By Mark Hughes
A teenage girl found dead in a river after fleeing an arranged marriage was either strangled or smothered, an inquest has heard.
The badly decomposed body of Shafilea Ahmed was found by workmen on the bed of the river Kent in Kendal, Cumbria, in February 2004 â€“ five months after she disappeared from her home in Warrington.
A cause of death for the 17-year-old has never been established, but yesterday the pathologist who carried out her post-mortem examination said the possibility that she died of natural causes was “not credible”.
Dr Alison Armour told the inquest in Kendal that it was no longer possible to confirm whether Ms Ahmed had died by strangulation or smothering, because the latter left few marks and her neck muscles had decomposed. Dr Armour also ruled out the possibility that Ms Ahmed had drowned.
The south Cumbria coroner Ian Smith heard that the teenager had run away from home with a male friend before a family trip to Pakistan in 2003, fearing that she would be forced into an arranged marriage.
Superintendent Geraint Jones of Cheshire Police said: “We know she had said that she would be forced into marriage.”
He said Ms Ahmed had told hospital workers that she was the victim of dom-estic abuse and had self-harmed and drunk a “caustic substance”, to find a way out of a forced marriage.
The inquest heard earlier from Ms Ahmed’s father, Iftikhar Ahmed. Mr Ahmed, along with his wife, Farzana, was arrested on suspicion of her kidnap in December 2003 and later released on police bail.
* A pattern that repeats itself…
He told the inquest he was “surprised” when his daughter went missing. He said that she was a “normal child, very bright” but that “problems arose” when she went to sixth form.
Ms Ahmed was last seen on 11 September 2003 and was reported missing by a teacher at Sankey High School on 18 September.
A mother and daughter, Eniz Byron and Heather Gibbon from Sedgwick, near Kendal, told the inquest they had seen a white van parked haphazardly near the river around the time she was missing.
They also said they had noticed an “awful” smell at the spot a few weeks later. It was the spot where Ms Ahmed’s body was found.
Ms Ahmed’s parents, who have offered a Â£5,000 reward to catch her killer, have always maintained they had nothing to do with her death.
Five other relatives â€“ believed to live in the Bradford area, where Shafilea was born â€“ were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, but were also released on police bail.
The inquest continues until the end of this week.