By Barnie Choudhury
A CHARITY which deals with honour killings in south Asian communities has warned that more women will die unless the authorities become proactive in noticing the signs of domestic abuse.
The warning from Middlesbrough-based Halo Project comes after a ‘domestic homicide review’ of the murder of pharmacist Jessica Patel concluded that she should have been asked whether her husband was violent towards her.
Yasmin Khan, founder and director of the Halo Project, who was part of the review team, told Eastern Eye that it was clear that some in the room did not understand the concept of ‘honour killings’.
“They said Jessica didn’t do anything to bring shame and dishonour on the family or community so it couldn’t have been an honour killing,” she said. “I said, ‘exactly, it was her husband and he was trying to silence her from bringing shame and dishonour because of what he was doing was a perceived cultural taboo.”
Mitesh Patel was jailed for life after he was convicted of the murder of his wife Jessica. He had strangled and suffocated her with a Tesco carrier bag in a staged break-in at their home in Middlesbrough in May 2018 because he wanted to start a new life with his male lover in Australia. In the end, the panel agreed it was an ‘honour killing’.
Khan said the police and other authorities do not investigate domestic abuse through the lens of honour-based violence as a matter of course. Last week Eastern Eye revealed that her organisation had begun a super complaint against the Home Office over the way forces investigate crimes in south Asian communities.
“This is not about beating people up. This is about making people change. It’s about accepting your responsibilities about what you need to do. You need to know what the signs are, you need to recognise that no -one is going to come and say, ‘I suffer from honour-based violence’.”
Authorities, she said, often take the less difficult option when solving crimes.
“If they don’t class it as honour-based abuse, and class it as domestic abuse, it’s an easier route. It goes to a particular agency, and it follows a pathway,” she said.
“If it’s honour-based violence, the public body has to do something which is already ordinarily difficult, and when they don’t know what they have to deal with, they’re going to take the simple way.”
The review, commissioned by the Middlesbrough Community Safety Partnership in line with Home Office guidance, concluded the killing could not have been predicted, but awareness of the warning signs of domestic abuse needed to be raised.
The chair of the Community Safety Partnership, councillor Mieka Smiles said, “Jessica was not involved with many agencies prior to her death, but we learned that there is more we can do both locally and nationally for victims of domestic abuse, specifically those from BAME communities.
“That includes increasing understanding of ‘honour-based’ violence and ensuring that family, friends, employers and the wider community know how to recognise the signs, report their concerns and support those in need.”
In a statement, Jessica’s family said, “As a family this review was an extremely painful process, but we recognise the importance of highlighting Jessica’s story to provide a voice for her and others that may be suffering in silence. So this act of evil is not repeated, we encourage everyone to ask questions and never assume everything is ok.”
Khan said that unless things changed more women would die, classed as victims of domestic abuse.
“They’re going to die in hidden numbers because we don’t know the real scale of honour killings,” she warned.
“We’ve been touted figures of 12 or 15 honour killings per year for the past seven years. But what about the people who report loved ones missing, or those who’re murdered abroad? If they’re involved in a murder, are they going to report it? No, they’re not. There are no national bodies who will challenge the authorities.”