01 June 2022

Matriarch who ordered death of daughter-in-law to be freed from jail

01 June 2022

An elderly woman jailed after ordering the death of her daughter-in-law has been approved for release from prison.

Bachan Athwal, now 85, lured Surjit Athwal to India on the pretext of going to two family weddings after learning she was cheating on her son Sukhdave.

Heathrow Customs officer Surjit, a 27-year-old mother to two young children, disappeared “off the surface of the earth” after the trip in December 1998 and her body was never found.

An Old Bailey jury found Bachan Athwal and her son Sukhdave guilty of murder after a trial in 2007, and they were both jailed for life.

Bachan Athwal was originally sentenced to a minimum term of 20 years, but this was later reduced to 15 (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Media)

The court was told that Bachan boasted to family members that she had arranged for her daughter-in-law to be strangled and her corpse thrown into a river.

On Wednesday the Parole Board said Bachan, who is in poor health and suffers from dementia, could be released from prison.

In a summary of the decision, the Board said that the issue of Surjit’s body being found could not be discussed because of the pensioner’s health issues.

“The panel was mindful of the distress that the lack of disclosure about the victim has caused to the victim’s family, however, due to the identified health issues, it was a matter that could not be explored directly with Ms Athwal.

“It is believed that the victim was murdered in India and that her body was disposed of in the River Ravi. Her body has never been recovered.”

The panel accepted that her risk of reoffending was “very low”, and heard that her health care needs had prevented her from being moved to an open prison despite approval to do so in 2020.

She will be required to live at a specific address and restrictions will be placed on her contacts, movements and activities, the decision summary said.

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