Family jailed after bride left in vegetative state by ‘force-feeding her pills’

A man and his parents have been jailed after severe abuse left his wife in a persistent vegetative state from which she will never recover. Ambreen Fatima Sheikh was 30 when she was forcibly drugged and had corrosive substances thrown at her after she was brought to the UK from Pakistan for an arranged marriage. She was given the anti-diabetes drug glimepiride, which induced catastrophic brain injury, Leeds Crown Court heard.

Ms Sheikh’s husband, Asgar Sheikh, 31, was jailed for seven years and nine months along with his father, Khalid Sheikh, 55, and his mother, Shabnam Sheikh, 52. Ms Sheikh was also doused in a caustic substance, probably some kind of cleaning fluid, as she was abused in the house in the days leading up to her admission to hospital on August 1 2015, a judge said on Wednesday. It was initially thought Ms Sheikh, who is now 39, would die but, when her ventilator was turned off in hospital, she began to breathe for herself.

The court heard that she has been left unaware of herself or her environment, without motor response or response to pain, and will never recover. Prosecutors said she only survives by being fed through a tube and will eventually die as a consequence of what happened to her, although this may not happen for many years. Sentencing judge, Mrs Justice Lambert said: “It is difficult to imagine a more serious injury, short of death.” Asgar Sheikh’s brother, Sakalayne Sheikh, 25, was given a six-month sentence, suspended for two years, and his sister, Shagufa Sheikh, 29, was given an 18-month sentence, also suspended for two years.

The court heard that Ms Sheikh came to the family’s home in Clara Street, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in 2014 after an earlier arranged marriage with Asgar in Pakistan. The judge said she rarely left the house and never by herself. She had no independent income, no friends in the UK and could speak only a little English. None of the family gave evidence in court and the judge said she could not say for sure when the abuse began.

The trial heard evidence that, soon after Ms Sheikh arrived in the UK, the family were not happy with her housework and chores, and Khalid Sheikh had suggested she should be sent back to Pakistan. Concerns were raised by members of the extended family and two police officers carried out a welfare check in July but reported Ms Sheikh as being fit and well. The judge said she attached “little weight to that assessment” because Ms Sheikh spoke little English and her father-in-law was present during the visit.

She said she did not know who administered the corrosive substance, which left severe burns on Ms Sheikh’s lower back, bottom and right ear, and must have left her in considerable and lasting pain. And she said she did not know who “tricked or forced” her to take the glimepiride, which was prescribed to Shabnam Sheikh and is extremely dangerous to non-diabetics, even in small doses.

The judge decided there was a two to three-day delay between Ms Sheikh falling unconscious and the family calling an ambulance, during which she became highly dehydrated and inhaled fluids which may have exacerbated her brain injury. Even when the family called 999, they lied about what had happened to her, the judge said. “You would all have been aware of her pain and distress,” she said. “It’s just not realistic to conclude that you did not all know of Ambreen’s predicament and her desperate need for emergency medical care. “You all also knew why she was in that condition.”

The court heard that Ms Sheikh is now being looked after in a palliative care setting and will not recover but could live for decades more. She was in good health before her collapse and there is some evidence that she was a teacher in Pakistan, the court heard. One witness said she was “intelligent, bright, ambitious and happy-go-lucky” before she moved to the UK, and the judge said she was someone who would “light up a room”. The judge said Ms Sheikh’s father is now dead and her mother is in poor health in Pakistan.

She has seven siblings and one of her brothers has been over to visit her. Asgar, Khalid, Shabnam and Shagufa Sheikh were all found guilty after a trial of allowing a vulnerable adult to suffer physical harm after a trial last year. The offence carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison at the time of the offence but this has since been increased by Parliament to 14 years.

Asgar, Shabnam and Shagufa Sheikh were also found guilty of doing an act intending to pervert the course of justice. All five defendants were found guilty of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

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