UK police investigate death of British woman in India

Detectives prepare evidence for prosecutors three years after Londoner was found dead in Punjab in unusual circumstances

Police investigating the "suspicious death" of a British woman in India three years ago are preparing a file for prosecutors after four Homicide and Serious Crime Squad detectives spent two weeks in India collecting evidence.

Manjit Kular, 43, from Cranford in west London, travelled unexpectedly to the northern region of Punjab in October 2007 with her husband to attend a wedding. Her body was found 11 days later on a road on the outskirts of her husband's village with major facial injuries on the night millions of Hindus and Sikhs celebrated the festival of lights, Diwali.

In a scenario described as "unusual" by cultural commentators, Mrs Kular was allegedly knocked over by a car while walking along a quiet country lane with one of her husband's male relatives after visiting two holy shrines in adjacent fields late at night. Mrs Kular's elderly mother witnessed her daughter's body at the side of road in the early hours of the next morning after being told her daughter had been involved in a "serious car accident".

An autopsy at the local hospital reported the cause of death as multiple injuries. The body was released to her family and, in accordance with religious custom, she was cremated the next day. Indian police initially described the death as "suspicious" in local media. They later said it was likely to have been a hit and run, but the case remained open. For her family, her death remained a mystery.

The Metropolitan Police became involved after a British cousin, Sarbjit Johal, reported the death as suspicious to his local police station in Hounslow. Initially hesitant, police were lobbied by campaigners involved with the landmark Surjit Athwal case just months earlier. The young British mother's husband and mother-in-law were jailed for outsourcing her murder to India after a nine-year investigation which was hampered by bureaucratic delays in both countries and diplomatic restrictions.

Police forces across the UK are dealing with a growing number of alleged suspicious deaths involving Britons abroad, according to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Circumstances surrounding these alleged deaths vary from "honour-based" violence to domestic abuse, property disputes, revenge, money or sexual assaults. Legal and cultural restrictions make it difficult, but not impossible, for police here to play a part in these investigations, said DCI Steve Murray, staff officer to Chief Constable John Stoddart, ACPO's homicide lead. The Serious and Organised Crime Agency is working on a handbook with key police contacts in every country in an attempt to facilitate better co-operation.

Mrs Kular's friends and family have always believed foul play was involved. Her husband, Jagpaljeet Singh Kular, 42, was charged with her murder last July after returning from Punjab for the first time since her death. The charges were dropped in October 2009 – a month before the case was due to be heard at the Old Bailey. The original police team had not travelled to India to gather evidence.

A new team of detectives, led by DCI Dave Manning, had taken over the case just weeks before the trial last year. His officers finally got permission to travel to Punjab this September. Once there they interviewed witnesses, the pathologists who carried out the post-mortem, and visited the place where the body was found. Home Office experts, including a forensic pathologist and collision team, are examining the evidence. Hundreds of pages of Indian police case files have been translated into English. But with no body, no crime scene and little forensic evidence, any case would rest mainly on circumstantial evidence.

Manjti Kular arrived in London in 1986 at the age of 22, and lived initially with her extended family. An ambitious young woman, she quickly found work, bought a house and married. This marriage ended in divorce and their daughter, now 14, was in boarding school in India at the time of her mother's death.

In 2000 she met and married Jagpaljeet Singh Kular, an Indian citizen working as a builder in London, after which contact with her UK family declined. Friends and relatives have told The Independent on Sunday that they believe Mrs Kular had been the victim of domestic violence for years. On several occasions she told her best friend and colleague, Valvir Kaur, that her husband was responsible for the visible injuries on her face and body. Mrs Kaur said her friend visited her doctor and A&E for treatment. The police have no record that she reported domestic violence.

In a move described as "out of character" by friends and relatives, Mrs Kular requested leave at short notice from her employers to accompany her husband to India. She spent the day before they left with friend Mrs Kaur, who said: "She explained the extent of the abuse she'd been suffering. She told me that she thought her husband was having an affair and wanted to get married again. She kept saying he was after her money, and that she was frightened."

On arrival in India, Mrs Kular was visited by her relatives while staying with her husband's extended family. Her younger brother, Arwinder Singh, 33, said: "They wouldn't let her talk alone with us but she whispered to me 'my life is in danger, they are going to kill me'. We didn't take her with us because her husband wasn't present and that is necessary in our culture. We should have taken her with us."

Experts warn the fear of dishonouring the family stops ethnic minority women from leaving violent relationships. Hannana Siddiqui from Southall Black Sisters said: "We regularly advise women in a domestic violence situation not to travel abroad because they are more vulnerable. But it is hard for women to say no often because they fear bringing shame on themselves and their families. Sometimes we never hear from these women again."

Jagpaljeet Singh Kular's solicitor said his client did not wish to comment at this stage because "police have been conducting inquiries in India".

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