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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 July 2007, 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
Grandmother guilty of murder plot
Bachan Athwal
Bachan Athwal had Surjit thrown into a river in the Punjab
A 70-year-old grandmother and her son have been found guilty of murdering his wife in a so-called "honour killing".

Bachan Athwal and her son Sukhdave, 43, arranged the murder of Surjit Athwal to defend the family honour.

Surjit, 27, who wanted a divorce, went missing in 1998 after going to the Punjab with her mother-in-law.

An Old Bailey judge remanded the mother and son from Hayes, west London, into custody and told them to expect a life term when sentenced in September.

Mother-of-two Surjit, originally from Coventry, never returned from a trip with Bachan Athwal to a family wedding in India in December 1998.

Later, the grandmother of 16 children boasted she had got rid of her by getting a relative to strangle her and throw her body into a river in the Punjab. Her body has never been found.

Frightened relatives

The pair were only caught when "frightened" members of their own family reported them to police.

Surjit Athwal
Surjit began an affair with a work colleague

"They were frightened that if they told anybody, the same sort of thing might happen to them as they believed happened to the victim," Michael Worsley QC, prosecuting, said.

Mr Worsley said "family honour was at stake" when it was discovered Surjit was having an affair with a married man and wanted a divorce.

Bachan vowed a divorce would could only take place "over my dead body".

Bachan called a family meeting to discuss killing Surjit a month before she vanished, the court heard.

Sarbjit Athwal, another daughter-in-law, said: "My mother-in-law said she wasn't getting on and it was causing too much confusion and problems in the family - and they were going to get rid of Surjit."

Sukhdave Athwal
Sukhdave married Surjit when she was just 16

After having her killed, Bachan and Sukhdave then pretended Surjit had run away. They forged letters supposed to be from the Metropolitan Police to their Indian counterparts to try and fool them.

Mother and son also faked a document transferring ownership of the home Surjit part-owned into their names.

Sukhdave took out a 100,000 insurance policy on his wife the day she left for India. It was never paid out.

He later divorced Surjit in her absence, claiming she deserted him, and then he married someone else, said Mr Worsley.

Surjit first met her husband on her wedding day in 1988, when she was just 16.

She later worked as a customs officer at Heathrow Airport where husband Sukhdave worked as a driver.

Judge Giles Forrester remanded the mother and son in custody for sentencing on 19 September.

  • Separately, the Ministry of Justice announced on Thursday that new powers on forced marriages had received Royal Assent. Under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act, courts can make orders to remove a victim from a situation where a forced marriage has or is about to take place.

    The government supported a private member's bill to introduce the law, brought by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Lester, after initially ruling it out.

    Surjit Athwal's brother on the verdict

    Missing wife 'wanted a divorce'
    03 May 07 |  London

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