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Forced marriage victim seen 'running and screaming' away from family during rescue, Leeds court told

Leeds Crown Court
Leeds Crown Court

The victim of an alleged forced marriage was seen "running and screaming" away from her family during a dramatic rescue, a jury was today (Fri) told.

The young woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was deceived by her own parents into travelling abroad to marry her cousin, a court previously heard.

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Giving evidence today, the British consulate regional operations manager Matthew Prouten told how a rescue was mounted after receiving a "threat to life" report.

The woman had been in contact with British officials for two days before a decision was "taken on face value" to send in rescue teams, a court was told.

She was told to slowly walk away from family sat outside a house in Bangladesh in the direction of a police officer who was ambling towards her, a court heard.

But the "hysterical" woman instead "careered around the corner running and screaming" into the arms of the officer before she was bundled into a car, a court heard.

She was initially worried about being chased by her uncle who she claimed had a gun and may pursue on his moped, a jury was told.

The girl, who was wearing all black and only had her face and hands on show, slumped in the footwell of the car after refusing to sit on a seat until she knew it was safe, a court heard.

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A police roadblock was then put in place to halt the family who it's thought were pursuing, a court heard.

The girl was taken to what was the Deputy High Commission Select offices before spending the night in a secure refuge apartment and then flying back to the UK the following day from the Bangladesh capital city Dhaka.

Mr Prouten, who is based in Dhaka, said: "If injuries had been reported to me I would have taken notice.

"When she got into the car she was still very scared, she was initially worried about being pursued by her uncle who she claimed had a gun.

"I reassured her that the police had formed a roadblock behind the car. She became more collected and started talking about what had happened."

It took the girl around ten to 15 seconds from when Mr Prouten first laid eyes on her to her getting in the car, a court heard.

Mr Prouten told a court his colleague had sent messages from a tablet to the woman which he had dictated.

He said: "We told her a police officer would start walking down the lane. We told her to walk slowly up the road away from her family but she came careering around the corner running and screaming.

"There were children and adults running up the road after her. She was hysterical in the car and refused to sit on a seat.

"We pulled away immediately and tried to leave the area. She thought that her uncle had a gun and would come after her.

"She stayed in the footwell until we reassured her there was nobody behind us. We then took her to a place of safety.

"We took her to what was our existing offices and gave her the opportunity to speak to her boyfriend and the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) in the Foreign Office.

"She came with nothing, just her wallet and a phone. She had no passport, it was still with the family."

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During cross-examination, Mr Prouten said the woman's demeanour later changed and she became "confident, independent and had a fighting spirit".

His account was described as sounding "a bit James Bondy" by defence counsel Dafydd Enoch QC.

Mr Prouten also said he was aware that invitations for the wedding had already been sent out and decorations were being made.

"In this case given the threat to life, she was highly vulnerable," Mr Pouten added.

"We are acting on what we have been told. We were reacting to a threat to life.

"In my experience, while being in Bangladesh, I have not had a case come through FMU that had gone on to be a successful marriage."

The family arrived in Bangladesh on July 3, 2016, and a date for the wedding had been made for July 21, 2016, a court heard.

Mr Prouten told a court it's widely publicised in Bangladesh that forced marriages are illegal.

A court previously heard the woman had been deceived by her own parents into travelling abroad for an arranged marriage with her cousin.

Her father threatened to "chop her up in 18 seconds" if the then 18-year-old refused to go through with the sham marriage, a jury has been told.

Leeds Crown Court heard the victim was taken out of her school during term time for what she was told was a family holiday to Bangladesh in July 2016.

The woman was eventually rescued by authorities, after secretly contacting her boyfriend in the UK, a court heard. Both of her parents are accused of forcing marriage and using violence or a form of coercion to get their daughter to enter into the marriage without her consent.

The defendants appeared in the dock today with the assistance of a Bengali interpreter.

The trial continues.