Woman tells of abuse by arsenic victim

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A PAKISTANI woman jailed for life for killing her lover with arsenic yesterday began an appeal against her conviction.

In a case which campaigners claim is a major failure of justice, the Court of Appeal heard that Zoora Shah had suffered mental and sexual abuse by Mohammed Azam before she killed him in April 1992.

Dozens of protesters chanted demands for Mrs Shah's release outside the court in London, as she told, through an interpreter, why she refused at her original trial in December 1993 to tell the full story, and simply pleased not guilty.

It was alleged at her trial that she murdered Mr Azam, a 47-year old businessman, and brother of one of Bradford's most prominent Muslim leaders, out of greed so that she could take over his house.

His death was originally attributed to a heart attack, but arsenic was found in his body after it was exhumed when his wife aired her suspicions.

But the Court of Appeal heard yesterday that Mrs Shah was ashamed of her relationship with Mr Azam and feared revenge against her three grown children if the truth emerged.

And Edward Fitzgerald, QC, for Mrs Shah, said that doctors, who at the time of the trial found no evidence to support a defence of diminished responsibility, did not have her full medical history. He said she had suffered from depression.

Mrs Shah, who is in her mid-40s, wept as she told how she met Mr Azam. She had arrived in England from the conservative area of Mirpur in Pakistan for an arranged marriage as a teenager. But her husband abused and left her and she was befriended by Mr Azam.

Mrs Shah said he helped her to find a new home but then he made it clear he wanted sex in return for his help. "The first day he took me to the house, that was the first day he forced himself on me ... I had to accept, I had no other options," she said.

The court was told that Mr Azam was a drug dealer who beat Mrs Shah when she returned from a trip to Pakistan without the drugs he was expecting her to carry. "He would hit me and pull my hair," she said. He took her to a graveyard where two of her children who had died as babies were buried, and forced her to have sex there.

The Court of Appeal heard that eventually she put some arsenic in Mr Azam's food. She told the court she wanted to harm him and thought a spoonful would make it incapable for him to have sex with her.

But after he threatened to force himself upon her eldest daughter she put a bigger dose into a sweet and he died.

Mr Azam's brother was a former president of the Bradford Council for Mosques. Mrs Shah said he had refused to help her when she complained of his brother's activities.

The hearing continues.