Harlow fire deaths inquest: Blaze 'may been murder'

Sabah Usmani and her children who died in house fire in Harlow Image copyright Other
Image caption Dr Abdul Shakoor's wife and five children died in the fire in Harlow

Six members of the same family who were killed in a fire could have been murdered, an inquest has heard.

Dr Sabah Usmani and her five children, Maheen, Rayyan, Muneeb, Hira and Sohaib Shakoor died in the blaze in Barn Mead, Harlow in Essex on 15 October 2012.

Det Supt Rob Vinson told Chelmsford Coroner's Court all the evidence pointed towards murder but firefighters could not rule out an accidental cause.

Coroner Caroline Beasley-Murray recorded an open verdict.

Dr Usmani's husband, Dr Abdul Shakoor, was the only survivor of the fire, which may have reached temperatures of 800C (1,472 F), experts said.

All members of the family, originally from Pakistan, died from their injuries and inhalation of fumes, a post-mortem examination found.

Image copyright Essex Police
Image caption The lounge of the Shakoor family home after the fire

Dr Usmani, 44, had wrapped herself around her three-year-old daughter, Maheen, in an attempt to save her, the court heard.

Her sons Muneeb, nine, Rayyan, six, and daughter Hira, 12, died soon after the blaze.

A third son Sohaib, 11, and Maheen were taken to hospital. He died later that morning while she lived for three more days.

'Deliberate' cause

Retired fire investigation officer, David Hajicostas, said Dr Usmani was found crouched over Maheen, an act which gave the girl three further days of life and a chance of survival.

"She was gathered over her on all fours, with a blanket over her," he said.

He told the court an accidental cause could not be ruled out but was "minded to think" it was deliberate.

Det Supt Vinson told the hearing the front door of the house was open, a laptop was missing and there had been a series of burglaries in the area that night.

He said no-one had been charged but it remained an "active investigation".

Ms Beasley-Murray said: "In order to record a conclusion of unlawful killing, I would have to be sure that somebody killed another without legal justification and intended to kill or cause serious injury.

"Sadly, there is also insufficient evidence to say it was an accident.

"Not all of the pieces of the jigsaw are there yet."

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