The Girl in the Cupboard – Sanam Navsarka

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16th October 2019  •  4 min read

The disturbing murder of 2-year-old Sanam Navsarka shocked the nation. She was abused and tortured by her mother and her mother's boyfriend and despite the fact that the abuse was reported, the social worker did nothing to save her.

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The disturbing murder of 2-year-old Sanam Navsarka shocked the nation. She was born on Christmas Eve of 2005 and at the time of her death, lived with her mother, Zahbeena Zaman, and her mother’s boyfriend of just three months, Subhan Anwar, in Deighton, Huddersfield.

During her short life, Sanam suffered unimaginable cruelty and torture at the hands of Anwar and Zaman. She was beaten and battered, sometimes with a metal pole. When she cried out in pain or fear, she would be locked inside a dark cupboard even though she was terrified of the dark. Inside the cupboard were child-sized bloody handprints from Sanam who had desperately attempted to escape the darkness. Most of the time, Sanam wore soiled nappies that caused her bottom to bleed.

On one occasion, Anwar put Sanam in a tumble dyer and dumped her in the bin as Zaman looked on. If Sanam had an open wound, the couple would spray it with aftershave. Neighbors would later recollect that they frequently heard Anwar calling Sanam a “bastard” and often heard Sanam screaming and crying.

Due to the extensive abuse, Sanam was left in agony, unable to walk, use her hands or even breath properly.

In the weeks before Sanam’s murder, social worker Judyth Kenworthy, received a report from Jacqueline Peel, a woman who ran a home for vulnerable people. Peel told Kenworthy that Sanam was often riddled with bruises and that she believed she was being abused at home. She even told her that Sanam was kept locked in a cupboard at home. Despite this, Kenworthy decided not to act on this report and instead shrugged it off as Peel “tittle-tattling.”

When Sanam died on the 8th of May, 2008, Zaman and Anwar attempted to claim that she had drowned and stopped breathing after they left her alone in the bath for ten minutes. However, her autopsy revealed the disturbing truth.

There was no evidence of drowning. Instead, the pathologist discovered 107 separate injuries over Sanam’s little body, including broken arms and legs. Ultimately, she died when a fat embolism entered her bloodstream due to the untreated fractures in her thigh bones – one of which had been completely snapped.

Zahbeena Zaman and Subhan Anwar, credit: BBC.

On Anwar’s phone, police discovered a heartbreaking video he had taken of Sanam just the day before her death. In the video, Sanam is on the floor, having a fit or convulsion, caused by the fatty deposits in her blood. Despite the fact it was evident that Sanam was in pain and distress, neither Anwar or Zaman thought to call for help.1

Subhan Anwar was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 23 years. Zahbeena Zaman was cleared of her daughter’s murder but convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to nine years. During the sentencing phase, Judge Peter Thornton QC described Sanam’s death as “one of the worst imaginable cases,” adding that “bravely she tried to carry on with her injuries and all the while you ignored her desperate needs.”2

The social worker, Judyth Kenworthy, was suspended for two years for her failure to act and save Sanam.

A damning report revealed that she had “sought to distance herself from blame” by concealing “strong indicators of abuse.” The General Social Care Council also found that Kenworthy had made a conscious decision to omit key evidence from police who were investigating Sanam’s murder. Apparently when questioned by police, Kenworthy had claimed she never worked with children before. However, Kirklees Council said that was not the case and that Kenworthy had experience of working with both children and teenagers. In fact, she had been employed as a Family Placement officer for 18 years.3

The Kirklees Safeguarding Children Board concluded: “If those concerns had been reported, it is likely that protective measures would have been initiated that may have changed the eventual outcome.”4

Anwar was sent to serve his time in Long Lartin Prison, one of Britain’s Category A prisons. However, Anwar wouldn’t live to carry out that sentence.

On the 14th of February, two inmates at Long Lartin Prison barged their way into Anwar’s prison cell. Gary Smith and Lee Newell were both serving life sentences for murder. The two men held Anwar hostage with makeshift weapons. Over the course of around 40 minutes, they tortured Anwar before finally strangling him to death with a pair of tracksuit bottoms. “He’s gone, he’s with Allah,” said Newell to a prison guard.5

Gary Smith and Lee Newell were found guilty of the murder of Subhan Anwar and were ordered to spend the rest of their life in prison.

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  1. Yorkshire Post, 13 January, 2000 – “Two-Year-Old Died after Campaign of Violence, Court Told”
  2. Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 18 February, 2013 – “Prisoners Charged with Murdering Sanam Killer”
  3. Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 14 January, 2011 – “Damning Report”
  4. Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 8 January, 2011 – “Conduct Hearing on Sanam Tragedy”
  5. Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 20 September, 2013 – “Killers Guilty Over Prison Cell Murder”


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7 months ago

Also a shame Anwar’s killers were offered a harsher sentence.

Jack Farnsworth
Jack Farnsworth
4 months ago
Reply to  Kate

they weren’t “offered” the sentences…they were tried, convicted and that was the sentence….period.

7 months ago

Too bad all 3 “adults” in this case could not be sentenced to hanging.

7 months ago

“ Due to the extensive abuse, Sanam was left in agony, unable to walk, use her hands or even breath properly.“ small typo there! should be “breathe”

6 months ago

I’m sorry sweet baby

2 months ago

Die Strafen sind doch nicht normal!

1 month ago

I cant believe the social worker was only given 2 years off work. Never should be allowed to work again. Who knows how many other children in need they’re ignoring.

28 days ago

Isn’t it ironic? A man tortures and murders a baby and gets 23 years. 2 criminals murder him in retaliation, and they get life.

Society sucks.

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