'They're following me': chilling words of girl who was 'honour killing' victim

The murder of Banaz Mahmod by her family in 2006 shocked the country. A documentary now tells her story.

On police videotape, a 19-year-old girl named those she believed had intended to kill her. They would try again, she said. “People are following me, still they are following me. At any time, if anything happens to me, it’s them,” she told the officers calmly. “Now I have given my statement,” she asked an officer, “what can you do for me?”

The answer was very little. Banaz Mahmod went back to her family in Mitcham, south London. Three months later she disappeared. It was several months before her raped and strangled body was found and four years before all those responsible for killing her were tracked down and jailed. Her father and uncle planned her death because the teenager had first walked out of a violent and sexually abusive arranged marriage, and later had fallen in love with someone else.

Now a documentary is to be premiered at the Raindance film festival, which opens this week, that includes for the first time some of the recordings made both by Banaz herself in the runup to her murder and the videotapes of some of the five visits she made to police to report the danger she felt herself to be in and name, before the event, her murderers. She told how her husband was “very strict. Like it was 50 years ago.”

“When he raped me it was like I was his shoe that he could wear whenever he wanted to. I didn’t know if this was normal in my culture, or here. I was 17.” Her family were furious when she finally left him.

The so-called honour killing of Banaz, who was murdered on 24 January 2006, shocked not only the country but also the police team, who faced a daunting task in bringing her killers to justice. They faced an investigation within an Iraqi Kurdish community, many of whom believed Banaz had deserved her fate for bringing shame on her father – a former soldier who fled Saddam Hussein and had sought asylum in the UK with his wife and five daughters. Mahmod Mahmod and his brother, Ari, were jailed for life for their part in the murder in 2007, but two other men involved fled to Iraq and were extradited back before being jailed for life in 2010.

Detective Chief Inspector Caroline Goode, who won a Queen’s Award for her dedicated efforts in getting justice for Banaz, said she found the case harrowing. In most cases police get justice after a murder for the family. “In this case the family had no interest whatsoever in the investigation. It was an absolute outrage that this girl was missing and nobody cared.”

The film also shows the continuing effects of the killing, with both Banaz’s boyfriend and her sister, Bekhal, still living in hiding and in fear. Bekhal has put her own life at risk by her decision to give evidence against her family in court. She now “watches her back 24/7”.

Remembering her sister, she tells the film-makers: “She was a very calm and quiet person. She loved to see people happy and didn’t like arguments, she didn’t like people raising their voices, she hated it. She just wanted a happy life, she just wanted a family.”

The film, Banaz: A Love Story, was made by the former pop star and now music producer and film-maker Deeyah. Norwegian-born, but of Punjabi and Pashtun heritage, Deeyah has herself been subject to honour-related abuse and her singing career was marred by endless death threats that, in part, led to her giving up touring. The story of Banaz, who died because she just wanted to be an ordinary British teenager, she said, struck an immediate chord with her.

“Despite the horror, what emerges is a story of love,” said Deeyah. “What has upset me greatly from the very beginning of this project is how absent Banaz was from her own story. Whenever you see a film about someone who has passed you will always have family, friends, people who knew the person, sharing their love, their memories and thoughts about the person who has died; they have home videos, photos. That was just not the case here at all. The only person speaking for Banaz who had known her alive was her sister. Other than that, everyone else in the film came to know Banaz after she had died.”

A search for other witnesses to her life proved fruitless. “We tried to find anyone who would have known her, no one came forward,” said Deeyah. “Then I came across the videotape with Banaz herself, telling us what her suffocating reality was like. Watching this tape for the first time was among the most difficult things I have ever experienced. I had spent three-and-a-half years working on this film, learning everything I could about this young woman’s life and her death, we were in the final editing process and suddenly here she was, when no one else would come forward to speak about her.

“I found it excruciatingly sad to see her and at the same time I felt so glad to finally get a chance to see her and hear her. No one listened to her in her life. As a society we let down Banaz, as her community we let her down. I am sorry she had to die for people to start learning more about this problem, although measures have been taken to improve the understanding around this.

“There is a very long way to go before we can adequately understand, protect and support women at risk. We don’t need empty slogans or lip service, we need real concise action on this issue. Living in western societies, we need our lives as ‘brown’ women to matter as much as any fellow human being.”


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