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Fatal fire in Harlow

As work begins to board up and secure the Shakoor family home in Barn Mead, a fresh appeal is being made for witnesses and information.

Photo: The scene of the fire in Barn Mead, Harlow

Detective Superintendent Rob Vinson, the Senior Investigating Officer, said: “We have many lines of active inquiry but really need residents and bystanders who were in the Barn Mead area as emergency crews responded and dealt with the fire to come forward urgently.

“Although we have spoken with many people there are still those who have not made contact with us. Very probably they feel they have no information and do not want to waste police time, but in reality if you were at or near the scene of this incident we need you to come forward urgently. It is a cliché but you may have seen something that in isolation does not seem important but in reality may give us a vital piece of information.”

The forensic work at the address is nearing completion and will now move forward away from the scene. Experts have found that to date, there is no evidence to suggest that an accelerant was used to trigger the blaze but incident investigators will not be able to draw any final conclusions until the work of the scientists and the investigation is completed.

D/Supt Vinson explained: “We know already from the fire service and our own findings that temperatures would have been extremely high, with thick toxic smoke permeating the house.  Initial indications show that the fire appears to have taken hold in the lounge area which is at the rear of the property. The ferocity of the blaze has made the forensic work more challenging.”

He added: “Naturally local residents are concerned about what happened and this investigation will not end until we have exhausted every line of inquiry

As inquiries continue the mobile police station will remain in Barn Mead for the foreseeable future as the impact of the tragic fire is still felt across the local community.

Updated: Thursday, October 18 at 1.55pm

Essex Police is aware of a number of rumours and speculation surrounding a possible cause of the fatal fire in Barn Mead, Harlow, on Monday, October 15, 2012.

One theory circulating is that a serial arsonist setting fire to vehicles may be responsible. Police can categorically say that this does not appear to be the case.

In April two old vehicles were abandoned within two weeks of each other and set alight in Bishops Field, which is near to Barn Mead.

There is no information to suggest any trend in Harlow for fires being deliberately started in vehicles.

Essex Police continues to keep an open mind about how both the house fire and the fire in the car may have started and indeed whether there are any links between them aside from their proximity.

The investigation will include examining previous reports of deliberate car fires.

Police are continuing to appeal for anyone with any information about both the house fire and the fire in the car during the early hours of Monday morning to contact them as soon as possible on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Updated: Tuesday, October 16 at 11.20am

Painstaking forensic examinations will continue today at the scene of the fatal fire in Barnmead, Harlow which saw the tragic loss of five members of one family in the early hours of yesterday morning.

There will be much activity at the property, the home of Dr Abdul Shakoor who lost his wife Sabah Usmani and four children Hira, Sohaib, Muneeb and Rayyan in the blaze which took hold around 1.45am on Monday, October 15, 2012.

The youngest child, Maheen who survived the fire is still being treated for her injuries at Broomfield Hospital’s specialist burns unit in Chelmsford and her condition is described as critical but stable.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation and detectives can not rule in or rule out all lines of enquiry and cannot speculate on the  motive or cause.

We would appeal to anyone who has any information, however insignificant it may appear, to contact detectives at the Major investigation team at Harlow on 101 or via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or via e mail on

Updated: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 10am

At a press conference held at Essex Police Headquarters on Monday, October 15, 2012, ACC Gary Beautridge, Head of the Essex and Kent Serious Crime Directorate, said:

Assistant Chief Constable Gary Beautridge
Above: ACC Gary Beautridge

“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.

"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 has lost his wife Sabah Usmani, aged 44 a qualified doctor, and children, daughter Hira aged12, sons Sohaib, 11 Muneeb, 9 and  Rayyan 6.  Their other daughter Maheen aged 3, nearly 4, 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.

"With the tragic nature of this incident at the forefront of our minds, I pledge to use whatever resources are necessary to find out exactly what has happened and, if appropriate, bring those responsible to justice.

"To that end 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.

"Police were called to Barn Mead, Harlow at around 1:48am on the morning of Sunday, October 15, 2012, following the report of a house fire and persons trapped.

"Upon arrival the emergency services were confronted by an end of terrace residential property which was well ablaze.

"In addition a Ford Focus car was on fire. This car belongs to a resident in Barn Mead, Harlow and was located some distance from the house fire. To clarify this vehicle is not connected to Dr Shakoor or any member of his family.

"On arrival Dr Shakoor was outside the premises and his family remained within the property. Fire and Rescue commenced a rescue operation of the five children and an adult female.

"All those recovered from the scene were given initial first aid at the road side and then taken to Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow. Our investigation teams were then mobilised and, based at Harlow will be working round the clock to establish what has happened.

"To support, of what can only be described, as an isolated incident, we have deployed the Mobile Police Station to Barn Mead, near the location of the incident which will be open around the clock. Either sharing information or talking about a concern, everyone is welcome to speak with officers.

"We have some initial background information about the Shakoor family that we can now share. They moved to Harlow in 2011 having travelled from Pakistan to the UK in 2009.  Dr Shakoor works at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow. His wife was not working but looking after their children. They are a Muslim family and as part of our response work we are liaising with local community leaders to give as much support we can at this stage.

"Despite sustaining smoke inhalation injuries Dr Shakoor is desperate to support the police investigation.

"Over the next few days our investigation will gain pace and the results of forensic examinations will help direct our inquiries. What is clear at this stage that this could potentially be a long running scene investigation which will no doubt disrupt the local community. Given the nature of our investigation we are confident local residents will be understanding and we thank you in advance for your support.

"Further updates will be shared with the community and the media directly via officers on the street, our website and news information channels.”

Updated: Monday, October 15, 2012 at 5pm

Detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate are treating the fatal fire at Barn Mead, Harlow as suspicious.

Anyone who was in this area around 1am on the morning of October 15, 2012 and has any information is urged to contact detectives at Harlow Major investigation team on 101 or via e mail at

Senior Investigating Officer Dectective Superintendent Rob Vinson said: "This is the still the early stages of our investigation into the tragic death of five members of one family, a mother and four of her young children. At this time we are investigating to see whether this fire was started deliberately and need anyone with information to contact us.”

As fire crews arrived at Barn Mead around 1.40am they also found a car alight a short distance away in a car park. This car is not connected to the family involved in the house fire. However this car fire is being treated as arson. The house will be forensically examined by specialist scientists to find how and where the fire started.

D/Supt Rob Vinson added: "For the sake of the family, who are trying to come to terms with this tragic incident, I would ask for information from the public, especially in the Harlow area, to help us determine exactly what has happened.”


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