A couple cleared of trying to marry off their 12-year-old daughter have spoken out about their weeks of hell at the centre of a forced marriage investigation.
Social services and police pounced on the Bedford family after teachers at their child’s private school raised concerns.
The middle class parents found themselves swept up in a “nightmare” of social services’ scrutiny, British Embassy visits, police interviews, prison threats and High Court summons.
This week, after the case was finally dismissed by a judge, the parents and the little girl are all receiving counselling to help them recover from the trauma.
The father is a British-born successful banker of Indian descent and his wife is from Pakistan.
“We are indeed Muslims, but we are very liberal.We certainly do not believe in forced marriage and we’ve always told our children they can marry whoever they wish when they grow up,” he said.
Their say their daughter became inexplicably upset at school in March and was spoken to by a teacher.
“During the conversation my daughter mentioned she was about to go on a Holy Trip to Iraq with us, followed by a holiday in Dubai,” said the dad.
“She mentioned she was going to see a prophet family and hoped it would help her outlook on life, make her more obedient and help her get married....but she was talking generally about the future.”
The family left for their trip and were in Iraq when they received an urgent email from Bedford Borough Council’s children’s safeguarding department.
“I was ordered to take my daughter to a British Embassy immediately and return to the UK within three days. I honestly thought it was a hoax, at first,” said the dad.
He complied, but was unable to arrange a flight home until the fourth day.
“We went to get off the plane at Heathrow and suddenly five police officers came on board, took our passports and escorted us off.”
Once home, the little girl had to be taken for interview by the Forced Marriage Unit at Kempston police headquarters.
“She was absolutely petrified by all it. She had no recollection of the comment she was supposed to have made at school and did not understand what it was about,” said her dad.
He and his wife were then accused of “coaching” their daughter to deny the forced marriage plan.
In April they were summonsed to appear before a judge at London’s High Court where, for the first time, they received a glimmer of hope.
The judge questioned the strength of the evidence and gave social services two weeks to finish their investigation. At the next appearance, he dismissed the case.
The dad, who has never received an apology, said: “Obviously it was a huge relief but we are still appalled at what happened.
“There was a terrible generalisation that forced marriage is commonplace in the Muslim faith and Pakistani culture.
“This is simply not true.
“We’ve really lost trust in the authorities for we believe it is insidious bias and prejudice held by their officers that resulted in only one possible outcome – guilty until we prove we’re innocent.
“My daughter is traumatised, my wife is emotionally struggling and I’m trying to hold it together.
“Despite winning there’s a bitter taste of the ordeal.”
A spokesman for Bedford Borough Council told the T&C: “We do not discuss individual cases.”
Meanwhile a Beds police spokesman said the force follows national protocols to ensure the safety of children where there is reason to believe there is a risk of forced marriage.
He added: “Forced marriage protection orders (FMPOs) are used where there is concern that a family is intending to marry their children off against their will.
“Where there is a concern for a child out of the country, FMPOs facilitate police to make immediate contact with the family and ensure the child’s safety.
“Police work closely with social services for young people where forced marriage or honour based abuse is an issue to ensure the safeguarding of the child and their siblings, as well as disrupt this criminality.”