My friend’s parents murdered her with a plastic bag over her ‘Western’ T-shirt – Mirror Online
But without the key evidence from her friend, they may never have been caught.
Pal Shahin Munir has now revealed how her bombshell secret helped to convict Shafilea’s parents.
Sixteen-year-old Shafilea was killed in 2003 in a horrendous “honour killing” by her father and mother, who suffocated her by shoving a plastic bag down her throat after years of abuse.
Her body was found in a river in Cumbria six months after she went missing from the family home in Warrington, Cheshire.
But for nine years her parents, Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed, believed that had got away with the cowardly murder as police struggled to find evidence to charge them.
It was only after one of the sisters, Alesha, broke ranks and agreed to testify in court that she had witnessed her parents kill Shafilea that they were finally charged with her murder.
But prosecutors knew that still might not be enough to convict them – until Shahin Munir came forward with a terrible secret she had kept for the last four years.
Shahin produced photocopies of a letter, written by another of the sisters, Mevish, which described seeing the murder with exactly the same details as Alesha’s account.
The evidence was now overwhelming and the Ahmeds were found guilty of the murder and jailed for a minimum of 25 years.
Now Shahin has spoken of the moment she first discovered her friend had been murdered, and why she decided to break a vow of secrecy to reveal the secret in a new documentary When Missing Turns to Murder on the Investigation+Crime channel.
Shahin Munir became friends with Shafilea and her three siblings after going to the same mosque as them.
After Shafilea was found dead one of them, Mevish, who was now 18 and studying at the same college as Shahin, began to confide in her about the cruel way her parents used to treat her sister.
She said: “For one reason or another she started opening up to me about when Shafilea would be locked outside, that Shafilea would quite often be beaten up, how she wasn’t allowed to do anything.
“There were physical beatings, they was a lot of emotional abuse going on, there was a lot of isolation for Shafilea where she’d be locked in her room or even outside.
“When Shafilea was in the garden they would try to pass food to her without her mum seeing.
“Our friendship was based on the fact that she would open up to me about the things that went on at home, and I was the person she would talk to when things got really bad. She had a genuine fear for her life too.”
When in 2008, four years after Shafilea’s death, Mevish said she wanted to tell her something important, Shahin suggested she write it down in a letter.
She said: “At that point I did have an inkling that it would be about Shafilea.
“I knew this was a big thing for her, I knew it took a lot for her to actually be able to trust me to this extent.
“She messaged me saying, ‘Ok, I’ve written it down.
“She was going to town that day with her mum, so I got there first and as they walked past she dropped the letters behind her without her mum seeing.
“I picked them up and left as quick as i could, in fact i didn’t even look at them until I got home into my bedroom. I say cross-legged and started opening the letters.”
Mevish had written in detail about the night her mother murdered Shafilea, while her brother and two sisters looked on.
She said: “They sat Shafilea down on this chair, they had this one chair where they would sit her and the family would gather round, and that’s when they started abusing her and beating her, one would hold her body and one would physically abuse her.
“They got a plastic bag and they put it in her mouth and held her down on the sofa, and she struggled until she stopped. And then the kids were told to go upstairs to their room.
“Her dad got rid of the body and her mum after came in the bedroom and got into bed with them like everything was normal.
“And from that point on the kids understood, you’ll never talk about this again.”
Describing her shock, she said: “I always understood the notion of honour within a family, I always understood the notion of shame within a community but I never believed that you could take it so far that you would kill your own.”
In the letters the teenager told how Shafilea wet herself as she died, and her mother spent weeks constantly cleaning the sofa to get rid of it.
And how they saw her dad put something in the boot of his car and drive off, believing it to be Shafilea’s body.
And she wrote how she was constantly plagued by nightmares about the murder.
Shahin remembered: “She asked for her letters back, which I knew she would, I think she was too afraid that somebody would find out.
“I met up with her gave her them back, and without even thinking she ripped them.”
But she had secretly made photocopies of the letters – which she kept for the next four years, telling no-one of their contents.
A regular visitor to the Ahmed home before and after Shafilea’s death, Shahin saw the way the parents, who believed their daughter was becoming too “Westernised”, tried to control her.
She said: “It was almost an uncomfortable feeling being around the family, because they seemed to be very controlled over everything they said, the conversations they had or what other family members were doing.
Eldest daughter Shafilea wanted to wear western clothes like her friends, and have boyfriend she chose for herself.
She repeatedly refused her parents calls for an arranged marriage, which in her their eyes brought shame on the family.
Shanin said: “Shafilea did have relationships with boys, you go to school with them, you get to know people. She was texting them but of course all of that had to be hidden.
“It couldn’t be on her mobile phone in case her parents would check it, so that aspect of her life was very well hidden.”
Six months before her death, Shafilea drank bleach in Pakistan after her parents took her there with the intention of marrying her off.
Shanin recalled: “There were talks of a marriage to one of her cousins. She needed an escape, and for her the escape was, ‘I’m going to drink bleach. Because hopefully it’s going to end all of this’.
All of her throat was completely burned from the bleach, she was very much skin and bones.
Shanin said: “It was only when Shafilea was getting worse and worse that they were forced to buy a return ticket.
“The story was told that actually she drank it by accident, she thought it was mouthwash.”
Shafilea was killed on September 11, 2003 after her mother Farzana, 49, collected her from her call centre job and found that she was showing her arms by wearing a T-shirt.
After killing her, Shafilea’s father Iftikhar, 52, is believed to have driven his daughter’s body 70 miles to Sedgwick, in the Lake District – where he dumped it next to the River Kent.
Her remains were found five months later.
Shanin said: “When Shafilea’s body was found it changed everything. It was found in a really horrible way and she must have had a really horrible death.
“It really upset me that someone in the community had died in such a horrific manner.”
It was four years later when Mevish, unable to bear the burden of having to keep her sister’s death a secret, opened up to Shahin.
Shahin, who had promised never to tell anyone, finally broke her vow of silence four years after that, after being impressed by the courage of Shafilea’s other sister, Alesha, who testified against her parents in court in August 2012.
Helen Morris, of the Crown Prosecution Service, described the moment Alesha stood up in court to face the parents who thought they would never be found out.
She said: “She was screened from her parents, but the jury could see her.
“They were absolutely gripped by what she was saying. She gave an account of how her mother had gone to collect Shafilea from her part time job in a call centre.
“Shafilea was apparently wearing a T-shirt, was showing her arms and this had upset her mother.”
She said that after getting into a heated argument at home, her mother “suddenly decided she’d had enough and she said words to effect of ‘let’s finish it here’.
“She described how Shafilea was held down by he parents on the sofa, a plastic bag was stuffed into her mouth, they put her hands over her hands and nose so she was effectively being suffocated and the children who were all present watched their parents kill their sister.
“She described in great detail how Shafilea kicked her legs and how actually as she was losing control she urinated on the sofa.
“Just the detail of how she saw her sister die was so compelling that it was quite clear she was telling the truth about what she had seen.
The trial was already underway when police were contacted by Shahin.
Ms Morris said: “She thought she had information which would be useful to the police investigating the case. By this time the trial was well underway.
“The police met with Shahin and she told them that she had been so impressed by her courage in coming forward to give evidence that she felt she wanted to tell the police what she knew.”
The judge then called Mevish as a witness, but she stayed loyal to her parents, claiming the story had been made up and was just an exercise in “creative writing”.
The fact, however, that what she had written was almost identical to the testimony of her sibling Alesha convinced the jury that she had described her sister’s murder at the hands of her mother and father.
Ms Morris said: “She was in an impossible because the account she had given to Shahin chimed so closely with the account that her sister had given that it was impossible that she might by chance have made up a story.
“It just wasn’t plausible.”
Shafilea’s parents were each jailed for 25 years without chance of parole.
The judge told them: “Your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than the love of your child.”
Finally, nine years after her life was so cruelly taken away, justice was finally served.
- When Missing Turns to Murder continues on CRIME+INVESTIGATION (Sky 156, Virgin 275, BT 328 and TalkTalk 328) Mondays at 9pm. The series is available on all catch up and on demand services.’