Girl who feared arranged marriage was 'murdered'

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The Independent Online

A Muslim girl found dead on a riverbank after apparently fleeing an arranged marriage was the victim of a "very vile murder", a coroner said yesterday.

The badly decomposed body of Shafilea Ahmed, 17, was found near the river Kent at Sedgwick, Cumbria, in February 2004, five months after she disappeared from her home in Warrington.

Recording a death of unlawful killing at the end of a four-day inquest in Kendal, the South Cumbria coroner, Ian Smith, said: "She was murdered. I'm convinced of that because of the way in which the body was disposed, it had been hidden and she had been taken many miles away from home. Shafilea was the victim of a very vile murder. I do not know who did it. There's no evidence before the court as to who did it. I sincerely hope in the future inquiries will be carried out by the police and they will one day discover who did it because this young woman has not had justice."

Police launched a murder inquiry after the discovery of Shafilea's body and, in December 2004, arrested her parents, Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed, on suspicion of kidnapping their daughter but both were released without charge.

The inquest heard that Shafilea had told friends she feared being forced into an arranged marriage. Mr Smith said yesterday that the concept of an arranged marriage was "central" to the circumstances leading up to her death.

He said Shafilea had become a "frightened young woman" following a phone conversation in 2002 between her father, Iftikhar, and his uncle. They had discussed a possible arranged marriage between Shafilea and the uncle's son.

"She [Shafilea] did not want to be married, full stop, at this point," said Mr Smith. "She did not want to marry someone she did not know or may not like. 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."

After Shafilea disappeared, her family did not report her missing. It was another week before Joanne Code, a former teacher, reported her disappearance to the police after friends raised concerns.

The inquest heard how Shafilea's apparently strict home life, conflicted with her yearning for a Western lifestyle. The hearing was told that her father, a taxi driver, picked her up from school every day and that, being the eldest daughter, she was expected to do the housework and the cooking and to eschew socialising outside school.

However, the inquest was told that she would often lie to her parents in order to socialise with friends. She ran away from home on several occasions and even registered as homeless in an attempt to escape what she believed was an inevitable arranged marriage.

Gill Power, her tutor at Great Sankey High School, said: "She wanted to be part of the school and be Westernised but also she loved her family very much, and her religion, and found it hard to marry the two."

During the inquest Shafilea's mother criticised the police's handling of the case. She said: "It is more than four years. What have they been doing? Is it not the police's job to find out what has happened to my child? Again and again they are blaming myself and my husband. I am not happy at all. [The police] did not co-operate with us. If they had co-operated there is a possibility they might have found our daughter alive."

Cheshire police said the case remained a "live murder inquiry".