The Pakistan village where Shafilea drank bleach to avoid an arranged marriage
The road to Shafilea’s family village runs through the flat fertile land of Pakistan’s Punjab province, past gun shops advertising AK-47s, dingy motorbike repair shops and butchers’ stalls, their darkening meat attracting swarms of flies.
Water buffalo laze in shady copses by the roadside.
There is not a woman in sight.
When Shafilea made that journey in 2003 to the farming village of Uttam it must have been like arriving on a different planet, a world away from her teenage life in Warrington.
Her relatives, who live side by side on the land where they grew up, are tightly intermarried.
Honour killings claim the lives of hundreds of women here each year.
And she would have found that her British passport made her a desirable bride in a place where village elders would decide her groom.
That visit provided crucial evidence of Shafilea’s troubled home life, and it was in her uncle’s bathroom – a dark, dingy outhouse where the lavatory is a hole in the ground – that the prosecution said she deliberately harmed herself by drinking bleach after her mother joked that she wouldn’t be returning to Warrington.
Imtiaz Ahmed, her uncle, insists it was an accident.
“The power went out and she drank the bleach because she thought it was her mouthwash,” he said, sitting on a traditional charpoy bed in the spacious entrance hall of his new home.
“If there were problems in the family then we did not know about them. They kept it to themselves.”
But he admitted that Shafilea, then 16, had already been offered in marriage to a local man, Rafakat, who was keen to marry a woman with a British passport.
“His father was looking for an opportunity for him to come to the UK,” said Mr Ahmed. “But that issue had already been settled by the time she visited and he had been rejected.”
As he talked, the power cut out – a frequent occurrence in this part of Pakistan – bringing the overhead fan to a halt and intensifying the hot, sticky heat.
One of his young sons brought a tray of sweet, milky tea.
He described Shafilea as a happy girl keen to learn about her Pakistani roots, who would follow him around the village meeting neighbours and relatives.
Yet he made no secret of the fact that family wanted the British-born woman to marry a local, probably a relative.
“In these villages we always want to marry inside the family,” he explained. “I’m not in favour of forcing people to marry if they don’t want to but for us in the family, our children have always respected our decisions. They are included in our deliberations, so they respect our decision.”
Neighbours said Mr Ahmed was the brother of Shafilea’s father, Iftikhar, and the two had married sisters – their first cousins – also from the wheat farming village of Uttam.
Imtiaz Ahmed insisted that neighbours were mistaken and had assumed they were brothers as they were so close.
But DNA evidence presented in court also suggested that Ifitikhar Ahmed had lied about the identity of his father, wrongly claiming he was the son of a British citizen.
Imtiaz, a wheat farmer who minds the family land while the rest of his family has emigrated to the UK, had spent the previous day attending the funeral of a distant relative, who had been murdered as he slept on the roof of his house, the victim of gang rivalries.
The episode is a bitter reminder of the high rate of killings Pakistan. Women, in particular, frequently suffer at the hands of husbands, brothers and fathers.
Almost 1000 were murdered last year in “honour killings”, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, for apparently damaging their family’s name. Police officers rarely investigate, preferring to accept explanations of suicide at face value.
The parents of Shafilea Ahmed, Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed
Mr Ahmed reeled off details of dozens of cases in neighbouring towns and villages.
“Everybody knows about it. It’s a regular thing,” he said.
“When there are unlawful relations, that’s when they are killed.”
He added that he was shocked to hear of Shafilea’s death and prayed that it would not break up the tightly knit family.
Yet others in the village said they had long suspected the family hid a dark secret. Iftikhar, they said, had an explosive temper and had fallen out with his parents, not returning even when they were ill.
“We never knew what happened to Shafilea in England but once a member of this family told me that she did not have a good character in the UK,” said a neighbour, on condition of anonymity.
“He did not explain it further to me but they did not seem too upset about her murder and there were no prayers offered here on her death.”