THE PARENTS of a Muslim teenager suffocated her in front of one of their other daughters and later disposed of her body beside a Cumbrian river, a court has heard.
Shafilea Ahmed, 16, was allegedly murdered at her home in Warrington, Cheshire, because her parents felt her increasingly Western ways, and her rejection of an arranged marriage, had brought shame on the family.
Her younger sister, Alesha, was 15 when she claimed she witnessed the killing on the night in September, 2003, that Shafilea disappeared.
She initially told friends that her father, Iftikhar Ahmed, had murdered her sister and “chopped up” her body.
But she later retracted the claim and kept silent for the next seven years.
Then, in August 2010, she finally gave detectives a detailed account of the murder and her parents’ subsequent efforts to conceal the body.
Iftikhar Ahmed, 52, and Farzana, 49, both of whom were born in the same village in Pakistan, now deny murder.
Andrew Edis, QC, prosecuting, told a jury at Chester Crown Court: “Alesha describes what is an act of suffocation by her parents, acting together – a carrier bag forced into her mouth and then hands over her face to close her airways so she could not breath.
“She gives a description of what she saw, about what effect that had on her sister. She will tell you about that, and you will also be able to hear what a pathologist says you might expect to see in a death by suffocation.
“She then describes how there was activity in the house that night to do with the body. She talks about looking into the kitchen and seeing her mother sorting through a pile of blankets and sheets.
“She saw a roll of black bin bags and two rolls of tape – wide brown tape and some black tape.
“After that had happened she looked out of the window and saw her father with a large object wrapped in bin bags with brown tape wrapped around it. She assumed that was the body of her sister.
“A little later, still only about 10pm, she heard a car driving off. Her father was driving, her mother staying behind.”
Alesha, now 23, was unable to say whether her father was driving his taxi, a white Nissan emblazoned with the name “Warrington”, or his wife’s Toyota Carina.
Police later examined both vehicles but found no evidence that a body had been carried in either. There were no traces of blood, just as there was no blood found in the clothes wrapped around the body when it was found in the Lake District.
Mr Edis suggested that the body was transferred to a white van before being dumped on a riverbank close to the M6.
He asked the jury to consider Alesha’s evidence in the context of the growing conflict between her sister and parents, the injuries Shafilia told friends she had suffered at their hands, the way she was flown out to Pakistan shortly after being “recaptured” by her father, and the way she swallowed bleach while at her grandparents’ home in Pakistan.
He also asked them to consider a question put by Joanne Code, one of Shafilea’s teachers, when she rang the family home about her continuing absence from school.
After a conversation with Iftikhar Ahmed, Mrs Code insisted on speaking to the teenager herself.
She asked: Do I need to be worried about you?”
Shafilia replied: “Yes”.
Mr Edis said Alesha gave her “bombshell” account in August, 2010, a few days after being arrested over a robbery at her parents’ home.
She had pleaded guilty to robbery and was awaiting sentence. However, Mr Edis emphasised that she had received neither promises nor any inducements in relation to the evidence she would give.
He suggested she was either telling the truth or had concocted “a wicked lie” made up to help herself.
Mr Edis said that while at 15 Alesha had referred to Shafilea’s body being “chopped up”, she now accepted she had no knowledge of what happened to it from her own observations.
“Who knows what she might have been told what happened to the body,” said Mr Edis.
“If she is telling the truth her parents would be very keen that she be silent and tell no one.
“So you can imagine the things they might have said to her, such as `The same thing will happen to you if you don’t keep quiet`”
In conversations recorded by a listening device the Ahmeds are heard discussing whether police might have been able to check whether they had gone on a particular journey.
At one point Farzana Ahmed tells her husband: “Who knows, they might have a mileage-checking system”.
Later, she asks him about the possibility of saliva being found in one of the cars.
He replies: “Even if there is saliva, it’s not as if she didn’t sit in the car.”
The couple have another conversation “about how you can get away with murder by getting the support of the newspapers”.
Mr Ahmed tells his wife: “Those are the ones who can save you, but they’re also the ones who can put you inside”.
Later, he says: “Here everything works on proof. Without any proof…they can’t do anything to you”.