Grandmother gets life for 'honour killing'

A grandmother has been sentenced to life imprisonment for arranging the murder of her daughter-in-law, whose adultery she claimed had brought shame on the family.

Bachan Athwal, 70, and her son Sukhdave, 43, were found guilty at the Old Bailey of the "honour killing" of Surjit Athwal, 27, a Heathrow customs officer, who went missing during a trip to India in 1998.

The court heard that Bachan Athwal was the matriarchal head of the west London family and she exercised extraordinary influence over the other members.

When Bachan, who has sixteen grandchildren, discovered Surjit had been having an affair and wanted a divorce, she decided to settle the matter in her own way.

Family members later told the police that she had held a meeting with relatives where she vowed a divorce would only take place "over my dead body".

During a trip to a family wedding in the Punjab in India in 1998, she arranged for Surjit to be killed.

She later boasted to her family that she had got rid of Surjit by getting a relative to strangle her and throw her body in a river. Surjit's body has never been found.

Bachan and Sukhdave then pretended Surjit had run away. They forged letters supposed to be from the Metropolitan Police to their Indian counterparts to block any local investigation. The mother and son then faked a document transferring ownership of the home that Surjit part-owned into their names.

Sukhdave took out a £100,000 insurance policy on his wife the day she left for India. It did not pay out.

He later divorced Surjit in her absence, claiming she deserted him, and then he married someone else.

Sentencing them both to life imprisonment, Judge Giles Forrester yesterday told the mother and son: "The pair of you decided that the so-called honour of your family members was worth more than the life of this young woman. You, Bachan, were head of that family. I have no doubt you exercised a controlling influence over other family members."

Bachan, 70, and her son, both of Hayes, west London, were found guilty of murder in July. Bachan was told she must serve at least 20 years in jail and would not be considered for parole until she was 90. Her son was jailed for a minimum of 27 years.

Surjit's brother said after the case that the eight-and-half-year lapse between his sister's murder and the conviction and sentencing of her killers was "a long time coming". He added: "The long journey of Surjit's case has exposed serious inadequacies in policing practice and government policy in the UK as well."

He called for a public inquiry into his sister's death and that of Banaz Mahmod whose father and brother were found guilty in June of her murder.

The Government has said it intends to crack down on those who play any part in so called honour killings. Earlier this year the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) set up teams of specialist prosecutors to work in parts of the country where honour killings have been reported before.

Detective Chief Inspector Clive Driscoll, who led the Surjit Athwal inquiry, said the police had worked closely with Surjit's family, the defendants' extended family and the Sikh community to secure the conviction. "For Surjit's family and friends, the pain of losing her in such a cruel way will continue but I hope they are comforted by the fact that her killers are now behind bars," he said.

CPS teams are now working in Lancashire, London, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire to identify and monitor forced marriages and so-called "honour crime" cases. In London, four boroughs have been selected: Newham, Tower Hamlets, Ealing and Brent.

Nazir Afzal, CPS honour crimes lead adviser and sector director for west London said: "We need to have a clearer picture of these offences so we can provide the best support to victims and prosecute those who are committing them as robustly as possible. By flagging up these cases as early as possible, we and the police can make sure that specialised support and expertise are brought in quickly."

Other victims in the UK

* On 11 June this year Mahmod Mahmod was found guilty of murdering his 20-year-old daughter after a trial at the Old Bailey. Banaz Mahmod was strangled and buried in a suitcase in a back garden. Mahmod, 52, and his brother Ari Mahmod, 51, ordered the murder because they believed she had shamed the family. She allegedly told police four times before she disappeared that she feared for her life, and gave them a list of three men she thought would murder her.



* In 2003, Heshu Yones, 16, was stabbed to death by her father, for being "westernised" and having a Christian boyfriend.

In 2005, Samaira Nazir, 25, was murdered by her brother for wanting to marry her Afghan boyfriend.

* In 1998, Rukhsana Naz's mother held her down at their house in the Midlands while her brother, 22, wrapped a plastic flex around her neck and strangled her. Rukhsana, 19, was seven months pregnant by her childhood sweetheart. She had been married to an older man in Pakistan at the age of 15 and already had two children; her family made her sign a will naming them as the children's guardians.

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Sport
sport
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape