Straw slashes sentence on 'abused' killer

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The Independent Online

Home Secretary Jack Straw has almost halved the recommended sentence imposed on a woman jailed for life after poisoning the man she claimed had physically and sexually abused her for years.

The Home Office said the recommended tariff to be served by Zoora Shah, who was jailed at Leeds Crown Court in 1993, had been cut from 20 years to 12.

Shah's case is at the forefront of debate over how the legal system treats abused women who kill. Pressure groups have long argued the treatment Shah, now 46, suffered, was never considered seriously during her trial.

They point to the different approach taken by judges in recent similar cases, such as that of 18-year-old Julie Adamson, who was spared jail today over the killing of her violent older boyfriend.

When Shah was convicted of giving arsenic to drug-dealing Bradford businessman Mohammed Azam, trial judge Mr Justice French recommended she serve 20 years, a tariff confirmed by the then Lord Chief Justice.

But her supporters argue that Shah, who is illiterate and comes from a rural backwater of Pakistan, had poisoned Azam as a last resort after he had physically and emotionally tormented her for more than a decade.

They say that with no one else to turn to, she snapped when Azam began to take a sexual interest in her teenage daughters.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the case had now been re-examined and "mitigating and aggravating" circumstances taken into account, including testimony from pressure groups.

In the light of this the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, had recommended to Jack Straw that the original tariff be cut.

Southall Black Sisters, which has consistently called for Shah's release, welcomed the announcement but criticised Mr Straw's "lack of moral courage" in not ordering her immediate release.

Hannana Siddiqui said: "This announcement represents a victory for the campaign.

"It is, however, an indictment of our times that the criminal justice system still cannot distinguish between those who kill from a position of power and those who do so out of despair."

Shah's daughter, 26-year-old Naseem Shah, who has spearheaded efforts to free her mother, said she "welcomed" the reduction.

"Having said that, it's very disappointing," she added. "Given the amount of time that men get in comparison, the tariff set for my mother is a farce."

She said: "We expected Jack Straw to show some understanding but this shows that he is not capable of it."