Nine years after the death of Shafilea Ahmed, her parents went on trial for murder yesterday. Chester Crown Court heard that Shafilea's sister had witnessed the killing but did not reveal this until 2010.
Alesha Ahmed lived for seven years "under great strain" after witnessing the fatal attack at the family home in 2003, it was claimed. She eventually told police what she had seen after being arrested in connection with a burglary at her parents' house in Warrington, Cheshire, in 2010.
Iftikhar Ahmed, 52, and his wife, Farzana, 49, had earlier subjected their eldest daughter, 17-year-old Shafilea, to a year of domestic abuse in a bid to "crush her" and make her conform to their values, it was claimed.
The opening day of a murder trial at Chester Crown Court heard that the Ahmeds killed Shafilea in September 2003 because they believed her conduct was bringing shame on the family. Shafilea was unable to choose her own boyfriend and her movements were tightly controlled by her parents, the jury was told. Despite putting the "thoroughly Westernised" teenager under "intense pressure", she resisted the couple's demands, ran away and refused to obey them.
On one occasion while visiting her grandparents' home in Pakistan in 2003, where she was being pressurised into a marriage she did not want, she drank bleach and required emergency hospital treatment when she returned to Britain, it was claimed. Her parents later said she had mistaken the fluid for mouthwash.
The Muslim schoolgirl's decomposed remains were discovered by accident the following February in a remote spot on a riverbank in Sedgwick, Cumbria.But it was not until 2010 that her sister Alesha, then aged 22, admitted seeing her parents "acting together" to kill Shafilea, prosecutor Andrew Edis, QC, said.
"The defendants, having spent the best part of 12 months trying to really crush her, realised they were never going to be able to succeed and finally killed her because her conduct dishonoured the family, bringing shame on them," Mr Edis told the jury of seven men and five women. "The prosecution say during that year her parents embarked upon a campaign of domestic violence and abuse designed to force her to conform so that she would behave in the way that was expected of her.
"She was a thoroughly Westernised young British girl of Pakistani origin. Her parents had standards which she was reluctant to follow."
The breakthrough in the long-running police investigation came following Alesha's arrest in August 2010 on suspicion of burglary at the family home. "This evidence was the final piece of the puzzle which the police had been trying to solve for many years," Mr Edis said. "Until that moment they had no direct evidence of murder."
After witnessing the murder, Alesha grew up suffering from "divided loyalties" in an atmosphere of "silence and denial", Mr Edis said.
Detectives had earlier placed a covert listening device in the home of the Ahmeds in November 2003 when Shafilea was still believed to be missing. Mr Edis said the conversations recorded were "surprising" because the Ahmeds were discussing whether the police would have them under surveillance. He said: "They are discussing what sort of surveillance tactics the police could be using in order to investigate them and they are talking in very cautious terms."
Mr Edis said they were "rather odd conversations" for people to be having if they are completely innocent.
In conversations with her other children, Ms Ahmed can be heard warning them not to say anything at school.
The defendants refer to one of their children as a "good boy" but then say if he talked he could "have us put inside". Ms Ahmed was also recorded saying to her son Junyade: "If the slightest thing comes out of your mouth, we will be stuck in real trouble. Remember that."
When Shafilea was brought back to Britain in 2003 she was treated at Warrington Hospital, where she spoke to a fellow patient named Foisa Aslam. Ms Aslam later told police that she asked Shafilea why she drank the bleach.
Shafilea apparently replied: "You don't know what they did to me there."
The court heard that the teenager told Ms Aslam that the Ahmeds had accepted a rishta (a formal offer of marriage) for her. Mr Edis said: "That was why she said she drank the bleach."
The Ahmeds deny murder. The trial continues.