Murder cases under review to identify 'honour killings'

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The Independent Online

Scotland Yard has identified at least 13 suspected cases of "honour killings" in which young women who are often fleeing forced marriages have been murdered.

Scotland Yard has identified at least 13 suspected cases of "honour killings" in which young women who are often fleeing forced marriages have been murdered.

The suspected killings were identified as part of a national review of nearly 120 murders. Scotland Yard detectives are examining murder files going back 10 years ­ 52 in the London area and 65 in other parts of England and Wales. Police and campaign groups believe that only a tiny proportion of the killings are reported or detected.

A Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said that, so far, 13 suspected "honour killings" between 1993 and 2003 had been identified. Among the cases being examined were deaths involving women who were burnt to death or run over by cars. In some instances, they were previously thought to have been accidents. Many of the female victims were from south Asian communities.

Detectives are not reopening the cases but hope to learn more about the scale and nature of the problem and develop future investigative techniques.

Motives for the murders often included relationships which the families felt brought them dishonour. Police say some of the murders were carried out by contract killers hired by the families. They also believe that so-called "bounty hunters" were involved ­ people, including women, who make a business out of tracking down victims.

Commander Andy Baker, head of the Metropolitan Police's Serious Crime Directorate and the chairman of a new strategic taskforce, hopes the review will help future investigations. He said: "We are not reopening these cases ­ many of them have been through the courts with convictions. It is a matter of looking at these cases and learning how we can prevent killings in the future."

Last September British police released research into the culture surrounding honour killings. The undertaking followed the conviction of Abdalla Yones, a Kurdish Muslim, for the murder of his 16-year-old daughter Heshu after she formed a relationship with a man of whom the father disapproved.

Europol, the European police agency, held a conference on the issue in the Hague yesterday. Experts say "honour killings" are increasing in Europe. The conference heard of the case of a young woman called Fadime. The 26-year-old Kurd was shot dead two years ago near Stockholm, allegedly by her father because of her relationship with a Swedish man.

The murder prompted calls for urgent action to protect young immigrants who fall out with their families. Diana Nammi, the director of the International Campaign Against Honour Killing, said: "I believe these killings are more widespread than official figures suggest. We need to stop these murders and this move by the police is very positive."

Ram Gidoomal, of the South Asian Development Partnership, called for police to work alongside social services to prevent these killings. He said: "I would like to see what
action has been taken already ­ it is not as if we have just
been made aware of this issue. Everyone needs to be educated to look out for early warning signals. All agencies need to share information."

Dr Aisha Gill, a lecturer in criminology and expert in the subject, agreed, adding that honour crime in this country is a "growing phenomenon".

It is the culturally sensitive aspect of honour killings which, some say, made it such a hidden crime for so long. The Muslim community, in particular, feels it could be stigmatised by a crime that most members abhor as much as anyone else.

Most cases involve families from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, but other regions, including the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Kenya, Yemen, South Africa and Somalia have reported incidents.

In a related problem, each year, a specialist Foreign Office unit deals with about 250 cases of predominantly girls, a third of which are minors, taken abroad to be married against their will. "We usually get a call from a third party to say a girl has been taken overseas on the pretext of a holiday or the death of a relative. When she gets there, she finds she is actually going to be forced into a marriage," said Fawzia Samad, of the community liaison unit.

Often they are threatened with death if they fail to comply.

Embassy or consulate officials will now liaise with local police, often travelling to remote villages to seek girls and bring them home if it is found they are being held against their will. In some countries, such as Pakistan, they turn to the courts for help.

The Muslim community makes a distinction between arranged marriages, where compatibility is the key motivator, and forced marriages, where a university student from Britain may be compelled to wed a man with little education with whom she has little in common.

Father jailed for stabbing teenage 'jewel' to death

Heshu Yones barricaded herself in the bathroom, but her killer broke the door down. As the
16-year-old fought for her life, he stabbed her 11 times, then slit her throat. The bent and broken knife police found in her neck bore testament to the savagery of her death.

Her killer was her father, Abdalla, now serving life after being convicted of her murder in September last year.

Days before Heshu died, Yones, a devout Kurdish Muslim who had fled Saddam Hussein's regime a decade earlier, was sent an anonymous letter describing his daughter as a slut who was sleeping with an
18-year-old Lebanese Christian boyfriend.

To the 48-year-old Yones, his bubbly daughter was his jewel but, as a "fish out of water" in UK society, he disapproved of her increasingly Western ways and beat her repeatedly.

In October 2002, he walked into the family's flat in Acton, west London, and murdered the child he loved. Then he cut his own throat and threw himself out of a window. At first, he told police members of
al-Qa'ida had broken in, knocked him out and killed Heshu. Days before the Old Bailey trial he admitting he had murdered her, saying she had brought dishonour on the family.

Heshu had planned to run away and had written a goodbye letter to her father, saying: "Me and you will probably never understand each other, but I'm sorry I wasn't what you wanted, but there's some things you can't change."

After Yones was sentenced, he said he had been forced to kill Heshu because he had been put in an untenable position.