Region joins forces against honour based violence
They said that vital lessons have been learned since Banaz Mahmod’s pleas for help fell on deaf ears nine years ago and assured that they will be believed. The terrified 20-year-old wrote a letter from beyond the grave giving details about the men she believed would savagely kill her before her raped and strangled body was found in a suitcase.
After she was spotted kissing her boyfriend in the street, Banaz Mahmod from London was murdered by her own family in a so called ‘honour’ killing despite reporting to police that she feared her life was in danger five times.
The harrowing documentary, ‘Banaz: A Love Story’ made by award-winning filmmaker Deeyah Khan, was screened at the pledge event detailing the tragic events that unfolded from her police interview to her killers finally being brought to justice.
A picture of a younger Banaz flashed up on the screen shows a baby faced beauty with rosebud lips and a healthy glow. But the woman who sat in the police interview room with her straggly hair scraped back in a bun, looked gaunt, exhausted and with the knowing look of fear in her eyes.
At the age of 17 she had an arranged marriage to a man from her family’s tribe in Iraq who was illiterate and followed ‘traditional’ Kurdish culture. After two years she went to the police saying she was regularly being raped and physically attacked by him which caused memory loss and a bone sticking out of her wrist after her had had been twisted.
“It was like I was his shoe and he would wear it whenever he felt like it,” she explained to a female officer. “He said “look at yourself in the mirror, you’re so skinny and ugly” and I was nothing but a whore”, and then I left.”
After fleeing the violence at home she met another man and friendship turned to love but after they were seen kissing at a tube station, Banaz’s fate was sealed.
She told police that she suspected she was being followed, and she was right. By telling her brutal husband she wanted a divorce and for having an unsuitable boyfriend, she caused her family shame and embarrassment and, in their eyes, there was only one solution.
Banaz went back to her family in south London and three months later she disappeared – although it wasn’t her family who reported her missing.
The film describes graphically how was raped and subjected to sex acts before succumbing to an agonising death. Her frail body, curled up like a baby in a womb, was discovered packed into a suitcase deep underground in a Birmingham back garden.
The victim’s father Mahmod Mahmod and uncle Ari Mahmod were jailed for life for ordering her death in 2007 while Mohammad Hama along with cousins Mohammed Ali and Omar Hussain were jailed for murder. The pair became the first suspects ever to be extradited to Britain from Iraq after Metropolitan Police detectives tracked them down.
Barry Coppinger, Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), said that, a decade on, front line officers and control room staff in the North-East were much better trained in spotting signs of honour based violence and sensitively dealing with victims.
As well as taking reports seriously, forces now had proper policies in place such as not using local taxi firms or family members and friends as interpreters, he added.
Together with Northumbria PCC Vera Baird and Durham’s Ron Hogg, he launched the first ever regional strategy to tackle violence against women and girls in December 2013.
Figures show that in the three North-East forces alone during April 2012 to March 2013 there were over 4,800 violent crimes against women, including 109 serious sexual offences, 86 honour based violence incidents and eight cases of stalking – as well as 53,500 incidents of domestic violence.
But a lot more work needs to be done to let people know that there is help and support available, said Noreen Riaz, from Halo Project. Officially, there are about 12 reported honour killings per year in the UK but this doesn’t take into account the many people who are taken abroad and do not return.
“We have honour based abuse happening everyday here in the North-East in our local communities. We can’t change peoples’ attitudes over nigh, it takes time, but our aim is to stamp it out,” she explained.
Based in Middlesbrough, Halo Project has a national reach, supporting 250 victims of forced marriage and honour based violence by providing advocacy services and accompanying women to solicitor and doctor appointments.
The Halo Project website reveals that across Teesside there have been a number of female suicides normally by fire and also murders of South Asian women and children as they have brought ‘shame’ or ‘dishonour’ to their families by not conforming.
Detective Chief Inspector Deborah Alderson from Northumbria Police was moved to tears by the hour-long documentary which was shown at Teesside University at a national day of remembrance to mark the birthday of Shafilea Ahmed from Cheshire. She was murdered at the age of 17 by her parents in front of her sisters after she resisted a forced marriage.
“The film was disturbing and powerful but that’s what it needs,” she said. “How can anyone have the view that it’s not wrong? I hate the word ‘honour’ based violence – it’s murder in the name of honour by cowards, I feel very strongly about that.”
Benaz’s sister, Bekhal, appears on camera throughout the film wearing a burka, not for religious reasons but as a disguise because she’s living in hiding under police protection after giving evidence against her father in court.
Remembering her sister, she tells the filmmakers: “She was a very calm and quiet person. She loved to see people happy and didn’t like arguments, she didn’t like people raising their voices, she hated it. She just wanted a happy life, she just wanted a family.”
CONTACT: Halo Project – 01642-683045 Twitter @halo_project
North-East ‘Choice helpline for victims of ‘honour’ based violence and domestic violence 0800-5999365
(Tyneside & Northumberland) rape crisis centre 0800-0352794
Rape and sexual abuse counselling centre (Darlington and Co. Durham) 01325-369933
Eva crisis service (Redcar & Cleveland) 01642-835079