Grandmother guilty of murder plot
A 70-year-old grandmother and her son have been found guilty of murdering his wife in a so-called "honour killing".
Bachan Athwal and her son Sukhdave, 43, arranged the murder of Surjit Athwal to defend the family honour.
Surjit, 27, who wanted a divorce, went missing in 1998 after going to the Punjab with her mother-in-law.
An Old Bailey judge remanded the mother and son from Hayes, west London, into custody and told them to expect a life term when sentenced in September.
Mother-of-two Surjit, originally from Coventry, never returned from a trip with Bachan Athwal to a family wedding in India in December 1998.
Later, the grandmother of 16 children boasted she had got rid of her by getting a relative to strangle her and throw her body into a river in the Punjab. Her body has never been found.
The pair were only caught when "frightened" members of their own family reported them to police.
"They were frightened that if they told anybody, the same sort of thing might happen to them as they believed happened to the victim," Michael Worsley QC, prosecuting, said.
Mr Worsley said "family honour was at stake" when it was discovered Surjit was having an affair with a married man and wanted a divorce.
Bachan vowed a divorce would could only take place "over my dead body".
Bachan called a family meeting to discuss killing Surjit a month before she vanished, the court heard.
Sarbjit Athwal, another daughter-in-law, said: "My mother-in-law said she wasn't getting on and it was causing too much confusion and problems in the family - and they were going to get rid of Surjit."
After having her killed, Bachan and Sukhdave then pretended Surjit had run away. They forged letters supposed to be from the Metropolitan Police to their Indian counterparts to try and fool them.
Mother and son also faked a document transferring ownership of the home Surjit part-owned into their names.
Sukhdave took out a £100,000 insurance policy on his wife the day she left for India. It was never paid out.
He later divorced Surjit in her absence, claiming she deserted him, and then he married someone else, said Mr Worsley.
Surjit first met her Sikh husband on her wedding day in 1988, when she was just 16.
She had worked as a customs officer at Heathrow Airport and married Sukhdave, who worked as a driver at the airport.
Judge Giles Forrester remanded the mother and son in custody for sentencing on 19 September.
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Published: 2007/07/26 11:44:59 GMT
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