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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 March 2004, 16:46 GMT
Shafilea Ahmed
Shafilea Ahmed

Four years ago the body of teenager Shafilea Ahmed was found - her parents spoke to Newsnight about her death.

Here is the report from 1 March 2004:

It's almost four weeks since the badly decomposed body of a young woman was discovered in the Lake District. Shafilea Ahmed, a teenager from Warrington had gone missing last year.

Her parents say they had not been trying to arrange a marriage for their daughter. However the police have suspected them of being involved in her disappearance, which they deny absolutely.

They and their lawyers claim that they have been treated differently just because they are an Asian family.

Our reporter, Zubeida Malik obtained the first interview with Shafilea's parents.

ZUBEIDA MALIK:
The familiar school picture of the murdered and the disappeared. 17- year-old Shafelia Ahmed's name has been added to that sad list.

IFTIKHAR AHMED
SHAFELIA'S FATHER:

She was a very bubbly child, you know, very talkative. Everybody you will speak to loved her to bits.

ZUBEIDA MALIK:
The bright student, who was studying A-levels and dreamed of being a lawyer, was last seen alive by her parents on September 11th last year, after she returned home from a part- time job. Her parents were arrested on suspicion of abduction last year. They are currently on police bail. Shafelia's case came to national attention when Cheshire Police held a press conference, with Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati, in December last year. Poetry and notes that Shafelia had written, describing her life, were read out.

SHOBNA GULATI:
I feel trapped. So stuck. I don't know what to do with this feeling. It's mutual, I don't know how to explain. I'm trapped, so trapped.

ZUBEIDA MALIK:
The words reveal the angst of a teenager, combined with that of a young girl balancing her life between east and west. Two themes of the story emerge from the press conference, the duality of Shafelia's life, and questions as to whether her family were trying to arrange her marriage. But her father explains that they knew of no clash. She liked watching TV soaps, listening to her favour singer, Beyonce, and they accepted her wearing western clothes. The family went to Pakistan for a holiday, he says, because his children hadn't seen the country for ten years. While there, a distant relative did ask if he was interested in arranging his daughter's marriage.

IFTIKHAR AHMED:
We just went for a simple holiday. While we were there, a family member, a distant family member did ask us for our daughter's hand, right. We actually sat down, the daughter was there, in front of us and we talked about it. And the daughter said, look, I'm not even ready for such a thing, right. And I said to the person, right, I said, this is the situation. The children nowadays make their own minds up. We, as parents, obviously have got a duty to see that their lives are brought up as normal. And I said, I respect her wishes, right. If she doesn't wish to marry anybody, then that is totally her wish. And we left it at that, right, and it was never actually discussed with the family since.

ZUBEIDA MALIK:
And you would never force your daughter to marry somebody against her wishes?

IFTIKHAR AHMED:
No, never. That question you can ask me a thousand times, and the answer will be exactly the same.

ZUBEIDA MALIK:
While on holiday, Shafelia drank bleach. It's been speculated in the media that she took this drastic action to avoid a forced marriage. Her parents deny that. Mr Ahmed says he wasn't in Pakistan when it happened, but his wife told him that it was an accident.

IFTIKHAR AHMED:
What she said, and what the girl actually said when we spoke to her as well, right, was it was purely accidental, right. She went into the bathroom and the power cut, electric went, and she picked the bottle up by mistake instead of the mouthwash. She picked the bleach bottle up and took the sip of it. Obviously when she realised, like, she threw up and started to scream, come out the bathroom, and straight away, right, we called the taxi and took her to the hospital. And she was in hospital for, oh, three, three, four days before they released her, right. They turned around and said, just give her ice cold things, right, and everything should be normal. They assured her of that, and that's why we brought her back home.

ZUBEIDA MALIK:
Do you recognise the picture that's been portrayed of you as strict parents?

IFTIKHAR AHMED:
I'm not a strict parent in any way whatsoever, right. I'm as English as anybody can picture me, right. But obviously the police portrayal of me is different.

ZUBEIDA MALIK:
Did you ever mind Shafelia wearing western clothes or listening to pop music or doing things other teenagers do?

IFTIKHAR AHMED:
No, on the contrary. We actually brought the clothes for her, right, so why should we? The other girls have got the same clothes as well. So there's nothing not normal about it.

ZUBEIDA MALIK:
Their lawyer believes that the family have been treated differently by the police because of their ethnic origin; that they have been stereotyped in a particular way. At a press conference last week, they walked in to try and put their side of the story.

IFTIKHAR AHMED:
We don't believe that we have been treated fairly. And that's obviously one's opinion, right, the way everything has been put forward.

MILTON FIRMAN
LAWYER FOR THE AHMED FAMILY:

I think the authorities have jumped in very quickly, because this is an Asian family, and they have drawn the incorrect inferences, as a result of which they have taken action they otherwise would not have taken when they took it.

ZUBEIDA MALIK:
It's an accusation that the police deny.

DS JOHN ARMSTRONG
CHESHIRE POLICE:

We have not been guilty of racial stereotyping. We have understood from the outset there are some sensitivities surrounding the investigation into the disappearance of Asian girls. We have worked very hard with the local community, we have worked with the wider Asian community, we have engaged experts, people who have got a great deal of experience in helping police with this sort of inquiry. There are people on a national basis we have consulted. We followed many lines of inquiry, and all our inquiries are intent on focusing us on what's actually happened to Shafelia.

ZUBEIDA MALIK:
Everyone's worst fears were confirmed when a body found near the River Kent at Sedgwick in Cumbria was identified as that of Shafelia. But questions have been raised as to why the parents didn't report their daughter missing. It was teachers at her old school who got in touch with the police.

IFTIKHAR AHMED:
Well, I just waited until Monday, right. If she hadn't turned up in school, and which she hadn't done, and on Tuesday morning, right, then we would have made the effort to go tell the police and then go looking for her then. Obviously we start to get worried about it. Because we assumed automatically that she's gone with somebody that she knows.

ZUBEIDA MALIK:
Your daughter had been missing for a few days, nearly up to a week. Why had you, as parents, not reported her missing to the police?

IFTIKHAR AHMED:
The reason being, right, because we assumed that she's obviously gone with her friends, or a boyfriend, possibly. But that's one of the reasons, right, we thought, well, we'll give it a couple of days, see if she turns up in school, and then try and solve the matter.

ZUBEIDA MALIK:
The family says Shafelia had run away from home before. Mr Ahmed says when he got in touch with the police on a previous occasion, his concern wasn't addressed properly. One of the few visible reminders of their daughter in the house are cards of sympathy from friends and family. Most of Shafelia's belongings from the house have been removed by the police. Family pictures and photo albums have also been taken for examination. The parents remain under police investigation. But they stress that they don't know what happened to their daughter.

IFTIKHAR AHMED:
I can't really speculate on that matter, right, because we never actually expected anything of such nature. I mean, we just wish for somebody could tell us what happened to her. We appeal to the public, if anybody knows anything, to come forward.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.




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