The parents of a murdered Asian teenager gatecrashed a police news conference yesterday to protest their innocence through a statement by their lawyer and to accuse police of racial prejudice.
Detectives were describing how the body of Shafilea Ahmed, 17, had been hidden near a Cumbrian river, when her parents, Iftikhar, 44, and Farzana, 41, made their appearance flanked by legal representatives. The couple were arrested in December on suspicion of kidnapping Shafilea and were released on bail.
They wept and dabbed their noses in a corner of the conference room and did not speak during their five-minute appearance. Detectives, who were taken by surprise, declined to offer the couple seats at the conference table in front of the Cheshire police insignia, and left while their solicitor, Milton Firman, read the statement.
Detectives have not ruled out the possibility that Shafilea - who drank bleach during a trip last year to Pakistan in which she received a marriage proposal - was the victim of an "honour killing", the punishment meted out to some Asian women who bring shame on their family.
Mr Firman said the Ahmeds, from Warrington, Cheshire, "despised" the term. "Their plea is that the investigation is carried out fairly and not based on implied prejudice that every Asian family must be involved in the demise of their own offspring," he said. "This is an Asian family [existing] under religious and cultural pressures. The police have put two and two together and made 14. This couple will vigorously resist any suggestion that they were directly or indirectly involved."
Through Mr Firman, Mr and Mrs Ahmed described their daughter as "beautiful, bright and shining no more". Shafilea's disappearance was reported by teachers at her sister's school, but not until three months after she went missing. The couple said yesterday that the police's lack of interest when they reported Shafilea's two previous disappearances made them disinclined to make a third report.
Earlier, Detective Chief Inspector Geraint Jones, who is leading the inquiry, would not say how the parents had responded to the discovery of the body. He said they had not been invited to the news conference to appeal for witnesses to the killing, having being asked - and having declined - twice before.
Cheshire and Cumbria police have established that Shafilea's body was probably dumped in Cumbria within hours of her disappearance on the night of 10 September last year. Whoever drove her away from Warrington - probably north up the M6 - may have chosen the first good hiding place that presented itself after leaving the motorway at junction 36. A right turn at the first roundabout would have brought the driver to a secluded layby at Force Bridge, about five miles from the M6, on an unclassified road leading to the village of Sedgewick.
The river Kent is a few yards from the layby and Det Ch Insp Jones said an able-bodied person could easily have carried Shafilea through the undergrowth. "She was very, very light and small - seven stones and 5ft 2ins. It would not take much ... to carry her," he said.
The body was not found until 4 February. The condition of the body has prevented police establishing a cause of death, but the likely presence of clothes she was wearing on 10 September suggests she was killed immediately. Det Ch Insp Jones said: "The circumstances of her disappearance suggest murder. I can't see any other reason why somebody would conceal the body. The pressure is now on the killer. If you have killed somebody and disposed of the body you are under immense pressure when it is found."