A Muslim teenager found dead in a river after fleeing an arranged marriage had suffered years of beatings from her parents, an inquest heard today.
Shafilea Ahmed, 17, vanished in September 2003 and her body was found five months later in the River Kent near Sedgwick in Cumbria.
She had been beaten by her mother and father, who also stole her £2,000 savings, and had fled her home in fear of being forced into an arranged marriage and left to live in Pakistan, the inquest into her death was told.
Shafilea, from Warrington, Cheshire, was a bright and intelligent young woman who wanted to go to university and become a lawyer, the hearing was told.
But she was “torn” between her ambitions and her family and religion, the inquest at the County Hall, in Kendal, Cumbria was told.
During a trip to Pakistan in the year before her disappearance, she drank a caustic substance, possibly bleach, after being introduced to one possible suitor, the hearing has heard.
But three months after returning to the UK she vanished.
Shafilea was most likely strangled or suffocated, according to pathologists who examined her badly decomposed body.
No one has ever been charged over her death and her mother and father, Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed, both strongly deny any involvement in her disappearance.
But homelessness officer Anne-Marie Woods said when the youngster came for an interview to get her own flat she claimed to have suffered abuse from her parents.
“Shafilea said she had been staying with friends and she had nowhere to live and she was fleeing domestic violence and an arranged marriage that her parents had arranged for her,” Ms Woods said.
“She said there had been an escalation of violence since she was 15/16 and that one parent would hold her down and the other would hit her,” she told the hearing.
Ms Woods read from a statement Shafilea made in her application for council accommodation.
It said: “Over the past few years I’ve been experiencing domestic violence by my parents.
“I had saved £2,000 which they took out of my bank account.
“My parents are going to send me to Pakistan and I’ll be married to someone and left there.
“There had been a build-up of violence towards me, and my mother told me I was about to go to Pakistan for an arranged marriage.
“My mother had started to pack and my parents had been in to school to inform them we were going to Pakistan.”
Coroner Ian Smith asked Ms Woods if Shafilea was genuine.
“She wasn’t being a drama queen,” she replied. “She came across as a shy, quiet girl.
She came across as being genuinely frightened of this impending arranged marriage.”
The teenager turned down a place at a refuge for Asian women in Liverpool because she did not want to disrupt her education in Warrington, but was given emergency accommodation in a hotel and told a flat would be available on February 10 2003. Instead she chose to return home, the hearing was told.
Ms Woods added: “She had returned to her parents after they had agreed not to take her to Pakistan.”
Retired police officer Brian Monaghan told the inquest he visited the Ahmeds’ family home with a view to buy on the day Shafilea was reported missing by a former schoolteacher.
He asked Mr Ahmed why they were moving.
“He looked towards his wife and they spoke in what I assume was their native language,” Mr Monaghan said.
“He then responded to me and said that his daughter had been seeing a young boy and there was some fall-out with the family over it and as such they intended to move back to an area where they had previously lived, which, if my memory serves me, is the Accrington area.
“He said that she, being his daughter, had been mixing with the wrong people and they had got into some trouble and brought shame upon the family. They were the terms he used.”
Melissa Powner, a school friend of Shafilea’s, told the inquest her friend liked wearing trendy clothes, was very clever, always laughing, and loved her family.
She also said Shafilea was unable to socialise much with her friends and had to hide her friendships with boys from her parents.
Miss Powner said Shafilea told her that her own sister had warned her to “go away, they’re going to get you married off”.
After Shafilea ran away from home in February 2003 her father turned up at school to take the “petrified” teenager home.