Whatsapp messages from a desperate Leeds daughter trying to escape her parents' plot to force her into marriage with her cousin have been released by police.
A jury today convicted the pair, who cannot be named, after a trial at Leeds Crown Court - which police say is the first successful prosecution of its kind.
During the trial, jurors heard how the father of the victim also threatened to “chop her into pieces” when she refused the marriage in 2016.
The complainant, now 19, was taken out of her school in Leeds during term time, for what she was told was a family holiday to visit relatives in Bangladesh. Less than one week after arriving in the country, she was told of the marriage plans.
Investigators today released several screen shots of conversations taking place as the teenager tried to escape her situation.
Once her parents’ marriage plan in Bangladesh became clear, the distressed victim enlisted the help of her sister and managed to contact her boyfriend in the UK via WhatsApp messages.
He received further messages from her sister’s phone that reinforced that she was being forced to marry and asked him to contact the police.
He immediately contacted officers in Leeds, who began an investigation and started liaising with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to ensure her safety.
Detective Superintendent Pat Twiggs, who led the investigation, said: “This is the first successful prosecution of its kind in a case involving the active rescue of a British citizen from a forced marriage situation overseas.
“The close co-operation between law enforcement, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the British High Commission was at the heart of achieving this successful conclusion. Another vital element was that we quickly identified this situation as a ‘crime in action’ abroad and focused our attention on bringing the victim to safety.
“We immediately recognised the challenges of investigating a crime of this kind, where some of the main evidence and witness accounts sit in another country some distance away.
“This is why we made the decision to deploy investigators to Bangladesh to speak to witnesses and consular staff and get the best evidence possible.
“This has been a lengthy and complex case, with allied High Court family proceedings that have had to take precedence, but we hope this result will help to pave the way for more victims of forced marriage to come forward and feel confident they will be taken seriously by the authorities.
“This successful prosecution also provides us with an important opportunity to refresh and develop the current processes and procedures for liaising with Government departments and abroad in cases such as this.
“There is an inevitable degree of bureaucracy when dealing across these various agencies and borders. While it is important that protocols are properly followed, we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to streamline the processes and develop the lines of communication to assist in the timely rescue of victims and to gather the best evidence to support prosecutions.
“Work is already underway to achieve that and a good deal of progress has been made in terms of training and awareness for both law enforcement and other statutory partners. We hope cases like this one will underline the importance of continuing that journey.
“The greatest tribute in this case has to be to the victim. She is a remarkable young woman who has had her life turned upside down at a relatively young age. Her family have turned their back on her and alienated her siblings from her, which I know has been devastating.
“It would have been easy for her at any point to have found this all too much, but she has remained resolute throughout.
“I think she has clearly recognised how important it is for her to stand up, not just for herself but for other victims who will follow. I know she wants her case to show other victims that they can come forward to the authorities with confidence that they will be listened to and safeguarded.
“Arranged marriages between consenting parties are entirely legal, but the law does not allow anyone to force someone to marry against their will and we hope this case will send a suitable deterrent message to those who seek to control and exploit others in this way.”
Michael Quinn, from the Crown Prosectution Service, said: “This victim was cruelly and deliberately misled by her parents who were determined to take her to Bangladesh for a marriage she did not want. Once she was there, they told her that whether or not she agreed, she would be married, and that wedding arrangements were already in hand.
“When she refused, she was assaulted and threatened with further violence. She showed courage in contacting the authorities for help, and provided valuable assistance with the investigation and prosecution of these offences.
“This successful prosecution sends a clear message that forced marriage is a very serious crime and those responsible will be prosecuted.”