A grandmother has told how she can never forgive the man who killed her only daughter and four granddaughters ten years on from the tragedy.
Sayrah and Sophia Riaz, 16 and 15, died along with their two sisters, Alicia, 10 and three-year-old Hannah, when their father set the family home alight because he refused to accept their westernised ways.
Their mother, community worker Caneze Riaz, 39, also died in the blaze in 2006, which firefighters described as the worst they had ever seen.
This week, ahead of the tenth anniversary of the tragedy - and just weeks before Caneze should have been celebrating her 50th birthday, their grandmother, June Khanan, told the Observer how time has not healed her devastation at losing five of the people closest to her because of the actions of Mohammed Riaz.
June, now 68, said: “I’ll never forgive him. He took them away from me and it wasn’t their time.
“There’s not enough time in my life to get over this and I don’t want them ever to be forgotten about.”
Riaz, 49, the nephew of June’s late husband, Abdul Khanan, poured petrol around their home in Tremellen Street, Accrington, and lit it with matches while his family slept on November 1, 2006.
He died two days later from the injuries he suffered.
In a cruel twist, the family’s son 17-year-old son Adam who was in hospital receiving treatment for cancer when the fire was started lost his battle with the illness.
June’s only son, Barry Khanan, now 48, remembers breaking the news to his nephew in hospital. He said: “I told him: there’s been a fire and your mum and sisters have all passed away. The only survivor is your dad. The first thing he did was scream and I held him for what seemed like forever while he cried his eyes out. We didn’t have a clue then my brother-in-law was responsible - we thought someone had put fireworks through the letterbox.”
June’s granddaughters and their mum died in their sleep from smoke inhalation, with Riaz dying two days later before police had chance to question him. Riaz’s body was then taken back to his native Pakistan.
John Taylor, press officer for Lancashire Fire and Rescue, said the fire was the worst he has seen in twenty years in the role.
He said: “I don’t know of anything on that scale before or after. It was an inferno in seconds. What the crews did could never have been enough.”
Inquest delivered the verdict of ‘unlawful killing’
Caneze Riaz and her four daughters were ‘unlawfully killed’ in a fire started deliberately by her husband, an inquest ruled.
The Observer reported at the time that Mohammed started the fatal blaze after pouring petrol throughout the house and on the duvet under which his wife slept with their youngest child.
Police believed he lit a match upstairs, ran downstairs then back up through the flames into the bathroom.
His bloody footprints were found on the scorched staircase and two petrol cans were in the bedroom, one with Caneze’s DNA on top of Mohammed’s on the handle, indicating she had tried to remove it before collapsing.
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Station Manager at the time Steven Kennedy said the girls were found in bed and would have been asleep before dying.
Det Supt Mick Gradwell said fire officers found Mohammed in the bathroom, adding: “The fire was caused deliberately by petrol poured in the house then ignited.”
East Lancashire Coroner Michael Singleton ruled that Caneze and her daughters were unlawfully killed by a fire started by Riaz.
He also ruled that Riaz had killed himself.
Fire chief ‘shocked’ by horror
Hyndburn Fire Station watch manager Gary Drinkwater, now 44, said the fire was the worst one he had ever seen in 16 years in the fire service.
He said: “I remember someone saying there was a casualty coming out.
“We turned round, received the casualty and then straightaway we heard voices again saying there was another one and then it was just relentless.
“It was a real shock.”
He added: “It was the worst incident I’d been to in 16 years and I’ve never experienced one like it since.
“I’ve seen bad house fires but never with that number of casualties.”
We worked day and night to bring news of appalling tragedy
Former Accrington Observer editor Mervyn Kay covered many tragedies during the 30 years he was editor of the Accrington Observer, but says the fire that killed the family was one of the worst he can recall
It was one of the biggest - and certainly one of the most tragic stories – I covered during my 30 years as editor of the Observer.
As I walked into the office on that morning after Halloween, it was obvious something was afoot.
The early-duty reporters had been told by their police and Fire Brigade contacts of a major house fire in Tremellen Street, Accrington, in which five people had died and one had been taken to hospital.
The victims were quickly identified as vivacious social worker Caneze Riaz and her four beautiful daughters aged between three and 16.
The man in hospital with 65 per cent burns was their dad, Mohammed, and when police confirmed it was an arson attack and, in that time-honoured phrase, they were not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident, it became immediately apparent what had happened.
Mohammed, who died two days later without fully regaining consciousness, had poured petrol over the house as his family slept and lit a match.
My team of reporters spent the entire day interviewing witnesses and friends of the family, every one of them speaking highly of Caneze, who was a school governor and had helped form the Aawaz group for Asian women, and her girls, all with their hopes and dreams that were never to be realised.
There was a spontaneous outpouring of grief in the town, almost similar to that which followed the death of Princess Diana, and if any good at all was to come out of this appalling tragedy, it was that it united the English and Asian communities.
The motive came later, at the inquest, when it was revealed Mohammed was a strict Muslim who had never felt at home in his adopted country and resented his family’s Westernised ways.
Meanwhile, even more heartbreak followed when Caneze’s son Adam, 17, who had been receiving treatment for an aggressive form of cancer, died just weeks after attending his family’s full Muslim funeral when they were buried side by side at Accrington Cemetery.
Back to the day of the fire, my team and I worked all day and well into the night on the story to bring out a special edition of the paper. Every one of us wished it had never happened.