Muslim killed for daring to pursue divorce cash claim

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The Independent Online

Yasmin Akhtar endured violent hatred from her elderly husband's family for more than a decade before she fled and secured a divorce. When she submitted a financial claim for £250,000, Fethaullah Mohammed, her husband's son from his first wife, decided she should be silenced for good.

In March last year Ms Akhtar, 35, was dragged screaming from her home and throttled with parcel tape, before her body was soaked in petrol and set alight. Her death was one of a growing number of so-called "honour killings", which involve the murder of a woman who is believed to have betrayed the honour of her family or community.

Mohammed ­ along with three friends he enlisted to help for £10,000 ­ is now beginning a life sentence for the "brutal and determined" murder that he committed.

The Old Bailey was told that Ms Akhtar had been brought from Pakistan at the age of 21 and married Mohammed Jamil, who was her senior by more than 30 years. They stayed together for 12 years but Ms Akhtar had said she suffered violence and animosity from the family. Eventually, in the summer of 2000, she fled the family home in Balham, south London, for a women's refuge before filing for divorce. The family of Mr Jamil, a property owner, reacted furiously, threatening Ms Akhtar's relatives in Pakistan and producing forged divorce papers in an attempt to prove the marriage was bigamous and not binding.

But in November 2000 the marriage was dissolved by a court in Croydon and Ms Akhtar moved to a secret address in Redhill, Surrey. Two months later she submitted a financial claim for £250,000.

"There is an attitude which some men possess, perhaps born out of a cultural mindset, where a Muslim woman from a modest background is brought to England and upon marriage should quite simply know her place," said Aftab Jafferjee, for the prosecution. "In this case, she had become a troublesome woman, threatening their financial status."

Fethaullah Mohammed, 42, enlisted Rupert Alleyne, 43, David Quarry, 38, and Paul Bush, 34, to do the "dirty work", the court was told. They tracked down Ms Akhtar to her new home in March last year. Neighbours heard the woman's screams as petrol was poured through her letterbox, forcing her out of the flat. She was bundled into a blacked-out Chrysler people carrier and "delivered" to Fethaullah Mohammed's shop in south-east London.

When she refused to drop the settlement claim, he strangled her with parcel tape. Bush, Alleyne and Quarry took her body to Larkhall Park, Stockwell, wrapped in a carpet which they set on fire that evening.

Judge Christopher Moss told Fethaullah Mohammed: "Your father's second wife had become a thorn in your family's side. You decided she had to be silenced and silenced forever. You did so for financial reasons, you did so out of greed, you did so in a way that can only be described as brutal and determined."

Bush became involved at a late stage.

Detectives classed the murder as one of a growing tide of "honour killings", a phenomenon found among predominantly Asian or Middle Eastern communities. They are defined as incidents in which a woman is killed "for her actual or perceived immoral behaviour" in order to protect the honour of her family or community. Last February, Anita Gindha, 22, who was heavily pregnant, was strangled to death in her home in Manor Park, east London.

Detectives examined the theory that she too had been a victim of an "honour killing" after it emerged she had rejected an arranged marriage three years earlier.

Fethaullah Mohammed, of Balham; Alleyne, of Fulham; Quarry, of Woolwich; and Bush, of Worcester Park, Surrey, had denied murder and kidnapping. Each was jailed for life, with 15 years concurrent for false imprisonment on 1 August, but the verdicts and sentences could not be reported until yesterday.

The court was told that Mohammed had been jailed for 18 months in 1989 for blackmail and Alleyne had been sentenced to six years in 1995 for obtaining property by deception. Quarry, who has a record of violence that started in the early 1980s, had twice been jailed for inflicting grievous bodily harm, and once for assault causing actual bodily harm.

Mr Jamil, 67, originally stood trial with the four men, accused of kidnap and murder, but was discharged after suffering a stroke and collapsing in the dock. He faces retrial next year.