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One woman solved Britain's most notorious honour killing 

por Chau Tolbert (2020-05-15)

120px-%D9%85%D8%B1%DA%A9%D8%B2_%D8%AE%D8Detective Chief Inspector Caroline Goode stood in the garden of a derelict house in Birmingham and watched in nervous expectation as lifting equipment swung into place over a large, freshly dug hole in the ground.

All day, a forensic expert had scraped away at the earth layer by layer until, with daylight beginning to fade, he found what he was looking for — a suitcase. It was too heavy and awkward to extract by hand, so the fire brigade were called in. And now there it was — suspended on straps, with water streaming from it.

Goode was both sad and understandably exultant. The dogged detective had found what she had been desperately hunting for in a massive police operation over three months — the body of 20-year-old Banaz Mahmod, who had fallen foul of her traditional Kurdish community and paid with her life.

Detective chief Inspector Caroline Goode, has penned a book about the quest for justice after Banaz Mahmod, 20, (pictured) was murdered in an honour killing

At a local mortuary, the top of the case was carefully prised off with a scalpel and there were the remains of the young woman whom Goode and her team had come to know as ‘our girl', so determined were they to find her and bring her killers to justice. She was curled into the foetal position, as if she were safe in the bosom of her family. Yet her own family had instigated her gruesome murder.

Her ‘crime' was to have left an arranged and allegedly abusive marriage and fallen in love with another man.

So the ‘honour' of her family in their close-knit London Kurdish community was supposedly impugned.





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They decided she was immoral, a whore, an outcast; and dozens were involved in bringing about her brutal death and then concealing it — including her own father and uncle. Banaz's murder was one of far too many so-called ‘honour killings' in Britain. More than 5,000 such deaths are estimated to occur around the world every year. Some take place behind closed doors in the UK — and some girls are taken abroad to be killed. Unfortunately we don't know the actual number.

This one would almost certainly have gone undetected if not for now-retired DCI Goode who, in a new book, tells how her team won justice for Banaz.

Caroline's story is also being made into the two-part ITV drama, Honour, screened later this year.

Keeley Hawes (pictured) stars as Caroline Goode, in ITV's two-part adaptation of the 2006 crime which took place in Birmingham

Keeley Hawes — taking on another police role after playing DI Lindsay Denton in Line Of Duty — will star as Goode.

Her investigation was complex because, for a long while, there was not even a body.

‘Unlike most murders, at first we didn't even know if this one had happened,' she recalls.

Goode was a senior detective in the Metropolitan Police's Homicide Command when, in January 2006, she took a call from another officer asking for advice about a missing person inquiry.

A young Kurdish immigrant, Rahmat Suleimani, had reported the disappearance of his girlfriend, Banaz Mahmod. She had left her husband in July the previous year due to alleged physical and sexual abuse, returning to live with her parents in the South London borough of Merton. Her estranged husband was never charged with an offence related to Banaz.

When they finally found her body, the bootlace cord they'd used to choke her to death was still around her neck 

She had subsequently started a relationship with Rahmat, who explained to the police that for a Kurdish woman to leave her husband brought shame on the community, and that it was common for the woman to be killed by her family in order to restore their ‘honour'.

He claimed Banaz's bullying uncle, Ari Mahmod, had threatened to kill him and Banaz, and Banaz's father had made serious attempts on her life.

Police records confirmed that weeks earlier, Banaz reported death threats from Ari. But the police did not investigate. It was only when Rahmat reported her missing that they went to the family home, where Banaz's parents were adamant that she could not have disappeared.

They told police they were liberal parents. Their five daughters were free to come and go as they pleased and frequently stayed out overnight. Police let the matter drop. If the parents were happy, surely there was no cause for concern?

But Rahmat insisted the Mahmod daughters were virtually prisoners in their own home.

Kurdish immigrant Rahmat Suleimani, reported that the Madmod daughters were virtually prisoners in their own home, concerned Caroline Goode (pictured) upgraded Banaz's missing person case to a possible murder inquiry

Goode, concerned for this vulnerable young woman, upgraded the case to a possible murder inquiry, even though it meant stepping into a cultural and racial minefield.

Banaz, she found, had come to the UK with her parents aged ten after fleeing Saddam Hussein's regime and claiming asylum. They took up residence in south London, where Banaz went to school.

At just 16 she had an arranged marriage to a man from the family's small town in Iraq. He was ten years older and she met him only once before their wedding, but agreed to the marriage.

He was illiterate and didn't speak English whereas, after six years in the UK, she was more westernised and independent. For two years she lived with him in Coventry, trying to make the marriage work, but she said he repeatedly raped and beat her until finally she fled.

Banaz returned to the family home, and soon after began a relationship with Rahmat. As a result, her disapproving and controlling father plied her with alcohol and tried to strangle her.

In public she was followed by intimidating groups of Kurdish men, who photographed her kissing Rahmat.

She made numerous complaints to police about the threats, drawing up a list of the five men she thought were plotting to kill her. But no protection was put in place. One officer didn't believe her, dismissing her as manipulative and melodramatic.

Banaz refused to give up Rahmat or stay silent. Unwisely, she told her family she had an appointment at the police station the following day to be interviewed again.

More than 30 people all of who were Kurds,  were arrested and interviewed in the search for Banaz. Pictured: Banaz tells the police of her fears in ITV drama

It was an appointment her family realised they had to make sure she couldn't keep.

She didn't show up.

Furious, and ashamed that Banaz had clearly been let down by police, Goode launched a full-scale investigation: though she knew it was not going to be straightforward, with the family closing ranks and seemingly unconcerned.

Was Banaz alive but in hiding from her family? Was she being held against her will? Or was she dead, murdered by her family or even by her boyfriend, Rahmat?

He was quickly ruled out. His phone revealed loving texts sent before she went missing. ‘I couldn't live a second without you,' she wrote. ‘I love you so much.'

Rahmat had also been threatened. A group of men tried to bundle him into a car but he got away after a struggle. They warned: ‘You are Kurdish and Muslim. You cannot carry on doing what you are doing. You are going to die.'

Goode pulled in her main suspects — Banaz's father Mahmod and uncle, Ari — for interview, plus Banaz's estranged husband. She also launched a hunt for three other men on Banaz's list: Omar Hussain, Mohammed Ali and Mohammed Hama. The last two had part-time jobs as butchers.

Dozens of addresses were raided up and down the country. More than 30 people — all Kurds — were arrested and interviewed, and more than 20 vehicles and 300 mobile phones seized.

At which point, Goode came up against a communal conspiracy of silence and lies so deep it rivalled the Mafia's code of Omerta.

It was no coincidence that the men questioned all came up with rehearsed responses, backed each other with alibis and denied any wrong-doing. Their general attitude was that they couldn't see what the fuss was about.

Secret recordings of the suspects in custody, revealed the horror Banaz (pictured) experienced before she died

Attempts were made to throw police off the scent with disinformation, and valuable time was wasted following up fake phone calls that Banaz was alive and well. Faced with this wall of silence, Goode decided to record secretly the conversations and phone calls of the suspects in custody, hoping they would brag in private about what they had done.

Her hunch was right, and the truth began to emerge in all its ghastly detail. An interpreter listening to the tapes was horrified to hear Hama laugh as he boasted about anally raping Banaz before stamping on the terrified girl's head and tying a cord round her neck. ‘I had my foot on her back and I was pulling so hard it was cutting into her flesh. It took the bitch more than half an hour for the soul to leave her body.' This had all happened on a mattress in the living room of the Mahmod home.

Hama then talked about the body being put ‘in a suitcase' and Ari Mahmod dragging it out of the house to a waiting car. Her hair and her elbow were sticking out, Hama added. A police car drove by but missed what was happening right under their noses.

The suitcase was driven to a back garden ‘somewhere'. ‘I buried it so deep they will only find it if there is an informant,' he told a contact.

From Hama's loose mouth, Goode now had the names of the murderers — Hama himself, Omar Hussain and Mohammed Ali.

She also had confirmation of Ari making the arrangements and the driver who'd taken the body away in his car, a man named Dana.

But she didn't yet have a body. And without that, there was no criminal case to answer. She knew there was a question mark over whether the secret tapes would be admissible in court, but she would have no chance at all of conviction without proof Banaz was dead.

Mohammed Hama (pictured) boasted about anally raping Banaz before stamping on her head and tying a cord round her neck

So suspects' gardens were dug up. Marshland was combed and frogmen searched lakes and rivers in south London after Hama made an oblique reference to the suitcase being ‘in water'. Goode was spurred on by something else the overheard conversations revealed — the sheer number of men desperate to be involved. Goode was told by an expert that honour-based violence is not only premeditated but committed using maximum brutality to send a message to the whole community. The men will be proud of themselves, she was advised.

And indeed they were. ‘I have done justice,' Hama declared in his conversations, summing up this warped mindset.

But what about the community's women? For whatever reason —fear, perhaps, or because they simply didn't know what was going on — they too refused to co-operate.

Banaz's own mother, Behya, disclosed next to nothing before pulling her headscarf over her head and refusing to say more.

Had she been involved? It was impossible to know. Goode, a mother herself, found the thought horrifying — but she realised that even if Banaz's mother had known, there was little she could have done to prevent it.

The cultural expert explained a Kurdish mother was judged by her daughter's behaviour. If a girl went off the rails, the shame fell on the mother for bringing her up badly.

It emerged that Banaz's uncle Ari (pictured) had pressed for his niece to be punished and organised it all 

Most of Banaz's four sisters were also too frightened to say much, although it turned out one was in the house when Banaz was killed.

Another, 22-year-old Bekhal, did reveal she had been beaten by her father for being too westernised. He spat in her face after catching her with her head uncovered and called her a whore for having a black boyfriend. She had, she said, just wanted to have friends, to give her opinion — ‘very small things that British girls take for granted'. She described their Uncle Ari as ‘a controlling a***hole' who told her that, if she'd been his daughter, she would be ashes.

But Bekhal's evidence was circumstantial at best. She had long since left home and had no direct knowledge about Banaz's death.

It was a setback for Goode. Bit by bit, however, leads were being pulled together and the participants' movements tracked from their phone records.

These showed all the suspects had been in touch in the days before Banaz's disappearance. On the day in question, they all gathered at Hama's house, then at Banaz's home.

Ari was emerging as the linchpin. Though he was Mahmod's younger brother, he was a much stronger character and referred to as ‘Agha', a respectful title. It was he who pressed for his niece to be punished and organised it all.

But still Goode was no further forward in finding Banaz's remains — until a crucial breakthrough. Hama's mobile phone showed he made a round trip to Birmingham the day after she went missing. In the Kurdish community in rundown Handsworth, one person was put under surveillance and numerous addresses searched. A list was drawn up of gardens where a body might have been buried.

Given the area to be covered, ??? a monumental and probably impossible task lay ahead, until Hama, still babbling away in prison, inadvertently provided a steer. ‘Did you put the freezer back on top of the patio?' he asked one of the others.

Days before, Goode had flown over the area in a police spotter helicopter, looking in vain for signs of disturbed earth. At one point she clocked a discarded freezer on a patio of crazy paving, but had thought nothing of it until now. Perhaps it was covering the grave.

The house was identified. It was closed and empty. In the overgrown garden was a pile of household rubbish that included a sofa, two armchairs . . . and a freezer.

It was without its door, which was under a hedge at the end of the garden. A forensic archaeologist spotted loose soil and began to dig, slowly and methodically, under the patio until the hole was up to his shoulder and he was on the point of giving up.

Caroline counted a staggering 50 men who were involved in one way or another in the crime. Pictured: Banaz's father Mahmod

Goode persuaded him to keep going for one more hour. It was 8.30pm, with arc lights illuminating the hole, when he called up: ‘It's here. I've found it.' The case lay there, sucked down into mud and hard to shift, which is when the fire brigade came to lift it out.

When the body was examined, it was so decomposed that bright, vibrant Banaz could only be identified from dental records. Around her neck was the bootlace-type cord used to choke her to death.

They hadn't even bothered to remove it. Goode had her evidence for a murder charge. Superlative detective work and a refusal to give up had ensured that. But she felt sickened. ‘To see Banaz forced into that suitcase by her own family was too cruel for words,' she writes. ‘I simply do not understand how a parent can depersonalise their children to that extent.

‘I love my own children so much it's like a physical pain. But it's as if daughters like Banaz were no more than possessions, commodities to be traded, admired or disposed of, a means of boosting one's own status.

‘I felt nothing but anger, loathing and contempt for those men.'

Ari smirked in contempt as, alongside his brother Mahmod, he was charged with murder, exuding supreme confidence that police would never make it stick.

But the taped conversations confirmed him as the driving force behind Banaz's killing. He described her as ‘a whore' who was going to talk to police. ‘We had to kill her.' When his wife queried if it had been necessary, he snapped at her: ‘Shut up, you stupid woman. When I talk, you listen.'

He had no regrets. Reputation was worth more than life itself, he declared, and the community would thank him. Indeed, Goode was further appalled by the growing number of Kurdish men coming forward to pledge allegiance to the suspects and offering to give false evidence to get them off. She counted a staggering 50 involved in one way or another in the crime.

‘Fifty men to murder one woman!' she comments. ‘And they prided themselves on their manliness!'

At least she had the main culprits in custody and awaiting trial. But what were her chances of conviction, given that the most compelling evidence was what the men themselves had said in secretly recorded conversations and calls?

Would this hearsay be admissible? That was now the vital question. Ari was still displaying an arrogant self-confidence that the case could never be proved.

There was a strong chance they would all get away with their monstrous crime — and there would be no justice for poor Banaz, throttled slowly to death for simply wanting to lead her own life and love whomever she chose.

Adapted from Honour: Achieving Justice For Banaz Mahmod by Caroline Goode, published by Oneworld on March 26, 2020 @ £10.99. © 2020 Caroline Goode.

Read more:

Honour: Achieving Justice for Banaz Mahmod: Goode, Caroline: 9781786075451: Books