A teenager was killed by her Pakistan-born parents because they believed her Westernised lifestyle had brought shame on the family, a court heard yesterday.
Nine years after their daughter Shafilea vanished, Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed have gone on trial accused of murder.
The court heard that police made a breakthrough in the case when Shafilea’s sister told them she saw them kill the 17-year-old.
Shafilea had wanted to go to university to study law and have boyfriends like other girls her age, a jury was told.
But her parents are alleged to have resorted to violence in trying to force her to follow a traditional lifestyle, sending her to Pakistan for an arranged marriage.
There she swallowed bleach and was flown back to Britain for medical treatment.
She vanished from the family home in September 2003 just days after she enrolled at college and started a part-time job.
Her parents failed to report her missing, and the alarm was raised a week later by a teacher. Her decomposed body was found five months later in undergrowth on the banks of a river.
Andrew Edis, QC, prosecuting, said Shafilea had been ‘a thoroughly Westernised young British girl of Pakistani origin’ who was subjected to violence for refusing to conform to her parents’ expectations.
Accused of murder: Shafelia's mother Farzana Ahmed, left, and Iftikhar Ahmed, right, arriving at Chester Crown Court today
‘The defendants, having spent the best part of 12 months trying to crush her will, realised they were never going to be able to succeed and finally killed her because her conduct dishonoured the family, bringing shame on them,’ he added.
The eldest of five children, Shafilea was a keen student at her school in Warrington, Cheshire, and enjoyed trips to shopping centres and wearing Western clothes, Chester Crown Court was told.
‘In particular she wanted to have boyfriends – as most 16 and 17-year-old girls do,’ Mr Edis said.
‘That caused intense friction, stress and anger in this family. Her parents began to seek to control her.’
'Killing': Shafilea Ahmed's family home in Warrington, Cheshire
They would take away her mobile phone to stop her ringing boys and she complained that they stole money from her bank account.
Friends and teachers became concerned when she went to school with injuries that she said had been caused by her parents, Mr Edis added. Shafilea then began to run away from home.
'Domestic abuse': The victim suffered at the hands of her parents in the year before she died, it was claimed
In February 2003, she fled in the night and attempted to cut her ties with her parents entirely, only for her father to ‘abduct’ her in his taxi when he saw her walking to school, the prosecutor said.
Mr Edis said it was at that point that her parents put together a ‘hastily arranged’ plan to fly to Pakistan with Shafilea and persuade her into an arranged marriage with a cousin.
However while staying with her grandparents in rural Pakistan, she drank from a bottle of bleach, causing severe damage to her throat.
‘If it was not a suicide attempt, it was an act of desperation,’ Mr Edis said. ‘It put an end to the idea that she was going to get married and live in Pakistan.’
Shafilea flew home in May and spent the summer receiving regular hospital treatment before enrolling at sixth-form college to study A-levels while also working in telesales.
The court heard she resumed her Western lifestyle, bringing her into fresh conflict with her parents’ ‘concept of shame and honour’.
She was last seen alive on the evening of September 11 when her 49-year-old mother picked her up from work.
A week later, Mr Edis said, one of Shafilea’s teachers reported her missing after hearing that her sister Alesha had told friends her parents had killed her. But Alesha – then 15 – retracted her claim, and her parents insisted they did not know where Shafilea was.
Mr Edis said the family made no effort to find Shafilea and even put their home on sale.
One potential buyer was told by Mr Ahmed, 52, that they were moving because their daughter had ‘brought shame’ on the family.
Shafilea’s remains were found in February 2004 near Sedgwick in Cumbria, close to where the M6 leads north from Warrington.
Mr Edis said analysis of the scene showed she had been dumped there shortly after going missing.
No more light was shed on her killing until two years ago when Alesha – then 22 – was arrested over a robbery at the family home. She later told police ‘she had witnessed the killing of her elder sister by her two parents, both of them acting together’, Mr Edis said.
In the dock: Iftikhar Ahmed and his wife Farazna leaving Chester courts after the start of their murder trial
Accused: Iftikhar Ahmed, left, and Farzana Ahmed, right, are said to have killed their 17-year-old daughter because she refused to obey them
Witness: Alesha Ahmed kept quiet for seven years and only told police when she was arrested over a robbery
‘Her evidence was the final piece of the puzzle which the police had been trying to solve for many years with careful and thorough inquiries.’
The jury was told officers bugged the Ahmeds’ home and recorded them discussing the possibility that they were under surveillance.
At one point Mrs Ahmed was taped warning 13-year-old Junyade to keep quiet and not talk about events to anyone, he added.
She said: ‘If the slightest thing comes out of your mouth, for all of our lives we will be stuck in real trouble. You will not find your mum or dad.
‘Remember that – they take people away.’ Searches also found song lyrics written by Shafilea about her predicament. In one, entitled Happy Families, she wrote: ‘All they think about is honour ... I jus’ wanted to fit in, but my culture was different.’
The jury heard that Mr Ahmed had been married in Denmark and had a son, but had been instructed by an uncle to marry Farzana.
Mr Edis said his acceptance that he had to do his ‘duty’ in this case could suggest that he would expect his daughter ‘would likewise do as she was told’ when a husband was found for her.
Dressed in a brown headscarf, Mrs Ahmed sat next to a translator interpreting into Punjabi for her. Her husband was seated on the other side of the interpreter.
The couple both deny murder and the case continues.