LONDON – A 70-year-old British grandmother is facing life imprisonment after being convicted today of the “honour killing” of her son’s wife who she murdered after luring her to India.
Bachan Athwal, 70, who has 16 grandchildren, is believed to be one of the oldest women ever to be convicted of murder in England. Her son was also found guilty of murder.
They will be sentenced on Sept. 19.
The two killed Sikh Heathrow Airport worker Surjit Kaur Athwal, who disappeared in December 1998 after she decided to walk out of her arranged marriage.
Bachan Athwal, a mother-of six, was furious about her daughter-in-law’s plans to leave, which she believed would bring disgrace on the family, London’s Old Bailey court heard.
The pensioner was said to have told one family member that any divorce proceedings “would happen over my dead body”.
The Customs officer was lured to India by her mother-in-law, and her minibus driver husband Sukhdave Singh Athwal, 43, on the pretext of attending family weddings but was instead strangled.
The alarm was raised after the 27-year-old victim failed to return to her home in Hayes, west London. Her body, believed to be somewhere in the Punjab area in India, has never been found.
The verdict is the second involving honour killings in Britain this month. Iraqi Kurd Mahmod Mahmod was jailed for life last week for murdering his daughter after discovering she was having an affair.
“This case highlights how seriously we treat any murder or violence, regardless of the motive, whether it be for financial gain or in the name of so called honour,” said Detective Chief Inspector Clive Driscoll of London’s Specialist Crime Directorate after Thursday’s verdict.
“It is the culmination of over eight years’ work by the Metropolitan Police, and the determination of Surjit’s family, to see the perpetrators brought to justice,” he said.
During the three month trial, the court heard that Surjit’s 10-year arranged marriage — which she entered when she was just 16 — was on the rocks and she was desperate to leave it.
She had asked for a divorce and was having an affair with a colleague. Athwal and her son were so aggrieved they plotted to “get rid of her”, the jury was told.
“She was a vivacious young girl, was Surjit … and she had developed a somewhat Westernised-style of life,” prosecutor Michael Worsley said. She cut her hair short, smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol.
“They were Sikhs, and for the girl to have an affair was obviously something dreadful. Eventually feelings against her boiled over.”