Grandmother gets 20 years for "honour killing"

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LONDON, Sep 19 (Reuters) A 70-year-old grandmother was jailed for minimum of 20 years today for the murder of her daughter-in-law whom she blamed for bringing shame on her family by seeking a divorce.

Bachan Athwal wept as she was sentenced at the Old Bailey for the ''honour killing'' of her son's wife, customs officer Surjit Kaur Athwal, 27.

The pensioner had vowed that a divorce would happen ''over my dead body'' because she thought it would disgrace their Sikh family, the court heard.

Her son Sukhdave Singh Athwal, 43, was also found guilty of murder and must serve at least 27 years.

Judge Giles Forrester described the murder as ''unspeakable'', saying: ''This was a heinous crime characterised by great wickedness.

''There was no motive worthy of the name. You did it because you thought she had brought shame on your family.

''You decided that the so-called honour of your family was worth more than the life of this young woman.'' The mother-of-two ''vanished off the face of the earth'' after she was lured to a family wedding in India in December 1998.

The alarm was raised after she failed to return to her home in Hayes, west London. Her body, believed to be somewhere in the Punjab area in India, has never been found.

Her husband had taken out life insurance policies on his wife worth up to 100,000 pounds, knowing that she was going to be killed.

''On top of the wickedness and betrayal there was greed as well,'' the judge added.

In a statement, the victim's family called for a public inquiry into why it took so long to bring her killers to justice.

''The long journey of Surjit's case has exposed serious inadequacies in policing practice and government policy in the UK as well as in India,'' they said.

However, the family praised detectives at Scotland Yard for finally persuading key witnesses to give evidence.

Detective Chief Inspector Clive Driscoll, of the Metropolitan Police, said: ''For Surjit's family and friends, the pain of losing her in such a cruel way will continue, but I hope they are comforted by the fact that her killers are now behind bars.'' REUTERS SG PM1818

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