Murder of Shafilea Ahmed
Shafilea Iftikhar Ahmed
14 July 1986
Bradford, Yorkshire, England
|Died||11 September 2003 (aged 17)|
|Cause of death||Homicide by suffocation|
|Body discovered||Sedgwick, Cumbria|
|Resting place||Fox Covert Cemetery, Cheshire|
|Education||Great Sankey High School, Priestly College|
|Occupation||(at time of death) Student at Priestly College and part-time worker at a call centre|
|Known for||Honour killing victim|
|Parent(s)||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 in a suspected honour killing in September 2003, due to their daughter being too Westernised.
Her parents, Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed, were each subsequently imprisoned for a minimum of 25 years for their daughter's murder in August 2012.
The possibility of other individuals having helped Shafilea's parents to dispose of their daughter's body has been raised; after the parents' trial, the Chief Executive of the Bradford Council for Mosques encouraged anybody with information about the case to come forward with information to assist police.
Shafilea Ahmed was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, to Pakistan born parents. Her family, of the Sunni branch of Islam and Punjabi native speakers, originated from the village of Uttam in Gujrat District. She resided in the Great Sankey community in Warrington.
She attended Great Sankey High School, including its sixth form centre Barrowhead College; and from 3 September 2003, Priestley College. She was an A-Level student who had hoped to become a solicitor. During a trip to Pakistan earlier in 2003, Shafilea swallowed bleach in what was later reported to be a suicide attempt. Her father claimed, however, that this instance had been a simple mistake: he contested she had drunk this solution during the occurrence of a power cut, thinking it was a bottle of fruit juice. Shafilea suffered extensive damage to her throat for which she was having regular ongoing care at the time of her disappearance. According to media reports, Shafilea had turned down a suitor in a forced marriage during this trip, although her parents denied there being any attempts made to pressure her into agreeing to the prospective marriage.
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 fronted 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."
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 the extensive decomposition of her remains, 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. A friend of Shafilea's named Sarah Bennett would later recollect that, on one occasion, Shafilea had been branded a "slut" by her mother for simply choosing to dye her hair and wear false nails.
"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/forced 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.
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. Evans stated "an expectation that she live in a sealed cultural environment separate from the culture of the country in which she lived was unrealistic, destructive and cruel."
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.
In 2015 a memorial ceremony began to be held on each birthday for Shafilea.
Honour killings in the United Kingdom:
- Rania Alayed
- Banaz Mahmod
- Samaira Nazir
- The killing of Surjit Athwal was planned in the UK and done in India
Honour killings of people of Pakistani heritage outside of Pakistan and outside of the UK
- Sandeela Kanwal (United States)
- Gazala Khan (Denmark)
- Aqsa Parvez (Canada)
- Hina Saleem (Italy)
- Sadia Sheikh (Belgium)
See also: Honour killing in Pakistan
Cited works and further reading
- Julios, Christina (2016). Forced Marriage and 'Honour' Killings in Britain: Private Lives, Community Crimes and Public Policy Perspectives. London: Routledge. ISBN 1-317-13417-6.
- Rose, Jacqueline (2014). Women in Dark Times. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. ISBN 978-1-408-84540-0.
- Gill, Aisha K. (2014). "'All they think about is honour': The Murder of Shafilea Ahmed". In Gill, Aisha K.; Carolyn Strange; Karl Roberts (eds.). ‘Honour’ Killing and Violence: Theory, Policy and Practice. London: Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.1057/9781137289568. ISBN 978-1-137-28956-8. - Print ISBN 978-1-137-28955-1 - PDF preview of chapter
-  Archived 6 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine
- "BBC News – Shafilea Ahmed murder trial: Parents guilty of killing". BBC. 3 August 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- "Parents of Shafilea Ahmed Sentenced to 25-years After Being Found Guilty of Her 'Honour' Killing". The Telegraph. 3 August 2012. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
- Telegraph & Argus: Bradford Council for Mosques pledges to support police as Shafilea Ahmed inquiries continue, 8 August 2012
- Carter, Helen (3 August 2012). "Shafilea Ahmed's tragic history of violence". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
- Carter, Helen (3 August 2012). "Shafilea Ahmed's life and death – timeline". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
- "Pals pay tribute to Shafilea". Manchester Evening News. 17 April 2010. Retrieved 27 December 2019.
- Julios, Christina. Forced Marriage and 'Honour' Killings in Britain: Private Lives, Community Crimes and Public Policy Perspectives. Routledge, 9 March 2016. ISBN 1317134168, 9781317134169. p. 1917.
- "Shafilea murder: Released parents want truth". Asian News. 22 February 2006. Archived from the original on 12 March 2007. Retrieved 12 January 2008.
- "A Father's Tears As Shafilea Laid To Rest". Asian News. 4 May 2004. Archived from the original on 5 May 2013. Retrieved 12 January 2008.
- Disley, Jan (20 November 2003). "Fears Grow For Arranged Marriage Girl". Daily Mirror. Archived from the original on 13 October 2007. Retrieved 12 January 2008.
-  Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
- "Parkin: No excuses | The Asian News – menmedia.co.uk". The Asian News. 12 December 2005. Archived from the original on 12 March 2007. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
- "Shafilea Ahmed's poems reveal secret torment", by BBC, date = 3 August 2012
- "Shafilea Ahmed's Tragic History of Violence". The Guardian. 3 August 2012. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
- KILLED?; ..the 17-year-old girl who refused to accept an arranged marriage by The Free library
- "UK | Shafelia family's bail cancelled". BBC News. 7 February 2006. Retrieved 19 December 2011. [sic]
- "Marriage fear teenager 'murdered'". BBC. 11 January 2008. Retrieved 12 January 2008.
- Shafilea Ahmed's sister talks of 'relief'
- Shafilea Ahmed's parents abused her daily, sister tells court
- "BBC News – Shafilea Ahmed case: 'Sister saw parents commit murder'". BBC. 21 May 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- Carter, Helen (7 September 2011). "Parents charged over suspected 'honour' killing". The Guardian. London.
- Carter, Helen (27 September 2011). "'Honour killing' victim's parents in court on murder charge". The Guardian. London.
- Guardian newspaper: Shafilea Ahmed's parents jailed for her murder, 3 August 2012