Shafilea Ahmed's sister avoids jail after judge describes “extraordinary and terrifying story” as a “case for mercy”

 

The sister of honour killing victim Shafilea Ahmed was spared jail today when she was given a 12-month suspended sentence for organising a robbery at her parents' house.

Alesha Ahmed's arrest ultimately led to the conviction of her parents, Iftikhar and Farzana, for murdering their eldest daughter.

While being interviewed about the robbery, Alesha, now 24, revealed to detectives for the first time that she and her siblings witnessed Shafilea's murder seven years earlier.

Shafilea, 17, vanished in August 2003 and her decomposed remains were discovered in Cumbria in February 2004 but it was Alesha's statement to police that provided enough evidence to charge the parents, leading to their convictions this year.

She was sentenced to a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, at Southwark Crown Court, in London, today after previously pleading guilty to robbery.

She helped organise the crime at her parents' home in Warrington in August 2010.

Sentencing the 24-year-old, who is in a witness protection scheme, Mr Justice Irwin said: "In my view, this is a case for mercy.

"I bear in mind all of the extraordinary circumstances I have outlined, in particular the truly appalling nature of what you had to witness, the impact this has had on you, and what you went through to be a witness.

"I bear in mind that, despite your undoubted intelligence and despite the help you may be given, your future life will be overshadowed by all that has happened, and it may be a long time before you achieve peace of mind and anything like normality."

He told Ahmed: "Yours is an extraordinary and terrifying story."

He said robbery in the home was a very serious crime and she would have realised it would be a terrifying experience and said the normal sentence for an offence of this kind would be a significant jail sentence, even for someone of good character who pleaded guilty.

But he said that although Ahmed's role in the robbery was "crucial", there was a "degree of unreality" about how she behaved.

He said she had been in witness protection for more than two years, adding: "This can properly be compared to house arrest, and I accept it had an especially intense effect on you, since you were psychologically vulnerable, you were in a state of conflict with your family, isolated and away from friends and any ordinary support."

He said Ahmed was not trying to bargain for a lower sentence in giving evidence and had asked to be sentenced before her parents' trial.

Handing her a 12-month prison term, suspended for two years, the judge said she would be supervised by the probation service and will also have to undergo continuing mental health treatment, adding: "I am confident you will not re-offend."

During her parents' trial at Chester Crown Court, Ahmed told the jury they pushed Shafilea on to the settee in their house and she heard her mother say "Just finish it here" as they forced a plastic bag into the teenager's mouth and killed her in front of their other children.

The prosecution said the couple killed their "Westernised" daughter because they thought her behaviour was bringing shame on the family.

Taxi driver Iftikhar, 52, and Farzana, 49, denied murder but were convicted by a jury on August 2 this year and both jailed for 25 years.

Farzana Ahmed is currently seeking to overturn her conviction.

Southwark Crown Court heard today that Alesha Ahmed helped organise an armed robbery at the family home in Liverpool Road, Warrington, Cheshire, in August 2010.

Three masked men broke into the house, tying up Farzana Ahmed and three of her children.

They were armed with a gun, a hammer and iron bar and ransacked the property before fleeing with cash and jewellery.

The judge described how Ahmed had been "drawn into" protecting her parents, saying: "You were forced for years to carry this darkest of secrets", and described the violence the couple's children had been subjected to.

Outlining the case, prosecutor Owen Edwards said: "This is a case of truly remarkable background."

He said Farzana Ahmed, son Junayde, daughter Mevish, and a younger daughter who cannot be named, were the victims of a "terrifying armed robbery" by three masked men.

"These men have never been caught but the robbery involved an inside woman - Farzana Ahmed's own daughter Alesha," he said.

"It may never emerge what drove Alesha to participate in this serious crime," he said, but when she was interviewed by police she then told them that she had seen her parents kill her sister.

"Alesha Ahmed provided a witness statement confirming she had witnessed her sister Shafilea being murdered by her parents on September 11 2003.

"Without a shadow of a doubt her participation in the trial of her parents in which she gave evidence over eight days in May 2012 was the key feature in their conviction and also in remedying a near-decade of injustice.

"This is therefore a case in which it can be said that Alesha's evidence was essential in proving the most serious of cases."

The court heard that, in what the prosecution described as either an abortive first attempt at the robbery or to check out the house, Ahmed, who was not living there at the time, visited in the early hours of August 25 2010.

She later left and was seen getting into a car with three Asian men, who she told her mother were trying to get money that she owed them.

That same evening she visited again. After her father went to mosque, she contacted her accomplices and unlocked the door.

The three men broke into the house, armed with a gun, a hammer and a metal bar.

They tied up the family - except Ahmed - threatening to kill them all, the court heard.

"Alesha was never tied up, the robbers referred to Alesha by name," Mr Edwards said, and described how she showed them where her parents' bedroom was.

Junayde Ahmed was kicked as he lay on the ground by a man wearing a steel toe-capped boot, and Mevish was hit in the shoulder with the hammer, the court heard.

Both tried to fight the men, who fled the scene.

One neighbour, whose attention had been drawn by the noise, heard Farzana Ahmed shout at Alesha: "This is down to you, you rotten bitch, you were texting all night and you opened the door to them."

Police who arrived noticed the hostility between her and her family, the court heard, and were worried for her safety.

Her parents claimed the robbers had taken jewellery worth up to £10,000 and £30,000 in cash, but police were sceptical about the amounts they gave, the court heard.

Ahmed was arrested and told police about her sister's murder.

"It was that statement that set in place the turn of events leading to her parents' conviction," Mr Edwards said.

Ahmed originally denied the robbery, until text messages were recovered showing her communicating with the robbers.

She went on to plead guilty, saying she did not know they were planning to use weapons.

Isabella Forshall QC, mitigating, said Ahmed - "a young woman of irreproachable good character" - had wanted to be sentenced before her parents' trial so nobody would think she had made a deal.

She said that, although Ahmed's role in the robbery was significant, there was nothing she could do when the men turned up with weapons.

She told the court: "This particular house was a killing ground of Shafilea and its privacy was a scene and an instrument of brutal oppression of Shafilea and the other children.

"It really is a unique and extraordinary case."

She said that, within days, Ahmed had provided police with a "devastating statement" describing her sister's death.

"She then submitted to very close witness protection, which continued from that time until now and will continue indefinitely into the future," she said.

"It is an indefinite sentence and we say it is like a prison sentence but without the modest consolations of prison life.

"There is no doubting the risk of what she has done and there's no doubting the effect of her actions in transforming a particularly cruel and serious cold case into a successful prosecution.

"The purity of this young woman's motives are quite extraordinary and the pain of what she has gone through is also quite extraordinary."

PA

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?