Murder of Shafilea Ahmed
|Born||Shafilea Iftikhar Ahmed
14 July 1986
Bradford, Yorkshire, England
|Died||11 September 2003
Warrington, Cheshire, England
Cause of death
|Known for||Murder victim|
|Parents||Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed|
Shafilea Iftikhar Ahmed (14 July 1986 – 11 September 2003) was a 17-year-old British Pakistani girl from Great Sankey, Warrington, Cheshire, who was murdered by her parents Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed. They were imprisoned for life in 2012. The possibility of others having helped them to dispose of her body was raised; after the trial the chief executive of Bradford Council for Mosques encouraged anybody knowing about the case to come forward, and said his group would help police.
Shafilea Ahmed was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, to Pakistani parents, and attended Great Sankey High School. A student who wanted to become a solicitor, Ahmed swallowed bleach during a trip to Pakistan in 2003, in what was later reported to be a suicide attempt. Her father claimed that she had drunk it during a power cut, thinking it was a bottle of fruit juice. According to a wide range of media reports after her disappearance, Shafilea had turned down a suitor in an arranged marriage during the trip, though her parents denied any attempts to pressure her into agreeing to the marriage.
Police then learned that shortly before her disappearance Shafilea had travelled to Pakistan where she rejected an arranged marriage partner and had swallowed bleach, badly scarring her throat—an injury which required constant medical attention when she returned home.
Shafilea disappeared on 11 September 2003, and had been missing for a week before her teachers informed the police. Subsequently, there was a major campaign to urge people who had any information to come forward. Actress Shobna Gulati was persuaded to front the media campaign, and read some of her poems on television.
"A nationwide hunt was launched but when Shafilea failed to seek treatment for her damaged throat detectives became convinced she had been murdered – possibly in an "honour killing" connected with her rejection of her Pakistani suitor." Supt Geraint Jones told the Mirror: "Her family say a suitor had been found for her in Pakistan but she was free to make her own decisions." Soon after, the police started to suspect the girl's parents after placing a listening device in the family's house and witnessing the parents warn their children "not to say anything" at school.
In February 2004, Ahmed's corpse was found in the River Kent near Sedgwick, Cumbria, in proximity to Kendal in the Lake District, 70 miles (110 km) away from Warrington. After heavy flooding in the area, police said the corpse was deliberately hidden; a gold "zigzag" bracelet and blue topaz ring found with the body were identified by her parents. Due to decomposition, the cause of death could not be determined by the coroner (Home Office pathologist Alison Armer) at post mortem, leaving the police to believe that it had probably been there since the day she disappeared or not long after. Shafilea's body was also found to have been dismembered (a femur was found). Detective Sergeant Mike Foster stated at a hearing, "The pathologist could not determine the cause of death, but did say the body was that of a young female. Obviously, because of the condition of the body, she was unable to give any further findings."
A second post mortem was ordered by South Lakeland Coroner Cyril Prickett, but failed to add anything further.
Inspector Mike Forrester of Cumbria Constabulary at an inquest hearing stated "It was unclear whether all of Shafilea's body parts had been found." He went on to state that "DNA tests on the right thigh bone of the body found on the east bank of the River Kent made it a one in a billion chance that the remains were those of anyone other than Shafilea." The lower jaw of the body found was also shown to Shafilea's dentist, who said he was 90% sure that it was hers after examining dental work that had been carried out on it.
Shafilea's parents, Iftikhar Ahmed, a taxi driver, and Farzana Ahmed, were released without charge after briefly having been arrested along with five other members of her extended family.
There were several poems written by Shafilea that interested the police in their investigations, notably "I Feel Trapped". The poem is said to reflect Shafilea's utter despair and emotional state, describing a hopeless life, a family that ignored her, and that she had run away from home several times in the past due to tensions with her family.
"She has been reported missing twice before and been found staying with friends," said a neighbour, Sheila Costello. "We heard they had an argument over an arranged marriage and that Shafi had run away. I hope nothing terrible has happened to her."
Cheshire Constabulary investigated the murder of Shafilea, and after three years had not established a suspect, although eight members of her extended family were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in relation to the case, but proceedings against them were later dropped. It was later reported that an unidentified human hair not from members of her immediate family was found on Shafilea’s foot. There is still confusion regarding the exact events of the trip she made to Pakistan.
Inquest into death
In January 2008, the coroner's inquest held that Shafilea was the victim of a "very vile murder", having been taken from her home; the verdict was unlawful killing. Shafilea's family left the inquest without making any comment.
After 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'.
Trial and imprisonment of parents
Ahmed's younger sister Alesha arranged a robbery that took place at her parents' house on 25 August 2010 during which she, her brother, sisters, and parents were in the house. She was arrested and told police that her parents had killed Shafilea. She told them that after trying to force the girl to accept the arranged marriage they were afraid her refusal would bring shame on the family. Her father put a plastic bag into her mouth and suffocated her to death. "Alesha, [aged 15 at that time] then saw their mother in the kitchen 'sorting through a pile of blankets and sheets' and holding a roll of black bin bags and two rolls of tape, the jury was told. 'After that had happened she looked out the window and saw her father with a large object wrapped in bin bags with brown tape around it.' Shortly afterwards, she saw her father leaving in a car with Shafilea's body – she assumed – inside."
On 7 September 2011, Cheshire Police announced that Shafilea's parents, Iftikhar Ahmed, 51, and Farzana Ahmed, 48, of Liverpool Road, Warrington, had been charged with her murder. Their trial began in May 2012, and on 3 August 2012 they were both found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 25 years.
After the trial police were said to be looking into the possibility that Shafilea's parents may have had help when they dumped her body in 2003, and that they were looking into new information revealed during the trial. In August 2012 the chief executive of Bradford Council for Mosques encouraged anybody knowing about the case to come forward, and said his group would help police.
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- Carter, Helen (7 September 2011). "Parents charged over suspected 'honour' killing". The Guardian (London).
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- Guardian newspaper: Shafilea Ahmed's parents jailed for her murder, 3 August 2012