Race concerns damage murder inquiries

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The Independent Online

Political correctness on the part of police, social workers and teachers has hampered investigations into so-called "honour killings'' of young women and may have allowed abuse to carry on unchecked, a conference will be told today.

Political correctness on the part of police, social workers and teachers has hampered investigations into so-called "honour killings'' of young women and may have allowed abuse to carry on unchecked, a conference will be told today.

Some professionals have been so concerned about racial sensitivities that they have been reluctant to raise fears that girls and women in some communities could be at risk, campaigners say.

More than 100 suspicious deaths involving young Asian women and men are being re-examined for evidence that they could have been motivated by the desire to avenge behaviour seen as bringing shame on families.

An international two-day conference is being held in London on honour killings and the motivations behind them. Hannah Siddique, of the pressure group Southall Black Sisters, is speaking at the conference today and believes the issues around honour killings have been overlooked for too long.

She said: "There has been a problem in the past but people like the police and teachers have been too slow to pick up on cases because they are worried about the cultural sensitivities and interfering in what they see as community problems.

"But that has meant that people have not raised concerns about certain girls or families because they are worried about being accused of racism. That has got to change.

"This isn't just about the Asian community or ethnic minority women, but if we are to change the situation we need to be able to empower these women themselves and give them the confidence to come forward and speak out.''

She added: "Honour killings are often strongly linked to domestic abuse. There are often signs that a girl or young woman is unhappy or having problems. A teacher at school, for instance, may be able to pick up on that and refer them to social services, but that often doesn't happen at the moment.''

Suicide rates among British Asian girls and women aged 16 to 24 are nearly three times above the national average. Campaigners say this may be driven by fear of dishonour and their families' reaction to behaviour deemed to be shameful.

Four months ago the Crown Prosecution Service announced it was re-examining 117 cases, including suicides and disappearances now believed to be "honour killings''. There were 12 prosecutions for such killings in the London area alone last year, the highest number on record.

In one, 16-year-old Heshu Yones was stabbed to death by her father after he found out she was dating a Christian boy. The father was jailed for life, but police believe that many more killings go undetected.