Surjit Kaur Athwal is seen shortly before she disappeared from a family wedding in India in December 1998. Grandmother Bachan Athwal, 70, was convicted in 2007 of the 'honour killing' of her daughter-in-law Surjit. Bachan lured the woman to India before arranging to have her murdered at a family meeting
Labour’s John McDonnell wrote a House of Commons letter to officials saying he was convinced a constituent had nothing to do with his wife’s disappearance – only for him to be jailed for murdering her.
Sukhdave Athwal, 43, arranged for mother-of-two Surjit, 27, to be strangled and her body dumped in a river.
His own elderly Sikh mother, ashamed of her daughter-in-law’s Western ways, ordered the so-called honour killing to preserve their warped family code.
In December 1998, the West London family lured defenceless Surjit to India where relatives killed her.
When local police began a probe, bus driver Athwal, of Hayes, visited his local MP Mr McDonnell and persuaded him to write an official letter on House of Commons notepaper stating he ‘had nothing to do with the disappearance of his wife’.
Mr McDonnell’s letter also claimed there were ‘no grounds’ for police to detain members of the Athwal family. He sent it to the Indian High Commissioner in London, asking for Indian authorities ‘to ensure Mr Athwal’s family does not suffer’.
It was not until nine years after the shocking crime that Athwal and his mother were jailed for life for murder at the Old Bailey in 2007. The assassins in India were never convicted, and the prime suspect remains a free man to this day.
At the time Mr McDonnell wrote the letter – dated October 7, 1999 – he did not know the Athwals were killers. But neither did he wait for the outcome of two police inquiries, one in London and one in India, into the mother’s disappearance.
John McDonnell, newly elected Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, addresses a meeting at a Bobby Sands/James Connolly Commemoration in 1997. During the investigation into Bachan Athwal and her son Sukhdave in 2007, John McDonnell wrote a letter to the Commons, claiming that there were 'no grounds' on which to detain members of the family
Sukhdave Athwal, is pictured at crown court, where he was accused, along with his mother Bachan Athwal, 70, of conspiracy to murder his wife Surjit Kaur Athwal while on holiday in India after she asked for a divorce.
Mr McDonnell, now the Shadow Chancellor, strenuously denies ‘interfering’ in any police inquiry.
Last night the former Scotland Yard detective who eventually cracked the case, Clive Driscoll, branded Mr McDonnell’s letter ‘unhelpful to say the least’.
And Surjit’s brother said his discovery of the Labour MP’s intervention had left his family ‘at a total loss’.
Mr McDonnell, who subsequently met Surjit’s family, insists he had lobbied hard for justice for her and was instrumental in helping the later investigation that convicted her killers.
Surjit was forcibly wed in 1988 at the age of just 16, and endured ten years of an unhappy and abusive marriage.
Surjit is pictured left next to her husband, Sukhdave Athwal in a family photo before her death. Bachan Athwal, 70, was caged for a minimum of 20 years in 2007, while her son Sukdave, then 43, pictured right, was sentenced to a minimum of 27 years. Surjit was forcibly wed in 1988 at the age of just 16, and endured ten years of an unhappy and abusive marriage
She lived with her strict husband and his tyrannical mother Bachan Kaur Athwal.sonos sonos One (Gen 2) - Voice Controlled Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa Built-in - Black read more
Widowed Bachan ran the family home with an iron fist, with Surjit treated like a slave. In