A Muslim girl who had refused her family’s wish to have an arranged marriage was murdered, a coroner ruled yesterday.
Shafilea Ahmed was introduced to a potential husband by her parents, but refused to go ahead with any wedding and drank bleach in protest, the inquest into her death heard.
The 17-year-old, who claimed she had been abused by her mother and father, then disappeared. Five months later her decomposing body was found by a river.
There is no suggestion that any of her family were involved in her death. However, in an unusual move, Ian Smith, the east and south Cumbria coroner, told the inquest in Kendal yesterday: “Shafilea was the victim of a very vile murder.”
She had “not had justice”, he added. Mr Smith, who recorded a verdict of unlawful killing, said: “Her ambition was to live her own life in her own way. To study, to follow a career in the law and to do what she wanted to do.
“These are just basic fundamental rights and they were denied to her. I sincerely hope in the future, inquiries will be carried out by the police and they will one day discover who did it.” Mr Smith questioned the integrity of the evidence given by Miss Ahmed’s grandfather, Mian Khan, and asked whether he was “covering up” something “sinister to protect his family”.
Police later said that they did not believe Mr Khan was Shafilea’s grandfather. Supt Geraint Jones, the senior investigating officer, said: “From our inquiries we’re able to establish a family tree that isn’t quite accurate. I believe Mian Khan is her uncle.”
Mr Smith also attacked Shafilea’s mother for accusing the police of not doing enough to find her daughter. “It must be remarked that the disappearance of Shafilea was reported to the police by Joanne Code (a former school teacher), not by the family,” he said.
“I think the police had put thousands and thousands of hours into this inquiry and I think they’ve not always had the total co-operation from the wider family that they might have had.”
The inquest heard that Miss Ahmed, the eldest of five children, suffered years of domestic abuse at the hands of her parents, Iftikhar and Farzana, and was frightened at the prospect of being forced into an arranged marriage.
She was left torn between two cultures – although she wore western clothes, had a boyfriend and wanted to be a solicitor, she also loved and respected her family. In January 2003, she ran away from home after being told that she was being taken to Pakistan to meet a prospective husband.
She was coaxed back on the promise she would not have to go, but the trip went ahead and she was introduced to a suitor. She returned in May, refusing to take part in any wedding and four months later disappeared from her home in Warrington, Cheshire. Her body was found washed up on a riverbank at Sedgwick, near Kendal, in February 2004. It is believed that she had been strangled or smothered.
Her parents were arrested on suspicion of kidnap, and other members of her family were arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice. All were released without charge and have denied any involvement in Miss Ahmed’s death. Mr Smith said that the concept of an arranged marriage was central to the circumstances leading up to her death.
“She did not want to be married, full stop, at this point,” he said. “She wanted to forge ahead with a career, she did not want to stop her studies and she did not want to live abroad. Rightly or wrongly, she feared all these things might happen.”
Cheshire police, who accused the family of refusing to co-operate early in the murder investigation, said central to their inquiry was her home life and the question of the arranged marriage.
Supt Jones said that the investigation would continue until someone was brought to justice. After the hearing, Shafilea’s parents said that they will challenge the coroner’s verdict.
Their solicitor, Nadeem Ullah, said: “The Ahmeds disagree with the decision of the coroner’s court and they are currently receiving advice regards appealing the decision of the coroner by judicial review.”