A teenager from Leeds was dramatically rescued from a forced marriage plot in Bangladesh as part of a West Yorkshire Police investigation that today saw her parents found guilty and convicted at court.
In the first successful case of its kind, officers from Leeds District Safeguarding Unit worked closely with consular staff at the British High Commission in Bangladesh and the Foreign & Commonwealth office to secure the 18-year-old’s rescue.
The victim, now aged 20, had been taken to a remote village in Bangladesh in July 2016 after her parents deceived her into thinking the trip was for a family holiday.
Once there, they told her she was going to get married later that month to a cousin, whether she agreed or not.
When she refused, her mother swore at her and threatened her with violence and later encouraged her husband to hit the victim.
Her father initially tried to be kind and persuade her but within days resorted to threats.
At one point he made reference to the fact that they had brought her up for 18 years with love, but that he would chop her up in 18 seconds if she disrespected him by not going through with the marriage. He made it clear he would rather kill her and go to prison than allow this perceived lack of respect.
The victim’s phone was also taken off her for a time.
The victim had lived in Leeds all her life and enjoyed a normal school and social life, but contact with boys was forbidden.
She had however met a boy through mutual friends in late 2015 but had kept the relationship secret from her family, knowing that that it would not be allowed.
She sat her A Levels in 2016 and was planning to go to university but her parents made it clear only they would decide her future.
Once her parents’ marriage plan in Bangladesh became clear, the distressed victim enlisted the help of her sister and managed to contact her boyfriend in the UK via WhatsApp messages.
He received further messages from her sister’s phone that reinforced that she was being forced to marry and asked him to contact the police.
He immediately contacted officers in Leeds who began an investigation and started liaising with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to ensure her safety.
At the same time the victim and her sister searched online for help and contacted the British High Commission who began setting up a rescue operation but needed to find out exactly where she was.
The victim set her sister’s phone to location settings and sent screenshots of the surroundings to help her rescuers pinpoint her exact location.
She saw her opportunity when her mother decided to visit neighbours to talk about the wedding and her father went out with other men to buy the groom’s outfit.
The victim was in constant contact with the consular team who were travelling under police escort to find her. They had advised her to try to get away from the house and to the main road.
The victim and her sisters had been left with their grandmother and an uncle but persuaded them to let them go for a walk to a pond close to the main road. The uncle was suspicious but let them go accompanied by their grandmother.
While the rescue party waited anxiously at the roadside the victim manage to break free and ran to them. As they drove away with her they were followed by a large group of local men but police units had blocked the road.
The victim, who left with nothing but the clothes she had on, her phone and a Leeds bus pass, was taken to a place of safety and flown back to the UK the following day.
She then gave a detailed account of her ordeal to officers from Leeds District Safeguarding Unit on her return.
Her parents were arrested days later when they flew back to the Heathrow airport and her siblings were taken into care.
With the victim now successfully brought to safety, the investigation team’s focus turned to gathering the highest possible quality of evidence to support the charging and subsequent prosecution of the parents.
A decision was made to deploy officers to Bangladesh on two occasions to speak first-hand to witnesses and to consular staff and to gather evidence there directly.
As a result, both parents were charged with forced marriage offences under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 and appeared for the first time at magistrates court in July 2017.
The parents, who cannot be named to maintain the victim’s legal entitlement to lifetime anonymity, were convicted at Leeds Crown Court yesterday ( May 29) following a trial. They were found guilty of offences of forced marriage and using violence or a form of coercion.
They will both be sentenced at Leeds Crown Court on Monday June 18.
Detective Superintendent Pat Twiggs, who led the investigation, said: “This is the first successful prosecution of its kind in a case involving the active rescue of a British citizen from a forced marriage situation overseas.
“The close co-operation between law enforcement, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the British High Commission was at the heart of achieving this successful conclusion. Another vital element was that we quickly identified this situation as a ‘crime in action’ abroad and focused our attention on bringing the victim to safety.
“We immediately recognised the challenges of investigating a crime of this kind, where some of the main evidence and witness accounts sit in another country some distance away.
“This is why we made the decision to deploy investigators to Bangladesh to speak to witnesses and consular staff and get the best evidence possible.
“This has been a lengthy and complex case, with allied High Court family proceedings that have had to take precedence, but we hope this result will help to pave the way for more victims of forced marriage to come forward and feel confident they will be taken seriously by the authorities.
“This successful prosecution also provides us with an important opportunity to refresh and develop the current processes and procedures for liaising with Government departments and abroad in cases such as this.
“There is an inevitable degree of bureaucracy when dealing across these various agencies and borders. While it is important that protocols are properly followed, we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to streamline the processes and develop the lines of communication to assist in the timely rescue of victims and to gather the best evidence to support prosecutions.
“Work is already underway to achieve that and a good deal of progress has been made in terms of training and awareness for both law enforcement and other statutory partners. We hope cases like this one will underline the importance of continuing that journey.
“The greatest tribute in this case has to be to the victim. She is a remarkable young woman who has had her life turned upside down at a relatively young age. Her family have turned their back on her and alienated her siblings from her, which I know has been devastating.
“It would have been easy for her at any point to have found this all too much, but she has remained resolute throughout.
“I think she has clearly recognised how important it is for her to stand up, not just for herself but for other victims who will follow. I know she wants her case to show other victims that they can come forward to the authorities with confidence that they will be listened to and safeguarded.
“Arranged marriages between consenting parties are entirely legal, but the law does not allow anyone to force someone to marry against their will and we hope this case will send a suitable deterrent message to those who seek to control and exploit others in this way.”