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Margate schoolgirl told teacher of her forced marriage ordeal, court hears

by Sian Napier and Paul Hooper

A father has denied forcing his daughter of 16 to marry her cousin in Pakistan against her will.

Ian Hope, prosecuting, told Canterbury Crown Court that the teenager, who turned 18 last week, had been forced into the marriage.

In the first case of its kind in Kent, her father Muhammad Akmal, 50, of Dane Road, Margate is accused of coercing her to enter into a forced marriage between September and December 2015 when she was 16.

Muhammad Akmal
Muhammad Akmal

He has pleaded not guilty to the charge and has told the court it was an engagement which the two cousins entered into as both were too young to marry.

Mr Hope told the jury that the family, of Pakistani origin, had lived in Kent since 2013. The daughter attended school in Margate and lived with her mother and father and older sister and two brothers.

In 2015 the family went to Pakistan to attend a family funeral and for the wedding of the girl's sister. On January 4, 2016 she returned to school and 10 days later was absent, Mr Hope said.

“She sent an email to a teacher saying she wanted to talk to her but was frightened of the repercussions,” Mr Hope said. “She told her teacher that she had been forced to marry in Pakistan.

“She said she did not want to be married and did not want to go back there. Her father told her she was going to marry her cousin. She told her dad she did not want to do so and he slapped her and said she had to."

"She said she did not want to be married and did not want to go back there. Her father told her she was going to marry her cousin. She told her dad she did not want to do so and he slapped her and said she had to" - Ian Hope, prosecuting

Mr Hope said that after the ceremony the girl went home to her family and her cousin remained with his. She had proceeded with the marriage in Pakistan because she was frightened of her father, he added.

Mr Hope told the jury the marriage took place on November 20, 2015 and he passed jurors copies of an entry in an official document from Pakistan.

“What’s clear is that there was a wedding ceremony in Pakistan and a dowry was paid,” Mr Hope said.

“By talking to her teacher she has completely and utterly torn her family apart. Her sister, mother and brothers have all been forced to make a choice.”

Akmal told the jury that his daughter and her cousin were not old enough to marry. The document she had signed was like a promise or an engagement and she showed no reluctance to sign it.

Akmal said his daughter seemed happy until an argument with her cousin early in January last year.

“She was shouting and crying,” Akmal said. “She and her cousin had had an argument on the phone."

He claimed his daughter had said she did not like her cousin who had told her she was "fat". "She was really upset and saying it was finished.

The case was heard at Canterbury Crown Court
The case was heard at Canterbury Crown Court

“I was shocked to see her so upset and I told her to calm down. I did not think anything could be done and I thought that’s not going to go ahead now. I said I would phone Pakistan to find out what had happened. Before this argument we were all happy," Akmal added.

He told the jury that his daughter was happy at home and agreed to the pre-marriage discussions. "She and I had a great relationship."

He said he was "a loving father who never hit his children" and the family had lived in Portugal before coming to the UK in 2013.

He and his youngest daughter went to Pakistan in 2015 - but he denied that she returned unhappy.

"I didn't know that she had been chatting online to a boy in Portugal and I was told she had sent photographs (of herself) over the Internet. It wasn't a good thing that she had done that."

He denied slapping his daughter or forcing her into a marriage to a cousin in Pakistan.

He said she had agreed to a "kind of engagement" agreement involving a religious leader but denied it had been a marriage.

"They were too young to marry. This was for the future. Not then. They would have had to return to get married," he said.

The jury is expected to retire today to consider its verdict. The trial continues.

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