Cameras catch ‘honour’ crime in London

Read more below

  • Published 26.01.14

London, Jan. 25: When Nazma Ditta, a Pakistani woman in the Lancashire town of Blackburn, began a lesbian love affair with an Englishwoman, Sarah Harrison, she managed to keep the relationship secret for two-and-a-half years.

But then Nazma’s family found out and adopted an uncompromising line: “A Pakistani woman cannot be a lesbian.”

The consequences for the lovers were devastating.

Nazma’s brother and no fewer than five of her sisters hatched a revenge plan, firstly, by buying their erring sibling a “one way ticket to Pakistan”, and, secondly, by kidnapping Sarah and giving her the thrashing of her life or possibly even worse. “Get her in, get her,” they were heard screaming, as an attempt was made in broad daylight on June 20 last year to bundle Sarah into a car. But despite having her hair pulled and being badly mauled and though she was scared she would have acid thrown in her face, Sarah somehow managed to avoid being pushed into the waiting car.

Unfortunately for the attackers, their every action was recorded on CCTV as they punched Sarah in the face and arms. They snatched away her handbag but Sarah clung to a side of the car. Finally, her attackers fled the scene in their car but without their quarry. One Asian man rang 999 and alerted the police, while another supplied the registration number of the Dittas’ vehicle — points emphasised later.

And yesterday, at Preston Crown Court, her attackers were given an introduction to liberal British culture — lesbian and gay love is allowed — along with prison sentences, ranging between three to six years.

The children’s mother, Rani Ditta, 55, thought to be the one who instigated her children to save the family’s honour, narrowly escaped being sent to prison herself when the prosecution decided not to offer any evidence against her.

For Nazma and Sarah, 28 and 35 respectively, the story has ended happily. They were given the all clear yesterday to get on with their lives together. What the case illustrates is that although British society has learnt to accept gay and lesbian relationships, the message appears not to have got through to sections of the UK’s south Asian population.

The judge, Graham Knowles QC, noted that the Ditta family still believed they had done the right thing: “I am afraid I do not find you to be remorseful in any significant sense. I am not persuaded that you accept that you really did wrong.”

The full story unfolded in court where at the end of the trial where all the defendants had pleaded guilty (otherwise the sentences would have been even heavier), three of the sisters — Nighat Morris, 38, (thought to be married to an Englishman), Atfah Ditta, 32, and Ghazala Ditta, 31 — were all jailed for five years and four months.

They had pleaded guilty to actual bodily harm, attempted kidnap and robbery.

Two other sisters, Nayyar Mehmood, 37, and Tosif Ditta, 35, got three-and-a-half years. They had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit actual bodily harm.

The baby of the family, Tahmoor Ditta, 26 — born after six sisters — admitted all the other charges plus possession of an offensive metal weapon and was sentenced to six years.

Passing sentence, the judge said: “This case is about power and control. It is about striking fear into the heart in order to control not just the body but also the will.”

The trial heard that in the days leading up to the attack, members of the Ditta family had confronted Sarah at her workplace and asked her about Nazma’s whereabouts. They also asked her work colleagues about where Sarah parked her car and waited at various locations for her to leave work.

Nazma had previously declined to have an arranged marriage and left home days before the attack to move in with Sarah, although she pretended to her family that she had gone to Manchester for a new job.

The judge said: “You all came to know about the relationship and were determined to end it and were determined to get her back in the family home to please your mother.”

He said a “carefully planned ambush” of Sarah Harrison was devised. “The intention was to cause your sister to leave her for good and if possible to find where you sister was. A brutal and sustained group attack took place. How she found the strength and skill to keep out of the car I do not know, but she found it.”

Each defendant was also subjected to a restraining order preventing contact with Nazma and Sarah.

“There must be a clear message that each of what you did and planned carefully to do cannot be tolerated,” the judge warned.

The judge read out a letter he had received without naming the author: “Even now in 2014 the Asian community stigmatises relationships and marriages which have not been arranged through the elders. A same-sex relationship is something that cannot be comprehended.”