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Fatal Fire: Police believe home may have been burgled

Update 22 November (1)

Detectives investigating the fatal house fire in Harlow last month have entered a new phase in their inquiry and are now treating the deaths of Dr Sahah Usmani and her five children as murder.

Read more

Detectives investigating a fatal house fire in which a man lost his wife and five children are asking for help from people in the area who have private CCTV cameras.

Photo: Dr Shakoor's family

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
Muneeb, 9 and Rayyan, 6 died that day. Daughter Maheen, 3, was taken to hospital in critical conditions but sadly later died just days before her fourth birthday.

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. They are appealing for anyone who may have photos or CCTV footage from the evening of October 14/early morning of October 15 in the area between Barnmead and Whitewaits (see map above) to come forward because it could provide detectives with vital information concerning the suspicious house and car fire.

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.

Photo: Damage caused by the fire which is believed to have started in the living room at the back of the house

Police appealed for a teenage boy and a girl who were seen throwing the laptop away near to the garages to come forward.

Detectives have now spoken to the teenages who have been able to show them where they found the bag abandoned in bushes in a cut through between St Michael’s Close and Whitewaits.

A scene guard is in place and the area will be further searched.  Anyone who saw the bag being abandoned is asked to contact police.

Essex Police
Representation of Dr Shakoor's laptop
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 two specific points of appeal to come forward:

Essex Police
Representation of Dr Shakoor's laptop

Appeal one

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 other youths 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.

Detective Superintendent Rob Vinson said: “From the outset 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.

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

“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 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."

A dedicated telephone number has been set up for the investigation and anyone with any information is asked to call 01277 266869 or email

Information can also be passed anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Investigation timeline

October 15, 2012

Police are called to Barn Mead, Harlow at 1.48am following report of a house fire and persons trapped. Emergency services confronted by end of terrace house ablaze.

Sadly a mother and her three young children die in the fire - Sabah Usmani, aged 44, a qualified doctor, and children, daughter Hira aged 12 and sons Muneeb, 9, and Rayyan 6. 

Two children, Sohaib, 11, and Maheen, 3, are taken to hospital. Sohaib sadly dies. Maheen is taken in a critical condition to a specialist burns unit.

As fire crews arrive at Barn Mead they also find a Ford Focus car alight a short distance away in a car park. The car is not connected to the family involved in the house fire. However the car fire is treated as arson.

Police and the fire service launch an investigation into the cause of the fatal fire which is treated as suspicious.

A press conference is held at Essex Police Headquarters and ACC Gary Beautridge, Head of the Essex and Kent Serious Crime Directorate, confirms the names of those who died and were seriously injured.

Mr Shakoor is supported by specially trained family liaison officers as police begin working with him to determine facts surrounding the tragedy.

A Major Crime Investigation is launched and anyone who was in the area and has any information is urged to contact detectives at Harlow Major investigation team on 101 or via e mail at

October 17, 2012

An inquest hearing is opened and adjourned. 

Post mortem examinations are held and provisional results indicate that the family died of smoke inhalation and fire.

October 18, 2012

Three-year-old Maheen sadly dies of her injuries.

Essex Police becomes aware of speculation that the fire may have been caused by a serial arsonist setting fire to vehicles. Police confirm this does not appear to be the case.

Police have a number of lines of inquiry and appeal for residents and bystanders with information to come forward urgently.

Experts confirm there is no evidence to suggest an accelerant was used to trigger the blaze but incident investigators are unable to draw any final conclusions until scientific investigations are complete.

Initial indications show that the fire appears to have taken hold in the lounge area at the back of the property.

October 24, 2012

The funeral for six members of the Shakoor family is held in Harlow. After funeral prayers at the Islamic Centre, the funeral cortege makes it way to a cemetery where a private burial is held.


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