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Girl, 7, 'was imprisoned and starved to death'

Murder trial of mother and partner begins

Mark Hughes,Crime Correspondent
Saturday 06 June 2009 00:00 BST

A seven-year-old girl was deliberately starved to death by her mother and her partner, who kept her as a prisoner in their home, a court heard yesterday.

Birmingham Crown Court was told that Khyra Ishaq died of an infection in May last year after being starved for weeks, possibly even months, by her mother, Angela Gordon, and her partner, Junaid Abuhamza.

Opening the murder case against her guardians, Timothy Raggatt, QC, for the prosecution, said that the child had been starved to a level that had never been seen by British medical staff. He warned the jury: "It is highly likely that you will find some of what you hear distressing and disturbing."

The court heard that Khyra had lived a "normal and happy family life" while her natural parents were together. But the marriage failed and, in 2007 when Mr Abuhamza moved into the family home in Handsworth, Birmingham, things changed "dramatically". Khyra was removed from school and Ms Gordon refused to admit visitors to the house.

Mr Raggatt said that Khyra and five other children in the house were subjected to a "punishment regime". He said a lock had been fitted to the kitchen cupboards and the only food the children would receive was porridge, dry bread and fruit, which they would eat with their hands on the floor of the small bedroom they shared.

The barrister added that as well as starvation, the children were "subjected to violence of differing degrees". He told the court that if caught stealing food they were made to stand out in the cold, beaten with a cane or made to overeat until they were sick.

Jurors were told that, two months before Khyra died, neighbours had heard screams and cries of "let me out, let me out" coming from the house in the middle of the night.

In a police statement one neighbour described the child as "abnormally thin". The woman, Amandeep Kaur, said that she had seen the child in her underwear in the back garden of the property in March last year. Ms Kaur said Khyra was whimpering and added: "I couldn't really see any meat on her. It was all bones."

Some jurors wiped away tears as they compared pictures of the girl taken a year before her death and one taken at the post-mortem examination. Showing them the first picture, Mr Raggatt said: "You see there a picture of a normally developing healthy girl. That is how her wider family remember her and describe her in life."

Asking them to turn to the post-mortem picture of her emaciated body, he added: "That is the state to which Khyra Ishaq had been reduced by 17 May."

The jury was also told that the girl's body mass index at the time of her death was so low it did not register on medical charts. Mr Raggatt explained that Khyra had died of bronchial pneumonia and septicaemia, but added: "Although that is the mechanism of death, the cause of her succumbing in that way was acute malnutrition. The fact she ultimately died of an infection is neither here nor there."

The barrister said that the defendants' position was the same as anyone who kept a prisoner and set out to starve them to the point their life was at risk. He added: "It's just as much murder ... as if they had shot, stabbed, beaten or strangled Khyra to death."

Ms Gordon, 34, and Mr Abuhamza, 30, are each charged with murder and five counts of child cruelty relating to five other children. Ms Gordon denies all the charges, while Mr Abuhamza pleads guilty to the cruelty charges but denies murder. The trial continues.

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