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Parents found guilty of murder
Shafilea Ahmed's parents, Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed have today been found guilty of murdering their daughter at their home in Warrington, in 2003.
Shafilea Ahmed disappeared from her home in Warrington on 11 September 2003, and had been missing for a week before her teachers informed the police. That sparked a major police seach for the seventeen year old, including a media appeal for information. Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati fronted the campaign, and read poems believed to be written by Shafilea on television. One of them was titled, 'I feel trapped.'
In the early stages of the investigation police began investigating the possibility of whether Shafilea had been the victim of an 'honour killing. Her parents Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed were arrested on suspicion of kidnapping their daughter, however, the CPS decided there was not enough evidence for any charges to be brought.
On the 4th February 2004, Shafilea's body was found in the River Kent near Sedgwick, Cumbria. A gold "zigzag" bracelet and blue topaz ring found with the body were identified by her parents. Due to the decomposition of the body two post mortem examinations failed to determine how the teenager died.
The missing person inquiry turned into a murder investigation. Shafilea's parent's were arrested, along with five members of her extended family, but later released without charge.
In January 2008, the coroner's inquest into Shafilea's death determined that Shafilea was the victim of a "very vile murder". The verdict was unlawful killing.
The inquest heard Shafilea, the eldest of five children, suffered years of domestic abuse at the hands of her parents, Iftikhar and Farzana, and was frightened at the prospect of being forced into an arranged marriage.
She was left torn between two cultures - although she wore western clothes, had a boyfriend and wanted to be a solicitor, she also loved and respected her family. In January 2003, she ran away from home after being told that she was being taken to Pakistan to meet a prospective husband.
She was coaxed back on the promise she would not have to go, but the trip went ahead. She returned in May, refusing to take part in any wedding and four months later disappeared from her home in Warrington.
After to the inquest Shafilea's parents attempted unsuccessfully to have the verdict of unlawful killing overturned and replaced by an open verdict. Iftikhar Ahmed argued that the coroner's view was 'biased'.
In August 2010 police had a major breakthrough following a serious robbery at the family home in Liverpool Road, Warrington.
Three men entered the house and tied everyone up, apart from Shafilea's younger sister, Alesha. She was arrested and admitted her part in the robbery. During questioning, Alesha claimed she had witnessed her parents suffocating Shafilea on the 11th September 2003, the night she disappeared.
Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed were arrested and charged with murder, which they both denied.
During the subsequent trial, a court heard Shafilea Ahmed drank bleach during a family trip to Pakistan after her mother told her she would not be returning to the UK. Giving evidence, Alesha Ahmed said her elder sister was given marriage proposals while in Pakistan. Speaking from behind a curtain, Alesha told the court that during the trip her sister thought she would be kept there and had been unhappy.
She said: "My mum made a remark to Shafilea which I think was what triggered her into drinking bleach. "She told Shafilea she would be staying in Pakistan and wouldn't be going back. "It was done in a humorous way but obviously it was very serious as other people were present." She added, "Shafilea went to the bathroom. Everyone just heard her screaming and shouting."
The court then heard that everyone ran outside where Shafilea was holding her stomach and there was a bottle of bleach on the floor with the lid still off.
Shafilea was brought back to the UK for treatment at Warrington hospital.
Giving evidence at Chester Crown Court, Alesha Ahmed told police she watched her parents suffocate her sister to death by forcing a plastic bag into her mouth so she could not breathe and placing their hands over her face. She claims she saw her sister struggling to breathe, her eyes were bulging, Alesha then claimed she saw her sister wet herself.
She said that later that night she saw her father with a large object wrapped in binbags and brown tape – which she assumed was Shafilea – and which he drove off with in a car.
The prosecution told the jury a covert listening device was placed in the Ahmeds' house and the couple were recorded discussing evidence and talking about using the press to get away with murder.
Iftikhar Ahmed was heard to say: "What are they going to find in the car?" and Farzana heard "discussing about bodily fluids and said, 'No, and even if they find saliva in the car, it's not as if she didn't sit in the car.'"
Iftikhar Ahmed was said to be recorded saying: "By getting the support of newspapers you can get away with murder."
Mother changes defence
During the trial Farzana Ahmed, changed her defence, accusing her husband Iftikhar of attacking Shafilea but says he acted alone.
The court heard Farzana Ahmed had admitted that an "incident of violence" did occur towards her daughter in the family home on 11 September 2003 – a claim she had previously denied.
The new statement alleged that she came downstairs to discover her husband, Iftikhar, attacking Shafilea. She claimed she tried to intervene but was "punched". It said she went upstairs with the other children as she was scared, and when she went back downstairs 20 minutes later, Shafilea and her husband were gone.
Jury sent out
On 1st August 2010 the jury was sent out to consider its verdict after 10 weeks of evidence. Judge Mr Justice Roderick Evans urged the jury to rely on common sense when reaching its verdict.