'The pain is still there, there’s not enough time in my life to get over this'
Grandmother June Khanan said the pain of losing her daughter and grandchildren has never got easier
On Tuesday, June Khanan will lay flowers on the graves of her daughter and grandchildren as she has done every year on November 1 since 2006.
Sayrah and Sophia Riaz, 16 and 15, died along with their two sisters, Alicia, 10 and three-year-old Hannah and their mother Caneze when Mohammed Riaz set the family home alight because he refused to accept their westernised ways.
Former cleaner June said the pain is every bit as strong ten years on as it ever was and is determined to make sure they are never forgotten.
She said: “It’s really hard, the pain is still there. People say it must be a bit easier now but it never gets easier. There’s not enough time in my life to get over this.”
She added: “I was no longer a nan and Barry was no longer an uncle - I was ready for putting myself six feet under.
“I used to lie there in bed and visualise them all in their graves - my mind was just going crazy.”
June, 68, who was living on Countess Street at the time, has since moved away from Accrington, saying the place held too many painful reminders of what used to be, and now lives in Bolton.
She said: “My son Barry had to clear the house after it happened, it was horrendous.
“Caneze used to live five minutes from our house - everything was just too close and there were too many memories there.
“I used to hear the children coming home from school - I still heard it after it happened, then thought no, they’re not here anymore.
“I’d see other children and think mine should still be walking around. I was ready for topping myself.”
She said she remembers hearing how Mohammed, who she says was always jealous of Caneze and her community work, asked about his girls when he was still alive after the fire, but never enquired after his wife.
She said: “They took him into an ambulance and he asked how his girls were but not Caneze.
“His injuries were bad and that pleased me no end, but then some of his acquaintances wanted us to bury him with the family.
“Our Barry went berserk and said ‘no chance - why do I want to bury a murderer with them?’
“We were climbing the wall, how could they have the nerve to ask us that?”
But yet more tragedy was set to befall the family when June’s grandson, Adam,17, lost his battle with cancer.
She said: “What Adam’s dad did knocked him for six. My son Barry’s wife, Vicky, was like a substitute mum to him after what happened and he’d put his head on her lap.
“He was terminally ill but he didn’t know, he didn’t need to know that.
“Then we lost him and we were heartbroken - he died because of what happened to his mum.”
All that has kept the brave pensioner going over the years is her now only, granddaughter, Barry and his wife Vicky’s daughter, Sascha, whose name is composed of the initials of her dead family’s names.
She said: “I thought I was never going to see this baby - my heart was so relieved when she was born. I can see them all in her - she’s blonde with blue eyes and looks very much like our Sophia.
“Her middle name is Angel because we believe that the family sent her down for us.”
She added that, by strange coincidence, Sascha, now seven, was originally due on November 1. She said: “Barry so wanted her to be born on the 1st but thankfully it was the day after. We have to put a brave face on for her and keep her out of it as much as we can. She knows she has cousins and an auntie who’ve gone to heaven but no details.”
On November 1, the day of the tragedy, June and Barry will go to the cemetery as they always do to lay flowers on the graves.
June said: “They’re all side by side. I just want to see them gathered there all together and watch them come home.”
‘We still miss those children like mad’
The brother of Caneze Riaz said the ten-year anniversary of the tragedy has hit the family especially hard.
Dad-of-one Barry Khanan, 48, said: “This year has affected us a lot more than other years - I think because 10 years is a big landmark.
“Those children were like my own and we still miss them and Caneze like mad.”
The heavy goods driver described how in the months leading up to the incident, Riaz had been drinking when he was supposed to be at work at a Blackburn plastic bag factory. His sister Caneze had also confided in him about Mohammed not paying the household bills.
He said: “Mohammed was supposed to be working nightshifts but instead was drinking and not going to work. My sister told me she’d been paying the bills for eight months and that Mohammed had just been sending the money to Pakistan. I got mad when she told me about that but she told me to keep quiet. After I found out it was him that murdered them I wanted to go to hospital where he was and break his neck.
“I felt guilty and mad I couldn’t have protected them, but the one person you don’t think you have to protect children from is their own parent.”
He added: “I practised breaking the news to Adam in my head and the first thing he did was scream and cry his eyes out while I held him for what seemed like forever.
“Then he smiled and said: ‘My mum’s done this on purpose to ruin my Christmas’, but deep down he was broken-hearted. It was horrible.”
Barry, who moved to Bolton after the tragedy, described how he first thought the fire must have been caused by someone putting fireworks through the letterbox.
He said: “All we knew was things weren’t right in the relationship and he wanted the girls to go to Pakistan and get engaged and Caneze wanted them to marry Muslims but here. When I found out it was like I was watching TV. I wanted to rip his head off but he was already dead.
“It’s not something you can ever come to terms with but when people are taken from you so violently you have to deal with the pieces. My mum and I just want to remind people they existed - if we don’t do it, no-one else will. I will be going to the cemetery with flowers and cards on the day. Mum usually goes in the morning and I go after work.”
He added: “It’s not a religious thing, it happened because of one person. No religion condones the murder of children.”
Timeline to tragedy
- 1982 - Caneze Riaz, who grew up in Accrington, goes on a trip to Pakistan where she meets Mohammed Riaz
- 1987 - Caneze marries Mohammed and he later moves to England
- 1989 - The couple buy a house in Accrington after the birth of their son, Adam.
- 1996 - The family moves to the bigger house on Tremellen Street following the birth of Sayrah, Sophia and Alicia. They would go on to have another daughter Hannah.
- 2006 - Mohammed Riaz takes to sleeping alone in the front room of the house following problems with the marriage
- Nov 1, 2006 - Mohammed Riaz deliberately starts the blaze at the house which kills his wife and four daughters Sayrah, 16, Sophia, 13, Alicia, 10, and Hannah, three, while Adam is in hospital receiving treatment for cancer when the tragedy occurs.
- Nov 3, 2006 - Detectives wait at Mohammed’s bedside, waiting for him to speak to them until he dies of his injuries.
- Nov 8, 2006 - Hundreds attend the funeral of Caneze Riaz and her daughters at Raza Jamia Masjid mosque and Accrington Cemetery
- Nov 17, 2006 - The body of Mohammed Riaz is flown back to Pakistan
- Nov 24, 2006 - More than 200 people attend a memorial service at Moorhead Sports College.
- Dec 11, 2006 - Adam dies of cancer aged 17
- Feb 2007 - An inquest rules Mohammed Riaz deliberately started the fatal fire.