Woman's murder appeal rejected

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A WOMAN convicted of murdering her former lover by poisoning him with arsenic after he allegedly abused her for 12 years had her appeal against a life sentence rejected yesterday.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the attempt by Zoora Shah to have her murder conviction reduced to manslaughter or to have a retrial.

There were screams and cries of "no" from Shah's daughters in the public gallery at the London court as the judges announced the decision.

Women's campaign groups had adopted the case as a further example of a woman driven to kill because of violence, intimidation or sexual abuse by a husband or partner. They described the decision as a major setback in the fight against domestic violence.

Shah, a mother-of-three who had been abandoned by her husband, was convicted of the murder in 1992 of businessman Mohammed Azam, 47. She had arrived in England from Pakistan for an arranged marriage as a teenager, but her husband abused and left her and she was befriended by Mr Azam.

The prosecution claimed she killed Mr Azam, brother of one of Bradford's most prominent Muslim leaders, out of greed so she could take over his house.

At her trial, the first in Britain for 23 years to involve arsenic, Shah pleaded not guilty and declined to give evidence.

At her appeal, however, she admitted twice poisoning married Mr Azam and claimed she did not initially tell the truth because of shame at the sexual and physical abuse she says she suffered at his hands. She claims she gave him a large dose of arsenic, bought in Pakistan, after her husband allegedly took a sexual interest in her daughters.

Her barrister Edward Fitzgerald, QC, argued that new evidence showed that Shah, who is in her mid-40s, suffered from depressive illness and was not in full control of her actions. He said the conviction was unsafe and should be set aside with a retrial ordered.

Giving judgment yesterday, Lord Justice Kennedy, Mr Justice Butterfield and Mr Justice Richards dismissed Shah's application for leave to appeal against the life sentence handed down at Leeds Crown Court in December 1993.

Lord Justice Kennedy said they found Shah "a most unsatisfactory witness, and her evidence to be not capable of belief".

He said that despite claims of abuse for many years, apart from a black eye, no one, including friends, doctors and the police, had reported any injuries or had heard complaints from Shah.

A consultant psychiatrist, who had seen Shah on two occasions - one of them just before her trial - said that deliberate fatal poisoning of adults was "not compatible" with significant clinical depression. Evidence from other psychiatrists provided mixed conclusions.

The judges ruled that it was "not necessary or expedient in the interests of justice" to receive the fresh evidence and, without that further evidence, Shah's appeal against conviction must fail. They also refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords.

After the hearing Shah's daughter Naseem, 24, said the family felt "total devastation" at the outcome. She added: "I have spoken to her lawyers and she is bearing up as well as possible." Asked about her feelings about British justice, she commented: "It stinks. It is unfair and it is unjust."

The campaigning group, Southall Black Sisters, which has fought for Shah's release, said: "We are very saddened and angry at today's judgment. It is a setback for all women who suffer domestic violence whatever their racial and cultural origins."

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