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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 May 2007, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
Mother-in-law on trial for murder
Surjit Kaur Athwal
Surjit Athwal's body has never been found
A young wife was strangled during a trip to India with her mother-in-law, an Old Bailey court has heard.

Surjit Athwal, 27, went missing in 1998 after allegedly being lured to India on the pretext of attending some weddings.

Her disappearance remained a mystery until other family members decided to brave their fear of reprisals and come forward, the prosecution said.

Her husband Sukhdave Athwal, 42, and his mother, Bachan Athwal, 68, from Hayes, west London, both deny murder.

Forged letters

The case involved an "unhappy marriage" and a degree of tension between Surjit and her mother-in-law, said Michael Worsley QC, prosecuting.

This matter came to light as late as it did because some members of the family who knew the truth of what had happened were frightened
Michael Worsley QC

He said a plan was hatched to get Surjit Athwal to India "on a pretext of going to some weddings" which the two women did in fact attend.

"Thereafter, certainly within a few days, she completely disappeared from the surface of the Earth," he said.

When Bachan Athwal returned to the UK she said her daughter-in-law had been strangled by her brother or a friend of his, the court heard.

It was alleged she and her son forged letters impersonating British police to their Indian counterparts to throw detectives off the scent.

The pair also faked a document transferring ownership of the home Surjit Athwal part-owned into their names, the court was told.

Her body was never found despite an "elaborate" investigation by British police, Mr Worsley said.

He said the matter came to light after some of her husband's relatives decided to break their silence despite their fears.

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

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