Man convicted of murdering five children and three adults in arson attack
A man has been convicted of murdering eight people in a house fire which followed a long-running and bitter dispute.
Shahid Mohammed, 37, was found guilty of killing five children and three adults in the blaze at the property in Birkby, Huddersfield, in 2002.
Mohammed had been investigated by police at the time but skipped bail and fled to Pakistan prior to a 2003 trial in which several other people were convicted for their involvement in the incident.
During a four-week trial at Leeds Crown Court, jurors heard that the blaze which caused the deaths of eight members of the Chishti family had followed a grudge that the defendant had been "pursuing vigorously".
Prosecutors said Mohammed, of no fixed address, reacted angrily when his sister, Shahida, became involved in a relationship with a man named Saud Pervez, of whom he did not approve.
One member of the Chishti family, Mohammed Ateeq-ur-Rehman, known as Ateeq, had played an "active part" in the maintaining of their relationship, and was probably the target of the attack on May 12 2002, the court heard.
Jurors were told that petrol bombs were thrown into the property, in Osborne Road, while petrol, believed to have been poured into the home through a nozzle, was ignited.
Mohammed will be sentenced on Wednesday.
Bearded Mohammed, who stood in the dock wearing glasses, a striped shirt and a dark tie, showed no emotion as he was found guilty of eight counts of murder and one of conspiracy to commit arson with intent to endanger life.
Judge Robin Spencer told him: "I know that you want to know what your sentence is going to be as soon as possible. That will happen tomorrow. I will deal with you tomorrow and pass sentence tomorrow afternoon."
The victims of the fire were Zaib-Un-Nisa, 54, Nafeesa Aziz, 35, Mohammed Ateeq-ur-Rehman, 18, Tayyaba Batool, 13, Rabina Batool, 10, Ateeqa Nawaz, five, Aneesa Zawaz, two, and Najeebah Nawaz, who was six months old.
The jury was told that a trial in 2003 led to the convictions of three men - Shaied Iqbal, Shakiel Shazad and Nazar Hussain - for their roles in the fire, with Iqbal being convicted of murder and the other two of manslaughter.
Discussing the impact of the flames, Alistair MacDonald QC, prosecuting, 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."
Mr MacDonald said that the attack had been "carefully planned" and that as the men drove away from the scene, Mohammed said to Iqbal: "Did you see the way it went up?"
During the trial, one surviving member of the Chishti family, Siddiqah Aziz, told how she managed to save her father, Abdul Chishti, from the inferno 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."
Abbas Lakha QC, defending, argued during the trial that Iqbal had planned the arson attack to teach teenage victim Ateeq a lesson for interfering in his love life.
Mr Lakha said that Mohammed had only acted as a look-out, that he had been under the impression that the plan was to petrol bomb a car and that he did not intend to throw anything.
Mohammed was extradited back to the UK in October last year by officers from West Yorkshire Police's Homicide and Major Enquiry Team, with the support of the National Crime Agency, the British High Commission in Islamabad, the Crown Prosecution Service and local authorities in Pakistan.
He had been held in prison in Pakistan since he was located and arrested in Rawalpindi on January 22 2015.
West Yorkshire Police said this was just the second extradition from Pakistan in more than 10 years, after Mohammed Zubair in May 2016, who was subsequently found guilty of murder at Bradford Crown Court.
Detective Chief Superintendent Nick Wallen said Tuesday's verdicts marked "a milestone" in the case.
He said: "This incident remains the biggest single event of multiple murders that West Yorkshire Police has investigated.
"It has been an extensive and protracted inquiry with a large team of detectives tirelessly working to secure justice for the family.
"At the end of last year, we were successfully able to extradite Mohammed from Pakistan with the assistance and support of several agencies, both here in the UK and abroad.
"Since 2002, the Chishti family has shown nothing but dignity throughout this unimaginable tragedy for their family.
"I would like to express my greatest condolences and gratitude to them for all these years and I wholeheartedly welcome the verdict handed to Mohammed after he attempted to evade justice for so many years."
Speaking outside Leeds Crown Court after the verdicts, Mr Wallen added: "This afternoon we have had unanimous guilty verdicts in relation to the horrific murders of the Chishti family back in 2002.
"On behalf of West Yorkshire Police, we are absolutely overjoyed, over the moon, this is 17 years of a police investigation that has been a relentless one and getting Shahid Mohammed back from Pakistan back in 2018 was a real landmark in this case."
Mohammed Shafique, who survived the fire, along with his father Abdul Aziz Chishti and sister Siddiqa Aziz, said: "We are naturally pleased that this man Shahid Mohammed, who ignored police and court bails, has been brought to justice.
"He has been convicted of the murder of eight people in our family. This is not going to bring back our loved ones and I hope he gets a long prison sentence and I hope he doesn't see the light of day."
Mr Shafique added: "Coming to the court and listening to the witnesses and the evidence that has been presented, it has been quite emotional at times. And the fine details of the victims inside the house, it was very difficult, very emotional for us to be there and listening to all that.
"Also, it would have been nice for my father to be here, he passed away two years ago, and we missed him in this trial. He was with us in the original trial in 2003 but he passed away two years ago and we missed him very much. It would have been nice for our father to be here with us today."
Abdul Hameed, Mr Shafique's older brother, added: "We are naturally pleased he has been convicted of eight murders and we had to wait for such a long time - 17 years.
"It's been hard. Going through the trial and listening to all the evidence reproduced 2003, it's been very hard for us. For me, for my brother, for my brother-in-law, who lost his wife and five daughters, it was hard for everyone."