Breaking new ground in Cheshire

It is a week since Savera UK, Cheshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, John Dwyer and various partners and supporters gathered at Warrington Town Hall to remember Shafilea Ahmed and all those lost or harmed as a result of ‘honour’ killings or ‘honour’-based abuse.

The morning’s conference focused on presentations from Afrah Qassim, Founder and CEO of Savera UK, John Dwyer, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, Jaswant Narwal CPS, Chief Crown Prosecutor Thames and Chiltern and lead on forced marriage, female genital mutilation and ‘honour’-based abuse, Superintendent Jon Betts, from Cheshire Constabulary AND Savera UK Survivor Ambassadors Saliha Rashid and Khatra Paterson.

Stronger Prevention Approaches

In her speech, Afrah shared a message from Geraint Jones, who had been the Senior Investigating Officer on Shafilea Ahmed’s case. 

Geraint said: “Friday 14th July 2023 would have been Shafilea’s 37th birthday. Tragically and horribly she was killed. She was murdered by her parents who acted together to kill her. They killed her because she wasn’t conforming to their barbaric ways. 

“Shafilea was a girl they should have been proud of. Instead they killed her and did so in front of her sisters and brother. Sadly, some twenty years later there are still people doing the same to their children and families. 

“These harmful traditional practices have no place whatsoever in the modern world. Charities like Savera UK are doing tireless work to support victims, without them people needing help would have nowhere to turn. We also need to challenge this criminality and have stronger prevention approaches. Only then will we see the big improvements so desperately needed. 

“In the meantime it is a time for reflection for all of us. Shafilea looked for help and didn’t get it. I sincerely hope that if the same happened today, it would be very different. As for her parents, they remain in prison and will do so for many years to come. Bringing them to justice was very important but even more important is to remember Shafilea and pay tribute to her.”

“We must not become culturally blind”

The reflection was a powerful introduction to an important morning of looking at the systems in place to address the issue of HBA and harmful practices today, the challenges faced, how voluntary and statutory services are working together, and what more needs to be done to ensure that no more are lost like Shafilea was.

Speaking after the event, Savera UK CEO and Founder, Afrah Qassim, said: “The conference was a really important and powerful way to break new ground in Cheshire. 

“Despite what happened 20 years ago in Warrington to Shafilea Ahmed, there is still only quite limited knowledge and awareness around ‘honour’-based abuse and harmful practices. But as we saw last week, there is a significant appetite from professionals to learn more and this is a positive foundation upon which to build our presence in Cheshire.

“We have only just started our work in the area, but we have already started to see referrals from Cheshire, people at risk who need our help, which highlights just how important it is for us to be out there in the community, and working closely with professionals.

“Our partners and supporters, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, Cheshire, John Dwyer, Supt Jon Betts from Cheshire Constabulary and Jaswant Narwal from the CPS all spoke so passionately about their support for our mission and their own journey and experiences in helping those at risk of HBA and harmful practices. It is partnerships like these that will help us generate greater awareness and understanding.

“By working together and engaging with communities where these issues are more prevalent, we can address HBA and harmful practices in the community, in the legal system and in operational policing, as well as in wider services and society as a whole.

“There are challenges to be addressed. There needs to be a clearer and more consistent definition of what HBA is and better guidance for police investigators, so they can easily recognise and know how to respond to a crime involving ‘honour’ or harmful practices. 

“There also needs to be less fear about engaging with and challenging communities where these issues are more prevalent. Cultural understanding is a must, but we must never become culturally blind. There is no excuse for abuse.

“If we are to make a difference, Professionals need to go out there and address the root of the causes of these issues. This requires us to build community trust and establish  community advocates to work with us to end these issues.”

For more information about HBA and harmful practices, visit the Savera UK Learning Hub:

To learn more about the recent Day of Memory 2023 event, click here.

Image Credits: Andrew AB Photography