s purse. She said saw her parents push her sister on to the sofa in their living room and – as her mother said “just finish it here” – they suffocated her in front of her brother and 2 sisters by forcing a plastic bag into her mouth and holding their hands over her face.
She said both parents held her down and that her father “had her held down with his leg in her midriff. She was kicking her legs”. Andrew Edis, prosecuting, asked Ms Ahmed whether she could see any of her sister’s face. She replied “Her eyes…They were open really wide. I could tell she was just gasping for air. She wet herself. She wet herself because she was struggling so much.” She said that a few moments later Shafilea lay dead. Ms Ahmed added “My parents carried on with their hands still on her mouth, even after she had stopped struggling. They carried on for 15, maybe 30 seconds.” She said the younger children ran from the room “because they were so upset”. She remained, frozen in shock. She said she watched her father pull Shafilea off the sofa and punch her in the chest “for no reason, just once”.
Alesha Ahmed said that as she left the room to go upstairs, she noticed that her sister’s eyes were still open. A couple of minutes later she went back downstairs and could see her mother sorting out printed, flowery sheets the family normally used as dust sheets when decorating. She said she also saw a roll of black bin bags and two rolls of tape on the kitchen floor.
Ms Ahmed said that while her parents made plans to dispose of the body, the couple’s son, Junyade, told Alesha and her two sisters, aged 12 and 7, who were very upset, that Shafilea “deserved it”.
Alesha said that she and her youngest sister briefly pulled back the bedroom curtains to see their father carrying something to one of the couple’s cars. “I assumed it was bin bags because it was black, with a bit of tape. From the way he was carrying it, it just looked like it was my sister Shafilea.”
Asked why she had kept quiet for all those years, she said: “I think it was not until I went to uni I saw how wrong family life was. When you get used to something, it becomes normal and that’s when I saw it wasn’t normal, really. I think what happened to my sister was wrong but because it’s your parents you think it’s normal because you still love them. I think at uni I did feel the way my sister had – you want to fit in with everyone else, but you are still being forced to live in a different way. I think that’s what made me crack.”
She said she was in a state of “emotional distress” when she made the witness statement about the murder and she had to let it out. When she was at university she lived like a western student and returned at weekends and holidays to her parents’ home. Alesha said her parents had set up a number of potential suitors but she refused to marry “someone she didn’t know” and her relationship with her mother and father “completely broke down” as it meant either living the way they wanted her to live, or live on her own. “Both were a struggle”, she explained to the jury.
When she arranged the robbery, she said she was not thinking properly. On 25th August 2010, three or four masked men burst into the house and searched for money, tying up everyone apart from Alesha. She told the court she was arrested after her mother and brother told police the thieves had known her name. She said “My mental state wasn’t very good, being between the two cultures, trying to please everyone.” She was behaving out of character and drinking at university. “I was not being myself any more.”
The trial continues.
Note: This report was compiled from reports in the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Metro and Daily Mail.