Brutalised wife appeals against murder verdict: Kiranjit Ahluwalia, given a life sentence for killing her husband, will today ask the Court of Appeal to reduce the conviction to manslaughter. Heather Mills reports

NO ONE was surprised the night the emergency services were called to the Ahluwalia household. What shocked the family was that it was Deepak who had suffered fatal injuries and not his wife Kiranjit. For they knew Mr Ahluwalia regularly beat and abused his wife. They had seen the bruises and scars.

She had gone to them for help, begging to be allowed a divorce. But in her Asian community, divorce brings shame and dishonour.

On the night she finally retaliated, he had threatened to burn her face with an iron. According to Mrs Ahluwalia, this attack was no more vicious than many others. He had once pulled her by the hair into the back of their car, held a screwdriver to her eyes, threatening to gouge them out. 'Pray to your God and father,' he told her.

He had beaten her with the buckle end of belts, with the heels of shoes. He had ripped out handfuls of hair, broken her fingers, tried to run her over, and thrown her downstairs. He had often raped her.

Apart from his brief interludes of remorse this went on for the 10 years of their marriage - until she killed him. She had twice tried to kill herself. As he lay sleeping, Mrs Ahluwalia poured petrol on his feet. When he leapt from the bed, she set him alight. He died 10 days later.

Mrs Ahluwahlia said: 'It all became too much that night. I saw him sleeping and I thought 'how can he sleep when he has done this to me'?' I never meant to kill him. I just wanted to cause him pain, like he caused me. I never thought he would die.'

She is now serving a life sentence for murder in Bullwood Hall, Essex.

Mrs Ahluwalia was studying to become a solicitor in Canada when her family arranged the marriage to Deepak Ahluwalia in England. The violence started two days after their wedding when they moved into his family home in Crawley, West Sussex. 'It could be anything that triggered the violence,' she said. 'Maybe he didn't like the tea.'

Mrs Ahluwalia's case is the latest in a series of trials and appeals of women who have suffered years of physical and mental torture at the hands of a brutal spouse, before killing him. Some, like Mrs Ahluwalia and Sara Thornton, who stabbed her husband, end up serving life sentences - others like Pamela Sainsbury, who strangled and cut up hers, walk free with the sympathy of the court.

People who kill can claim self- defence, provocation and diminished responsibility in defence. For women who kill brutal husbands, all three defences have been problematical. Mrs Ahluwalia's lawyers will argue that the judge at her 1989 trial misdirected the jury over provocation. They have the reports of five psychiatrists who support her provocation claim - and a second ground of appeal, diminished responsiblity.

Lord Ashley, the Labour peer, is to introduce a Bill into the House of Lords to remove the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment for murder. 'The legal defence of provocation is failing women, such as Kiranjit Ahluwalia,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)