Man who murdered eight in house fire jailed for at least 23 years
Eight members of the Chishti family died in the attack.
A murderer who took the lives of five children and three adults in a house fire 17 years ago has been jailed for at least 23 years.
Eight members of the Chishti family died when Shahid Mohammed, 37, carried out the attack with other men following a long-running and bitter family dispute.
The victims were asleep in their home on Osborne Road, Birkby, Huddersfield, when petrol bombs were thrown inside the property, with petrol also being poured through the letterbox and ignited.
The five children that died along with their mother, uncle and grandmother stood little chance of escaping the burning inferno, prosecutors told Leeds Crown Court.
Mohammed had been investigated by the police for his role in setting the fire, but while others stood trial in 2003 he instead skipped bail and fled to Pakistan.
After more than a decade on the run, he was extradited back to the UK last year.
A four-week trial at Leeds Crown Court heard how, in the lead-up to the fire, Mohammed had taken against Saud Pervez, the boyfriend of his sister, Shahida.
Prosecutors said that Mohammed Ateeq-Ur-Rehman, one of those who died in the fire, was the likely target of the arson attack as he had played an “active part” in maintaining the relationship.
After being convicted of eight counts of murder and a single charge of conspiracy to commit arson with intent to endanger life, Mohammed was jailed on Wednesday for life with a minimum of 23 years.
As well as 18-year-old Mr Ateeq-Ur-Rehman, known as Ateeq, his sister Nafeesa Aziz, 35, died along with her children, Tayyaba Batool, 13, Rabina Batool, 10, Ateeqa Nawaz, five, Aneesa Zawaz, two, and Najeebah Nawaz, who was six months old.
Zaib-Un-Nisa, 54, the children’s grandmother and mother of Ms Aziz and Ateeq, died in hospital after jumping out of a window in a bid to escape the flames during the attack, which took place on May 12 2002.
Sentencing Mohammed, Mr Justice Robin Spencer QC told Leeds Crown Court that, following the attack, the family home was a “burning inferno”.
He said: “Those left behind to grieve will never come to terms with their loss. Words cannot express the depth of their pain and distress.”
The judge said that, had Mohammed not fled to Pakistan, he would have given the family closure and prevented them from waiting more than a decade for justice to be done.
“Instead they have had to live for all these years with the knowledge that one of the men principally responsible for these wicked murders had not been brought to justice,” he added.
The judge seemed visibly emotional as he praised those that survived the fire, pausing as he spoke and speaking with a broken voice.
He said: “I know that they would have gladly given their own lives to save the others, if possible.”
One surviving member of the family, Siddiqah Aziz, told jurors how she managed to save her father, Abdul Chishti, from the fire but was prevented from coming to the aid of other family members when she was met by a wall of flames.
She said: “When I went downstairs, the smoke was coming through the front room. I got my dad through to the cellar, because he was really weak, and I came back for the others.
“But when I came back, the fire was too strong, it was too much.”
Prosecutor Alistair MacDonald QC said: “All those who were upstairs were overwhelmingly likely to be trapped on the upper floors by the fire that rapidly developed once the petrol had been ignited.”
A year after the killings, three men were convicted at a trial of their involvement, with Shaied Iqbal being found guilty of eight counts of murder, while Shakiel Shazad and Nazar Hussain were convicted of manslaughter.
Mr MacDonald had said that the attack had been “carefully planned”, and that Iqbal and Mohammed had discussed the size of the flames together as they were driven from the scene.
Despite his attempts to evade justice, Mohammed was located and arrested in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on January 22 2015.
After being held in prison, he was extradited to the UK in October last year to be charged with the murders and to appear in court.
Speaking outside court following the sentencing, Rab-Nawaz Khan, the father of the five children that died and husband to Nafeesa Aziz, cried as he said: “I (will) never see again my wife and my daughters.”
Meanwhile, Siddiqah Aziz said it was “really hard” to hear Mohammed’s defence solicitor, Abbas Lakha QC, say that his client had been unable to see his four children since being remanded in Pakistan, given the deaths of her nieces.
She told reporters: “I can’t forget them screaming inside and I couldn’t help them. I tried to go inside, and it was really hard for me to go through the fire.”
Following the sentencing, Michael Quinn from the Crown Prosecution Service said: “This utterly horrific crime wiped out three generations of one family, including a six-month-old baby.
“Shahid Mohammed evaded justice for 16 years but the hunt for him never ceased and he must now face justice for what he has done.”