03/08/2012 09:06 BST | Updated 03/08/2012 12:31 BST

Shafilea Ahmed Murder Trial: Parents Found Guilty Of 'Honour Killing'

The parents of "westernised" teenager Shafilea Ahmed have been found guilty of her murder, nine years after she was brutally murdered.

Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed, infuriated with their 17-year-old daughter's lifestyle, killed her by suffocating her with a plastic bag in front of their other children in 2003.

The teenager's sister Alesha told the jury at Chester Crown Court her parents pushed Shafilea onto the settee in their house and she heard her mother say "just finish it here" as they forced a plastic bag into the teenager's mouth.

shafilea ahmed

Shafilea Ahmed: Her parents have been found guilty of murdering the teenager

Trial judge Mr Justice Roderick Evans, who jailed both of them for life serving a minimum of 25 years, told them: "Your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than the love of your child."

The case has reignited debate about so-called "honour killings", with Hayley Meachin of the British Association of Social Workers stressing there was "no honour in the murder".

She told The Huffington Post UK: "Shafilea Ahmed was killed because her parents were bullies and murderers.

"The fact that her refusal to follow their rules and expectations about her behaviour provoked their violence should not negate the terrible tragedy of her murder, or any murder."

In court on Friday, Ahmed stood impassively as the verdicts were given, as his wife wiped away tears. Their children Junyad, Mevish and the youngest, who cannot be named for legal reasons, all broke down in tears.

Ahmed had earlier told the jury that the death of Shafilea "totally destroyed" his family, in a case which pitted sibling against sibling and parent against parent.

Shafilea's younger sister Alesha, just 15 at the time of the killing, gave key testimony which led to the conviction of her parents.

Her younger siblings Mevish and Junyad, were just 12 and 13 when the murder happened in the family home. Another child, who cannot be named, was only seven.

Alesha, who made the startling accusation against her parents after being arrested for armed robbery, almost withdrew her statement on a number of occasions.

But by the time the trial began, she stood alone against her whole family, with her version of events apparently corroborated by her sister Mevish in writings she gave to a friend in 2008.


Iftikhar and Faranza Ahmed were found guilty of their daughter's murder

The sensational new evidence, which emerged days after the start of the trial, led to the Ahmeds being remanded in custody.

And Mevish, a personal loans adviser for a large bank, suddenly became a crucial witness called by the judge, who told the jury the writings were a drug-induced "fiction" and her parents played no part in Shafilea's death.

While Shafilea's mother was in custody she had a sudden change of heart, sacked the law firm which jointly represented the couple and told the jury she witnessed her husband beat Shafilea on the night of the alleged murder.

She went on to claim that she believed her husband murdered Shafilea but that she kept the secret because she was "scared".

The prosecution said her story was a lie, that it was simply a "panic" tactic after four weeks in jail and the realisation of what her future held.

The prosecution said Andrew Edis QC, prosecuting, told Farzana: "You knew you were going to have to stay and face the music. And that's why you decided to change the tune...because you could see that your husband's lies weren't getting you anywhere.

"So you decided to dump him and save yourself by telling some new lies which you hoped might be better than the old ones."

Sentencing both husband and wife to life in prison, Mr Justice Evans asked: ""What was it that brought you two, her parents, the people who had given her life, to the point of killing her?

"Shafilea was a determined, able and ambitious girl who wanted to live a life which was normal in the country and in the town in which you had chosen to live and bring up your children. However, you could not tolerate the life that Shafilea wanted to live.

"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.

"You wanted your family to live in Pakistan in Warrington.

"Although she went to local schools, you objected to her socialising with girls from what has been referred to as the white community.

"You objected to her wearing western clothes and you objected to her having contact with boys.

"She was being squeezed between two cultures, the culture and way of life that she saw around her and wanted to embrace, and the culture and way of life you wanted to impose on her."

Shafilea first came to the attention of the authorities when she was 10 - she went missing from school in March 1998.

Soon after this incident there was an escalation of problems in the home which appeared to stem from Shafilea's desire to live a westernised teenager's life.

Andrew Edis QC, prosecuting, said: "She was in direct conflict with the rules and conventions set down by her parents and dictated by their strict expectations of her."

In Year 11 teachers and friends reported that Shafilea would attend school crying, saying that her mother would slap her and throw a slipper at her.


Mevish Ahmed, sister of Shafilea Ahmed, arrives at Chester Crown Court

Shafilea went to extreme lengths to keep her western life secret, passing secret notes to boys and giving their telephone numbers to friends for safekeeping. But within three weeks of starting sixth form, Shafilea - a keen student - started showing long periods of absence.

In one phone call made to the family home Mr Ahmed told teacher Joanne Code that he had "burned all her textbooks".

Despite this, the social services file on Shafilea was closed on October 2002 after Shafilea played down her problems and said she did not want them to intervene.

Between November 2002 and January 2003 Shafilea told friends and teachers there was an increasing number of assaults, quit her job and ran away from home for 12 days in February 2003 with her boyfriend Mushtaq Bagas.

She told council officers she needed emergency accommodation as her parents were trying to force her into an arranged marriage.

But on February 10 she was snatched "screaming and terrified" from the street as she made her way to college by her father and later that month she was on a plane to Pakistan where she would end up drinking bleach in protest at the arrangement.


Farzana Ahmed leaving Chester Crown Court

She returned to the UK in May 2003 and spent eight weeks in Warrington Hospital because of the damage to her throat.

On September 11, after a period of relative calm when Shafilea had been back in touch with her old friends and was trying to rekindle the relationship with her former boyfriend, she was picked up from work by her mother.

Alesha said Shafilea's clothes had once again made her mother angry. When they got home they searched her bag and found money which they accused the 17-year-old of hiding.


Murdered teenager Shafilea Ahmed

Mr Edis told the jury that it was when Shafilea's parents realised they had "failed to crush her" that they decided to kill her and stop her bringing further shame on the family name.

The "tiny and weak" Shafilea was pushed on to the settee.

Mrs Ahmed said to her husband in Punjabi: "Etay khatam kar saro" (Just finish it here).

They beat her and then stuffed a thin white plastic bag into her mouth and held their hands over her mouth and nose until she wet herself and "was gone".

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.

Speaking after the verdicts, Shafilea's close friend, Melissa Powner, said: "We have waited for this day for many years.

"We have watched as her killers roamed free.

"Shafilea was a caring, high-spirited and brave young lady - who, even in her toughest times, always strived to remain positive and hopeful that one day she too would be able to live the peaceful and happy life that she deserved.

"Shafilea was an amazing friend, who, no matter what her own situation was, would always strive to look out for others - a quality that we truly miss.

"Shafilea was an extremely intelligent young lady who we have no doubt would have accomplished her personal ambitions of becoming a lawyer - yet this opportunity was unfairly snatched away from her when her life was ruthlessly taken for reasons we cannot even begin to comprehend, reasons that, still, other young girls like Shafilea have to face on a daily basis behind closed doors."


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