A man who lost his wife and four children in a suspected arson attack on their home “fought hard to save his family in appalling conditions”, police said today.
Dr Abdul Shakoor suffered minor injuries in the blaze, but his wife Sabah Usmani, sons Sohaib, 11, and Rayan, six, and 12-year-old daughter Hira all died.
A third son, Muneeb, nine, and daughter Maheen, three, were rescued by fire crews and taken to the Princess Alexandra Hospital in a critical condition. Muneeb later died.
Police and firefighters were original called to the house in Barn Mead at about 1am this morning.
Essex Police confirmed that they are treating the fire as suspicious, adding that a car not belonging to the family was found alight just a few metres from the house. The car fire is also being treated as arson.
Assistant Chief Constable Gary Beautridge said: “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.”
The Head of the Essex and Kent Serious Crime Directorate said his sympathies, and those of the force, were with Mr Shakoor.
“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 told a press conference.“
Mr Beautridge said the father was ”in severe shock“ and was being treated for severe smoke inhalation in the intensive care unit at Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow.
He said: ”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.“
Earlier, senior investigating officer Detective Superintendent Rob Vinson said: ”This is the still the early stages of our investigation into the tragic deaths 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.”
The house will be forensically examined to find out how the blaze started.