Muslim leader says families must help catch honour killers

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The Independent Online

One of Britain's leading Muslims has called on his community to rise up against a culture of fear and help stamp out forced marriages and honour killings after the third high-profile court case in Britain in the past year.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, head of the Muslim Parliament in Britain, spoke out after a coroner ruled on Friday that 17-year-old Shafilea Ahmed was "unlawfully killed" and that "the concept of an arranged marriage was central to the circumstances of her death".

Mr Siddiqui said he was certain the schoolgirl, who wanted to go to university and become a lawyer, was the victim of an honour killing. No charges have yet been bought by police, a failure Mr Siddiqui blamed on members of her family and close community closing ranks, even though some may have wanted to speak out.

Five members of her family, including her parents, were arrested in connection with the death, but later released without charge. Shafilea's parents vehemently deny any involvement in her killing or disappearance.

"I think relatives won't speak out because they are scared," he said. "Somebody in the family disappears, relatives must have been concerned. But they would not co-operate with the police. The family and those who were close were not willing to come forward. That's why many of these murders are unresolved. There are now 12 cases a year on average."

Shafilea, from Warrington, was reported missing in 2003 by teachers soon after she returned from a trip to Pakistan. Five months later, her decomposed body was found near the bank of the River Kent in Cumbria. A pathologist said that "it was not credible" she had died of natural causes and suggested she had been strangled or smothered.

At her inquest in Kendal last week, homelessness worker Anne-Marie Woods told the court that Shafilea had come to her seeking advice, claiming she had been beaten and robbed by her parents.

A statement the school-girl wrote to support a housing claim said: "I had saved £2,000, which they took out of my bank account. My parents are going to send me to Pakistan and I'll be married to someone and left there. There had been a build-up of violence towards me, and my mother told me I was about to go to Pakistan for an arranged marriage."

Ian Smith, the South Cumbria coroner, ruled on Friday that Shafilea had been unlawfully killed, adding that she was the victim of a "vile murder" and that he was confident she was dead before her body was dumped on the riverbank.

Police continue to investigate her disappearance. Det Supt Geraint Jones of Cheshire said that officers were awaiting permission to travel to Pakistan to help their investigations.

Massoud Shadjareh, of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said the Muslim community should not be demonised for forced marriages. "Domestic violence happens in every community, and forced marriages are also a feature in Sikh and Hindu communities," he said.

About 12 honour killings are committed in Britain each year. The Forced Marriage Unit at the Home Office receives 5,000 inquiries a year, and handles 300 cases. The Government is also consulting on new immigration rules to stop forced marriages.