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British woman convicted of murdering daughter-in-law

A British jury on Thursday convicted a 70-year-old widow of arranging the murder of her daugher-in-law after discovering she was having an affair.

Bachan Athwal faces life in prison for the killing of Surjit Athwal, 27, almost a decade ago. The victim's husband was also convicted.

Prosecutors said Bachan Athwal, from London, arranged for her daughter-in-law to "disappear off the surface of the earth" after discovering she was having an affair with a co-worker at London's Heathrow Airport.

The pair went on a trip to a family wedding in India in December 1998; Surjit Athwal never returned. Prosecutors said her mother-in-law later boasted that she had arranged for her brother to strangle Surjit and throw the body into a river.

Bachan Athwal and the victim's husband, Sukhdave Athwal, claimed Surjit had run away, but family members eventually went to the police and the pair were charged with murder. The body was never found.

A jury at London's Central Criminal Court found both defendants guilty after a three-month trial. Bachan Athwal burst into tears as the verdict was announced and shouted "liars" at the jury as she was led from court.

Prosecution lawyer Michael Worsley told jurors that Bachan - a grandmother of 16 - was the dominant figure in her large Sikh family, and considered Surjit's affair a disgrace.

"She was in a matriarchal position with all the authority that goes with it in a tight-knit community," he said. The affair "was hanging over the family - something that would be disgraceful to it."

Both defendants had denied the charges. Judge Giles Forrester told the pair they faced life terms when they are sentenced Sept. 19.

Jaswant Narwal, the head crown prosecutor at the court, welcomed the verdict.

"Bachan Kaur Athwal, mother-in-law, grandmother and matriarch of the Athwal family, together with her son, enlisted the support of their relatives in India to carry out this appalling murder simply because they felt Surjit's behavior was damaging their family honor," he said.

"They wanted to 'get rid' of Surjit and thought it would be easier to do this in India - and even thought they had got away with it."

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