UK & World News
Parents Jailed For Life For Shafilea Murder
The parents of schoolgirl Shafilea Ahmed have been jailed for life for the murder of their daughter in an apparent "honour killing".
Iftikhar Ahmed, 52, and his wife Farzana, 49, suffocated Shafilea, 17, with a plastic bag in 2003.
Shafilea's sister Alesha told the jury at Chester Crown Court her parents pushed Shafilea onto the settee in their house and she heard her mother say "just finish it here" as they forced a plastic bag into the teenager's mouth and killed her in front of their other children.
The couple must serve a minimum of 25 years each.
The seven men and five women of the jury returned two unanimous verdicts after deliberating for around 11 hours at the end of a 10-week trial.
Trial judge Mr Justice Roderick Evans told them: "Your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than the love of your child.
"Shafilea was in a vulnerable condition when you killed her. She was still weak from the effects of the ingestion of bleach which she had taken to try to avoid what you had planned.
"A truly horrifying feature of this case is that you killed Shafilea in the presence of your other four children."
Iftikhar Ahmed stood impassively as the verdicts were given. Mrs Ahmed wiped tears from her eyes with a tissue.
Their other children Junyad, Mevish and the youngest, who cannot be named for legal reasons, all broke down in tears.
In a press conference following the sentencing, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said the verdicts were "testament to the courage and fortitude of Alesha Ahmed".
Cheshire Police described the killing as a "vile and disgraceful act".
Speaking after the verdicts, Shafilea's close friend, Melissa Powner, read a statement to the media in which she paid tribute to the teenager and spoke about the pain of having to watch as the killers roamed free.
The court had been told the Ahmeds had tried to control Shafilea and when they failed they crushed her.
The teenager had dreamt of becoming a lawyer. In public her parents described her as "beautiful and beloved" but at their home in Cheshire they bullied and abused her.
As she grew up, Shafilea tried to maintain a social life with friends from outside her community.
She refused to conform to her parent's traditional values. It infuriated them when she tried to make contact with boyfriends or dyed her hair.
They hated the fact that she would occasionally wear stiletto heels.
In February 2003 Shafilea was taken to Pakistan where her parents tried to force her into marriage - something they always denied.
But during her stay Shafilea collapsed after drinking bleach, severely burning her throat.
Police say the marriage fell through, bringing shame on the family, according to their culture.
At her parents' trial, prosecution barrister Andrew Edis QC said: "Swallowing bleach is the act of a person who has been reduced to such a level of desperation that self-destruction seems better than life. That tells you a lot about what that person thought life will hold."
After the Ahmeds returned to the UK tension rose and on September 11, 2003, Shafilea went missing.
Despite a thorough search locally and several public appeals there were few clues as to the girl's whereabouts. But from the beginning police suspected her parents and the family home was bugged.
They heard the parents fretting about DNA, swearing about police officers and coaching their children about what to say regarding Shafilea's disappearance. But it was not enough to secure a conviction.
Then, on the morning of February 4, 2004, five months after Shafilea had gone missing, a workman discovered her remains in undergrowth on the banks of the River Kent in Cumbria.
By this stage detectives had gathered a lot of evidence but as time passed the investigation seemed to stall. They were still missing the breakthrough that would prove beyond doubt that the girl's parents were responsible.
That breakthrough finally came more than six years later when Shafilea's sister Alesha helped plan a robbery at her own family home in August 2010.
During a police interview she said that she had witnessed the murder seven years earlier when she was just 15.
She described in court how her mother Farzana had held Shafilea down on a settee and together with Iftikhar had pushed a plastic bag into her mouth until she stopped breathing.
Although Alesha told the jury she had seen everything, she was contradicted by another sister Mevish. On oath, she denied knowing anything about the killing and said that contrary to Alesha's account the family had assumed that Shafilea had run away from home, as she had done in the past.
On seeing media coverage of the trial Mevish's friend Shahin Munir came forward with a very different story and the prosecution wasted no time in putting her before the trial jury. She told them that Mevish had sent letters to her in 2008 outlining the details of the killing.
Then came a further headache for Iftikhar Ahmed's defence team. Eight weeks into the trial his wife changed her story saying that, contrary to what she had told police in earlier interviews, she had seen him attacking Shafilea on the night she went missing.
She continued to deny that she had any involvement telling the court that when she tried to intervene she was "punched with a clenched fist" before going upstairs with the other children because she was scared.