BEKHAL MAHMOD says justice for tragic Banaz gave her strength to testify in ‘honour killing’ trial


‘My sister and I called our father the Evil Punisher. Finally I had a chance to send him to prison for her murder’: BEKHAL MAHMOD says justice for tragic Banaz gave her strength to testify in ‘honour killing’ trial despite fears family would kill her next

For the first few days of my sister’s murder trial, I was not allowed into Courtroom 10 of the Old Bailey. I would have to wait until I had given evidence before I could watch proceedings.

But I’m glad I didn’t have to witness the distressing moment that footage was played to the jury of my beautiful sister, 20-year-old Banaz, pleading to an ambulance crew that ‘my dad is trying to kill me’.

On trial for her killing, he had sniggered throughout the tragic six-minute clip.

It had been filmed at St George’s Hospital, in Tooting, South-West London, just weeks before her short life ended. At the start of proceedings, in March 2007, our father Mahmod Babakir Mahmod – the Evil Punisher, as I called him while growing up – and our uncle Ari Mahmod had both pleaded not guilty to Banaz’s killing. The court heard that my sister had been strangled in a so-called honour killing in the lounge of our home in Mitcham, South London, on January 24, 2006.

I’m glad I didn’t have to witness the distressing moment that footage was played to the jury of my beautiful sister, 20-year-old Banaz (pictured), pleading to an ambulance crew that ‘my dad is trying to kill me’

I’m glad I didn’t have to witness the distressing moment that footage was played to the jury of my beautiful sister, 20-year-old Banaz (pictured), pleading to an ambulance crew that ‘my dad is trying to kill me’

Mahmod Bebikir Mahmod at the Old bailey where he is accused of the murder of his daughter

Mahmod Bebikir Mahmod at the Old bailey where he is accused of the murder of his daughter

Miss Bekhal Mahmod after she gave evidence at the trial of her father, who is accused of the honour killing of his daughter Banaz

Miss Bekhal Mahmod after she gave evidence at the trial of her father, who is accused of the honour killing of his daughter Banaz

The killing itself had been carried out by Mohamed Hama, who was described in court as a ‘close family friend’, even though he was actually a cousin to me and Banaz. Both our parents had gone out so that Hama and his accomplices could commit the crime.

Banaz’s body was then stuffed in a suitcase and buried in a garden in Birmingham. A discarded fridge freezer was put over her crude grave. She had been there for at least three months before police found her, a bootlace ligature still around her neck.

Victor Temple QC, prosecuting, described Banaz’s murder as a ‘cold-blooded and callous execution’ that had been ordered by Dad and Ari.

Temple explained the tight-knit dynamics of the Kurdish community in South London where, if a family name is shamed, ‘retribution often merciless must follow, especially if the family member is a woman’. He said: ‘Women are not treated as equals. Banaz was killed for no other reason than she chose, after an unhappy marriage, to associate and fall in love with another man.

‘Her father was indifferent to his daughter’s fate and showed no remorse from first to last, perceiving the loss of reputation was more important than his daughter’s life.’

Before I testified against the Evil Punisher and Ari, in a private witness room at the Old Bailey, I worked myself up into a panic, pacing nervous circles as I said to myself: ‘Oh my God, they’re going to kill me, they’re going to kill me, they’re going to kill me…’

Giving evidence for the prosecution would mean testifying against my family – and, by extension, the entire Kurdish community.

My head was a tumble dryer. What if Dad and Ari get off? What if one of them leaps from the dock while I’m giving my evidence? What if there’s a Kurdish man in the public gallery, armed with a knife, ready to storm the witness stand and slit my throat? Will the jury believe me?

The risks involved were insurmountable. By now, I had a baby daughter and the police had moved us to a secret location amid death threats. The thought of facing Dad and Ari in court terrified me to the core. But securing justice for Banaz outweighed all the risks.

A screen would be erected around the witness box to shield me from the public gallery and dock, but I would still need to walk into the courtroom to get to it. There was no way I could let Dad or Ari see my face, so I decided to wear a hijab, niqab and abaya.

A hijab is a head covering, a niqab is the traditional Muslim face veil, while the abaya is a square of fabric that drapes from your shoulders to your feet.

As I advanced with two security guards into the courtroom, the first people I noticed were the defendants, both in grey suits and, as always, watching my every step.

Ari gave me one of his smug smiles. I’ll never forget that look. It said: ‘I’m going to win this case – then kill you.’ Dad crossed his brows, his hatred for me palpable in his menacing stare.

I quickly averted my gaze to the blue screen around the witness stand ahead, aware that every pair of eyes in that packed courtroom was on me. I wanted to do this for Banaz. I swallowed hard, looked at the jury, and said: ‘I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’

Mohammad Hama boasted about raping and torturing her before she was strangled to death Pictured: Banaz Mahmod

Mohammad Hama boasted about raping and torturing her before she was strangled to death Pictured: Banaz Mahmod

Miss Bekhal Mahmod after she gave evidence at the trial of her father, who is accused of the honour killing of his daughter Banaz

Miss Bekhal Mahmod after she gave evidence at the trial of her father, who is accused of the honour killing of his daughter Banaz

What I learned during the trial about the final two-and-a-half hours of Banaz’s precious life haunts me still. She had been tortured and raped. On the blood-red carpet of the home in which my sister should have felt secure and loved by her family, she had been kicked and stamped on by Hama, before he strangled her to death.

Since his arrest, Hama had been recorded in telephone calls made from prison, boasting and laughing to a friend about her murder. Referring to the bootlace he strangled Banaz with, he said: ‘The wire was thick, and the soul would not just leave. All in all, it took five minutes to strangle her. I was kicking and stamping on her neck to get the soul out.’

We sat beneath the balcony of the public gallery, shielded by security guards. Through the rectangle of my veil, I stared at Dad and Ari, who both eyeballed me back.

When the jury filed in to deliver their verdict, a rush of heat shot from my heart to my scalp. I felt faint, like I was about to pass out, and my hands trembled in my lap. Dad and Ari showed no emotion as they stood. They looked like two bored men waiting at a bus stop.

Next, the foreman of the jury rose and my heart thrummed in my ears as the judge spoke. ‘On the charge of murder, do you find the defendant Mahmod Babakir Mahmod guilty or not guilty?’ I squeezed my eyes shut.

Oh God, please don’t let them walk free.

‘Guilty.’

‘Yes!’ I shouted through my niqab.

‘On the charge of murder, do you find the defendant Ari Mahmod guilty or not guilty?’

‘Guilty.’

In all, seven male relatives were convicted of Banaz’s murder or related crimes. Our father and uncle were unanimously convicted of her murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 20 and 23 years respectively. One cousin pleaded guilty to murder at this trial, and another was convicted of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Three other men, all cousins, would also be convicted of murder, or other violent crimes, in two further trials in 2010 and 2013. In a first of its kind, two of Banaz’s killers were extradited from Iraq, where they had fled.

When the judge sentenced Dad and Ari, he asked where is the honour in a father putting his status in the community before the life of his own flesh and blood?

That day, a mixture of emotions hit me. First came relief, quickly overshadowed by fear and pain. Then came a deep, gut-wrenching sadness as Dad cast me one final look of contempt.

I looked away. I could not begin to conceive the reality of what he’d done to Banaz. All the justice in the world could not bring her back.

Even with those evil men in prison, I will never feel safe. I’ll always be looking over my shoulder. Before the trial began, I had entered the witness protection programme. I did not want to, but if I had refused, there was a good chance my daughter would have been taken into care for her safety.

My life is difficult. It’s a lonely life. I never wanted to cut ties with my family, but circumstances meant I had to. What I wouldn’t give to see my younger sisters. Nowadays, I suffer panic attacks and nightmares and, to be honest, I will never be fully happy again.

Being in witness protection means I’m unable to talk to many people about my childhood or family or the acts of evil committed by my father, uncle and cousins. I can’t tell new friends about my beautiful, caring little sister. Nor can I cry to them on Banaz’s birthday or the anniversary of her death.

In May 2016, I heard the shocking news that Banaz’s partner at the time of her murder – Rahmat, who had supported me through the trial and given evidence that helped convict her murderers – had taken his life. According to reports, he had tried to do this twice before.

He had been given a new identity after her murder, under the witness protection programme. Even Rahmat’s parents, who lived in Iran, had received death threats.

‘Banaz and I fell in love,’ he said as we sat chatting in the witness room. ‘We didn’t commit a crime. How could they do this to her?’

Banaz had been to the police five times in the 14 weeks leading up to her murder, even giving them a list of the men who would go on to kill her (pictured) Banaz Mahod during a police interview shown on Exposure: An Honor Killing

 Banaz had been to the police five times in the 14 weeks leading up to her murder, even giving them a list of the men who would go on to kill her (pictured) Banaz Mahod during a police interview shown on Exposure: An Honor Killing

He had broken down in the witness box when he watched the video of my sister pleading with the ambulance crew, which he had filmed at the hospital on his mobile phone. Describing his love for my sister, he told the jury: ‘I don’t think I have ever loved anyone as much as I loved Banaz. She was my first love. She meant the world to me.’

I looked at Rahmat. ‘It’s not your fault. You made Banaz happy. She would hate for you to feel guilty. You did not kill her.’

He leaned forwards, covering his face with his hands. ‘My life means nothing without Banaz.’

Poor Rahmat. l truly believe that he could not live without her.

Banaz was clearly madly in love with Rahmat, too. In text messages, she’d called him ‘My prince, my shining one’. The court heard how Banaz had finally found the courage to walk out on the husband she claimed beat and raped her. In Rahmat, however, she had found a kind, loving and ‘open-minded’ partner whom she’d hoped to marry.

It broke my heart when I heard how Banaz and Rahmat were forced to keep their relationship a secret – all because he was not an Iraqi-Kurd or a strict Muslim from the precious ‘Mirawaldy tribe’. The hypocrisy of this never fails to astound me.

Rahmat told me of his and Banaz’s wish to have children. They had even picked baby names together. ‘Banaz really wanted a daughter,’ said Rahmat through a tearful smile, ‘so we agreed on Rose for a little girl.’ I replied with more tears, remembering how Banaz loved her flowers.

A few weeks after the sentencing, Rahmat and I visited Banaz’s grave for the first time. Police drove us to Morden Cemetery in separate unmarked cars. They locked the gates while several plainclothes officers guarded the graveyard.

I met Rahmat and we walked together to Banaz’s grave. My arms were full of flowers: two bunches of lilies, which were Banaz’s favourite, one yellow, the other pink, and a bouquet of orange roses.

(left to right) Mohammed Ali, Omar Hussain and Mahmod, who were all found guilty for the 'honour killing' of 20-year-old Banaz Mahmod in January 2006

(left to right) Mohammed Ali, Omar Hussain and Mahmod, who were all found guilty for the ‘honour killing’ of 20-year-old Banaz Mahmod in January 2006

No Safe Place, by Bekhal Mahmod with Dr Hannana Siddiqui, is published by Ad Lib Publishers on July 7

No Safe Place, by Bekhal Mahmod with Dr Hannana Siddiqui, is published by Ad Lib Publishers on July 7 

The mouth of a green vase poked out of my shoulder bag, which Rahmat offered to carry. As we walked, with officers trailing our steps, Rahmat again spoke of his grief for Banaz, whom my family had nicknamed Nazca, which means ‘beautiful’ and ‘delicate’ in Kurdish.

We stopped for a moment in the spitting rain, a few feet shy of the mound of earth that marked Nazca’s resting place, and I glanced up at Rahmat. He looked as though he hadn’t slept for weeks. His eyes, circled with purply shadows, were swollen from crying.

‘Oh, Rahmat, I know how much you miss Banaz,’ I said. ‘I miss her too, and I know I can’t magic her back, but I am here for you, if ever you need to talk.’

‘Please,’ he said, proffering my shoulder bag, ‘you should spend some time with your sister. I’ll leave you in peace to say goodbye.’

I thanked Rahmat, thinking: ‘How typical of Banaz to choose such a polite, caring man. I stepped forwards, then knelt in the soggy grass. There was no headstone, only a small plaque emblazoned with a plot number, so I placed my vase where the headstone should have been and began to arrange the flowers.

As I did this, I remembered Banaz admiring the daffodils outside our house in Morden Road.

‘I love flowers, Bakha,’ she had said. ‘Yellow and orange are my favourite colours.’

And I sobbed as I thought of her delicate fingers touching those petals. I filled the vase with the yellow lilies and orange roses, then sat back on my heels and whispered my final farewell.

‘Oh, Nazca, if you were here, the whole world would be orange and yellow. I love you, my darling sister. Sleep tight, my angel.’

© Bekhal Mahmod and Dr Hannana Siddiqui, 2022

No Safe Place, by Bekhal Mahmod with Dr Hannana Siddiqui, is published by Ad Lib Publishers on July 7 at £8.99. To pre-order a copy for £8.09, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937. Free UK delivery on orders over £20.

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