When Shafilea Ahmed, 17, was found dead, police suspected her mum and dad were the killers. Nine years later they proved it.
At 17, Shafilea Ahmed found herself torn between two cultures. She was ambitious, wanted to go to university, forge a successful law career, wear western clothes and pick her own boyfriend. But her parents, Iftikhar and Farzana, were a conservative Pakistani couple who wanted her to have an arranged marriage and become a devoted wife.
Then, in September 2003, Shafilea went missing from her home in Warrington, Cheshire. Her parents didn’t report it. A concerned teacher raised the alarm a week later after overhearing Shafilea’s younger siblings discussing her disappearance. The Ahmeds claimed she’d run away. But six months on, in February 2004, Shafilea’s decomposing remains were found by the river Kent in Cumbria.
A pathologist couldn’t establish a cause of death, but a verdict of unlawful killing was found at an inquest in 2008. Police were convinced Shafilea had been murdered by her parents in an ‘honour killing’, even bugging their home for evidence. They remained suspects for nine years, with Shafilea’s murder going unsolved.
Eventually, in August 2010, Shafilea’s youngest sister confessed she’d seen her parents kill her sister. In 2012, Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed went on trial for murder at Chester Crown Court. The prosecution’s case was that they murdered their daughter for bringing shame on the family. In court it emerged that Shafilea had suffered years of violence and suffering at the hands of her parents.
In 2003, after Shafilea had run away, they sent her on a flight to Pakistan, to be married to a man ten years older. While she was there she deliberately swallowed bleach, injuring herself so she could return home and escape the proposed marriage. Back home in Warrington, Shafilea was often locked in her room and starved.
In court, Shafilea’s sister testified that she’d seen her parents push Shafilea on the sofa and heard her mother say ‘just finish it here’. They then forced a plastic bag into her mouth, suffocating her, before her father carried Shafilea’s body to the car wrapped in a blanket.
Iftikhar and Farzana were both convicted of murder and jailed for life, to serve a minimum of 25 years, with the judge telling them: ‘Your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than the love of your child.’