Police launch three new lines of inquiry into death of six members of same family in Essex house fire

A police press conference was held today Credit: ITV Anglia

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

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.

Sabah, a 44-year-old qualified doctor, and her children Hira, 12, and Sohaib, 11, Rayyan, 6, Muneeb, 9, and Maheen, 3, were killed in the fire.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

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.

A laptop bag containing personal papers belonging to Dr Shakoor was found abandoned near lock up garages in Whitewaits, Harlow on Friday, October 26.

Enquiries have also revealed that during the evening of the fatal fire, there were two unsuccessful attempts to break into other properties in Harlow.

Damage to the house after the fire Credit: Essex Police

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

Appeal 1

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 2

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 3

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 teenagers 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.

Dr Shakoor's laptop was stolen Credit: Essex Police

Detective Superintendent Rob Vinson said: “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.”

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

He said: "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 losing my devoted wife Sabah and my beautiful children, Hira, Sohaib, Muneeb, Rayyan and Maheen. Maheen died in hospital just days before her fourth birthday.

"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."

A dedicated telephone number has been set up for the investigation and anyone with any information is asked to call 0800 0560 944 or email scdappeals@essex.pnn.police.uk