Mother and four children die in suspected arson attack
A WOMAN and four young children have died following a suspected arson attack on their family home in Harlow this morning (October 15).
Firefighters were called to the end-of-terrace house in Barn Mead at 1.40am (October 15) to find the property engulfed in flames.
Despite "desperate and frantic" attempts to save the lives of the occupants, four of the seven family members - named by police as doctor Sabah Usmani (44), sons Sohaib (11) and Rayyan (6) and 12-year-old daughter Hira - died soon after being taken to Princess Alexandra Hospital by ambulance.
Two other children - nine-year-old boy Muneeb and three-year-old girl Maheen - suffered severe burns and were taken to intensive care. Doctors were unable to save Muneeb, while Maheen remains in a critical condition after being transferred to the specialist Burns Unit at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford.
The children's father, doctor Abdul Shakoor, was also treated at PAH after suffering minor burns and severe smoke inhalation while desperately trying to save the lives of his wife and children.
Leave your tribute to Sabah Usmani, Hira, Sohaib, Rayyan and Muneeb using the guestbook at the end of this story.
The police and fire service have now launched a joint investigation into how the fire started at the privately-rented house, which is located just yards from Abbotsweld Primary School.
Detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate are treating the blaze as "suspicious" and have urged anyone with information to come forward.
At a press conference in Chelmsford this afternoon, ACC Gary Beautridge, head of the Essex and Kent Serious Crime Directorate, praised Mr Shakoor's efforts to save his family as the fire tore through their home.
"In the history of Essex Police seldom has there been an incident of this gravity in which five people, four of them children have lost their lives," he told reporters.
"May I take this opportunity to extend my sincere sympathies and those of Essex Police to the family and friends of Dr Abdul Shakoor, who today has lost his wife Sabah Usmani, aged 44 and a qualified doctor, and children, daughter Hira, aged 12, sons Sohaib (11), Muneeb (9) and Rayyan (6).
"Their other daughter, Maheen, aged 3, is critical in Broomfield Hospital’s specialist burns unit in Chelmsford."
"I would like to stress that the father of these children was in the property at the time and fought hard to save his family in appalling conditions.
"He is being treated for severe smoke inhalation in the intensive care unit at Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow.
"He is being supported by specially trained family liaison officers, and as you would expect, is in severe shock.
"Our work with Mr Shakoor to establish some of the facts of this case will, inevitably, take time because of the emotional trauma he has suffered at the loss of his family. His condition is described as stable."
ACC Beautridge said police would use "whatever resources necessary" to establish the circumstances surrounding the blaze.
"I can tell you that we have launched a Major Crime Investigation to determine the facts surrounding this tragedy and would appeal for anyone with information to make contact with us.
"We do believe the answers to this inquiry could lie within the local community of Harlow, who we are encouraging to come forward and speak with us.
"We fully appreciate the local community will be devastated by what has happened - you never expect such a catastrophic incident to occur in your neighbourhood."
He added that a mobile policing unit had been set up in Barn Mead and would be open around the clock for anyone with information to come forward and assist the investigation.
"To support what can only be described as an isolated incident, we have deployed the Mobile Police Station to Barn Mead, which will be open around the clock," he said.
"Either sharing information or talking about a concern, everyone is welcome to speak with officers."
As fire crews arrived at Barn Mead around 1.40am they also found a car alight a short distance away in a car park.
Although police have confirmed the vehicle is not connected to the family, the incident is being treated as arson and the car is being forensically examined by specialist scientists to find how and where the fire started.
Chief Fire Officer David Johnson of ECFRS said officers were currently trying to establish the cause of the fire, which is believed to have started on the ground floor of the two-storey property.
"We are using sniffer dogs now to see if any flammable liquids were used to start the fire," he said.
"The house has been gutted - there is nothing left downstairs so it will take some time to establish how the fire started."
CFO Johnson said that temperatures inside the inferno could have reached uppwards of "1,000 degrees".
"This was an incredibly intense fire with flames coming out from the front and sides," he added.
"Our people did a fantastic job to do everything they could to rescue and revive those children."
Neighbours in shock
Residents living in Barn Mead were in shock this morning as they struggled to come to terms with the tragedy.
One neighbour told the Star she had been woken by Ms Usmani screaming for help.
“I got up thinking that maybe it was a domestic incident at first but then saw the thick black smoke when I looked out the window," she said.
"She was screaming for help and I called the emergency services, although they had already been informed by then.
"Two men were also outside the house shouting. Then I suddenly saw the flames coming out from the windows and it was just like an inferno - the whole thing just went up.
"It was absolutely terrifying. A neighbour’s car from the other side of the road – parked just outside my house – also went up in flames for some reason.
"That was really scary as it started rolling down the street. I was worried it would set other cars on fire and set off another inferno by my house, although our main concerns were with the family.
"We don’t know them personally but it was just awful. We are all still in shock."
Mum-of-four Suzanne Wiseman, whose older children attend nearby Abbotsweld Primary, said: “I didn’t find out until I took the kids to school this morning but it was all anyone could talk about - the teachers were all in a right state.
"As a mother myself it is particularly hard hitting - if it was started deliberately then whoever did it has to have been completely sick in the head."
East of England Ambulance Spokesman Gary Sanderson told the Star that five ambulances, two officers, the trust's hazardous area response team and a doctor from the British Emergency Ambulance Response Service all attended the scene this morning.
“First and foremost our thoughts are with the family and friends of all involved in this tragic incident this morning," he said.
“Following a rapid scene assessment by the first clinician on scene, our Trust declared this a major incident due to its severity.
"Ambulance crews worked extremely hard alongside the fire service to treat a total of seven casualties, two adults and five children, who were all conveyed to Princess Alexandra Hospital.”
Harlow MP Rob Halfon said his "thoughts and prayers" were with the friends and relatives of the family.
"My heart goes out to the family and their relatives and friends - this is a terrible tragedy," he told the Star.
"I think everyone in Harlow, regardless of their faith or background, will be praying for the family.
"We have a strong community in Harlow and we should now all pull together to help the family and our town deal with this horrific incident."
Councillor Mark Wilkinson, Leader of Harlow Council, also paid tribute to the family.
“Our heart goes out to the family and friends of those affected by this tragic fire.
"I know people in the Harlow community will support each other at this time – and the council will also do what it can to support the family and the local community as they come to terms with this loss.”
Anyone with any information is urged to contact the Harlow Major Investigation Team by dialling 101 or sending an e-mail to SCDappeals@essex.pnn.police.uk.
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