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Special units to crack down on honour killing

Police and prosecutors target 'hotspots'

Karen McVeigh
Saturday June 16 2007

Dedicated teams of senior prosecutors are to be deployed in the UK's honour killing hotspots in the wake of the failings exposed this week by the case of a young Kurdish woman murdered by her family.

The prosecutors, who have all had experience of complex organised crime cases, will start work this month as part of an overhaul of how cases are handled. The move is designed to boost conviction rates and improve protection for victims.

The Crown Prosecution Service has revealed the changes after the justice system was criticised for doing too little to protect vulnerable women. Senior police officers told the Guardian that there are systemic failures in how cases are handled - measures proposed years ago have been shelved, delayed or ignored, they warn.

Chief constables and the Home Office are also working together with other agencies to ensure that women in danger are identified early and dealt with properly to improve protection for victims. Plans to be published soon by the Association of Chief Police Officers will tell forces to follow new risk assessment models to ensure women are taken seriously if they complain of family violence.

The changes come after Banaz Mahmod, a 20-year-old Kurd, was murdered by her father and uncle because they disapproved of her boyfriend who was not a strict Muslim and was not of their tribe.

She was found dumped in a suitcase, with the shoelace used to kill her around her neck. She had repeatedly told police her family were trying to kill her. In one instance where she had escaped from her father, she was not taken seriously, and described as melodramatic and manipulative by an officer who interviewed her.

A police inquiry is under way.

The CPS will this month pilot its new approach in four "hotspot" areas. A team of 20 prosecutors are to be based in London, the West Midlands, West Yorkshire and Lancashire. Each one will be trained by a number of different agencies including the police, the government's forced marriage unit and the independent victims group, the Southall Black Sisters.

The complex investigation and three-month trial for Ms Mahmod's murder relied on initiatives more often used to tackle organised crime, such as the use of covert investigative techniques and special measures for key witnesses, two of whom needed police protection. Such techniques are increasingly used to deal with honour crimes.

The CPS will also introduce a "flag" for any forced marriage or honour crime cases, so they can be logged and monitored.

Nazir Afzal, the CPS lead on honour-based violence, said that such crimes are often elaborate, pre-planned and can involve many suspects.

One in nine honour killings in the UK is carried out by hit men, he said. It is also common for the youngest member of the family to carry out the murder, with the others playing a lesser role.

"Some families carrying out these types of crimes are very subtle in how they go about it," said Mr Afzal. He said the CPS was determined to prosecute every individual involved. Under the new Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act, if a person fails to intervene to protect a family member they too can face justice.

Mr Afzal said that the CPS was committed to extraditing honour crime suspects who flee abroad and that it was seeking to extradite the two remaining suspects in Ms Mahmod's murder, believed to be in Iraqi Kurdistan. Ms Mahmod named the two, Omar Hussein and Mohammed Ali, as among those she believed were plotting to kill her in a letter she handed to the police the month before she was killed nearly 18 months ago.

However, the service is facing legal obstacles. The new 2005 Iraqi constitution does not allow subjects to be extradited.

Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited

See Muslim Parliament press release Banaz Mahmod honour killing




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