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Harlow fire: Police think home may have been burgled

Dr Shakoor's family. Photo: Essex Police

Detectives investigating a fatal house fire in which a man lost his wife and five children, believe the home may have been burgled beforehand.

Dr Abdul Shakoor’s wife Sabah Usmani and their children died after a fire at their home in Barn Mead, Harlow in the early hours of Monday, October 15, 2012.

Emergency services fought to save the family but Sabah, a 44-year-old qualified doctor, daughter Hira, 12, and sons Sohaib, 11, and Rayyan, 6, died at the scene.

Son Muneeb, 9, and daughter Maheen, 3, were taken to hospital in critical conditions but later died.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Essex Police is working closely with Essex Fire and Rescue service and independent fire scientists but to date has been unable to identify the cause of the fire.

Detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate now believe there may have been a burglary at the home after the family had gone to bed and before the fire was discovered.

Police are trying to trace a Toshiba laptop like this. Credit: Essex Police

A laptop bag containing personal papers belonging to Dr Shakoor was found abandoned near lock up garages in Whitewaits, Harlow on Friday, October 26, 2012. Police believe the laptop may have been stolen in the burglary.

Enquiries have also revealed that during the evening of the fatal fire, there were two unsuccessful attempts to break into other properties in Harlow. How these incidents relate to the fire investigation is being considered by detectives.

Police and Dr Shakoor are now asking for members of the public with information around three specific points of appeal to come forward:

Appeal one: Two people, a teenage boy aged 15 to 16 who was wearing a tracksuit, and a slim girl in a Burnt Mill School uniform, were seen throwing the laptop bag away near the garages in Whitewaits.

Detectives need to speak to them urgently to find out where they found the bag.

Appeal two: Police are also appealing for information about the whereabouts of Dr Shakoor’s Toshiba laptop.

Dr Shakoor remembers leaving the laptop in the living room before going to bed on the evening of the fire.

It was bought in Saudi Arabia and has a two pin connection that was used with an adaptor.

Officers are asking anyone who has been offered a secondhand laptop to come forward.

Appeal three: Finally, police want to speak to a group of four young men who were outside the house in the early hours of October 15, 2012.

The lads were aged between 16 and 19 and were wearing tracksuits and baseball caps. There were also two on bikes.

The first is described as 15 to 18 with ginger or light brown hair. He was wearing black jogging bottoms with stripes down the legs, a hip-length anorak style jacket with a hood and was riding a light coloured bike.

The second was riding a black mountain bike, is described as 16 to 18 and was wearing a light grey top.

Damage caused by the fire which is believed to have started in the living room at the back of the house. Credit: Essex Police

From the onset this house fire and that of the nearby car fire were investigated as suspicious incidents by a dedicated team from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate.

Scientists have been sifting through the remains of the fire and have confirmed that to date there is no evidence of a flammable liquid being used. It is however important to emphasise that detailed forensic testing remains ongoing.

Behind the scenes detectives and specially trained staff have been working around the clock piecing together information and intelligence which has led us to this point.

This remains one of the most complex cases the investigative team has ever dealt with but we remain steadfast in our approach and confident the answers lie within the local community.

We will continue to gain intelligence and work to find answers to the questions of what happened that resulted in such a tragic loss of life.

– Detective Superintendent Rob Vinson

Dr Shakoor has pleaded with members of the public with information that could help detectives to come forward.

It is impossible for me to put into words what the loss of my wife and children means to me and the devastating affect it has had on all of my family.

I cannot express the pain of loosing my devoted wife Sabah and my beautiful children, Hira, Sohaib, Muneeb, Rayyan and Maheen. Maheen died in hospital just days before her fourth birthday.

In the space of just one night I have lost everything dearest to me. Any father, any mother, anyone who has family who they love, will understand the pain that I and all my family are suffering.

Allah has given me courage to face this tragedy with patience, and so many people from across the community have supported me with their love and words and comfort at this terrible time.

Today I am looking to the community once again for help in providing answers to the many questions that remain.

I do not understand why my little children who were so happy and full of life, who had so much to live for, are no longer here.

I ask from my heart that anyone with information comes forward to help, so that I may understand the tragedy that has befallen my beautiful family.

Even a small piece of information may make a difference and, however difficult it may be, I ask anyone who knows what happened, to do the right thing, to come forward and to talk to the police.

I am again thankful to all the community, the emergency services and all institutions for their great support at this difficult time.

– Dr Shakoor

For more on this story visit the ITV News Anglia website.