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Sara Sharif’s family plead ‘not guilty’ to murder

LONDON: The British Pakistani trio charged with the murder of 10-year-old Sara Sharif appeared in a court on Thursday and pleaded “not guilty” to murdering the girl or causing her death.

The girl’s father, 41-year-old Urfan Sharif, stepmother, 29-year-old Bein­ash Batool, and her uncle, 28-year-old Faisal Malik, appeared via video link at the Old Bailey to deny charges that they murdered Sara and caused or permitted her death.

Sara’s lifeless body was discovered at the family’s residence in Woking on August 10, after police were tipped off in a call made from Pakistan. A day prior to the discovery of Sara’s body, all three relatives flew to Pakistan with five children after booking emergency tickets.

Police discovered the deceased girl lying on her back, fully clothed under a blanket in an upstairs bunk bed. Her identity was confirmed through DNA analysis, comparing her genetic profile to that of her mo­ther, Olga Sharif, residing in Som­erset, as well as another relative.

10-year-old’s father, stepmother and uncle were arrested after fleeing to Pakistan

The prosecutor, in an earlier hearing, had informed the court that Sara had “a constellation of healed and healing injuries”, including a healed collarbone fracture, a healed hyoid bone fracture in her neck, multiple rib fractures, extensive bruising across her torso and limbs, and a brain haemorrhage.

A hyoid bone fracture is a rare occurrence and is usually the result of direct trauma to the neck because of strangulation, hanging or blunt trauma.

The prosecution asserted that Sara had been subjected to “multiple events of violence over a sustained period of time that must have culminated in her death”. A postmortem revealed Sara had extensive injuries sustained over a period of time, but did not find a conclusive cause of death.

In court on Thursday, each of the accused pleaded not guilty to murdering Sara and causing or allowing the death of a child between Dec 16, 2022 and Aug 9, 2023.

A trial is due to take place in September 2024

The trio was arrested at Gatwick Airport after they returned to the UK from Pakistan, reportedly after negotiations with British officials, on Sept 13. They were charged shortly after.

In a video statement earlier, Ms Batool referred to the girl’s death as an “incident” without giving details. The family line, according to relatives, is that the minor’s death was an accident. But a post-mortem revealed Sara had extensive injuries sustained over a period of time, though it did not find a conclusive cause of death.

The girl’s Polish mother, Olga, had said she could barely recognise her daughter’s small, battered body when she identified her at the mortuary last month.

She told Polish television that one of her cheeks was swollen and the other side of her face was bruised.

Olga and Urfan separated in 2015, and Sara and her older brother had lived with their mother until a family court determined in 2019 that they should reside with their father, according to the UK media.

The death of Sara triggered a Punjab-wide manhunt for the three suspects who fled the UK. Urfan, Batool and Malik went into hiding for several weeks, and police officials in Pakistan were only tipped off shortly before the trio was headed to the UK.