17-year wait for killer to be brought to justice

Fire crews tackle the blaze in Magdalen Road on August 26, 1997

Fire crews tackle the blaze in Magdalen Road on August 26, 1997

First published in News
Last updated
Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Crime Reporter, also covering Barton and Wood Farm. Call me on (01865) 425427

NOT long after 3am on Tuesday, August 26, 1997, petrol was squirted through the letterbox of 156 Magdalen Road, East Oxford, using two Tango bottles.

The killers had waited half an hour after the lights had been switched off in the Khan Akhtar family home so it was likely those inside were asleep.

Upstairs asleep were Mehfooz Akhtar, five of her children and her six-year-old grandson.

Father Mohammed Khan was working a nightshift at the Radcliffe Infirmary at the time.

A match was lit and posted through into the hallway. The petrol ignited and soon flames were roaring through the three-bedroom house.

Those in the home woke up to the sound of the blaze and had to jump out of windows to escape.

But eight-year-old Anum Khan did not escape. Her badly-burnt body was found curled up close to the window of her bedroom.

Oxford Mail:

Majid, 15, died two years after the fire

Her brother Majid Khan, 15, jumped from a first-storey window but was badly burnt and suffered a broken skull in the fall. He died in hospital two days later.

The trial heard the family had been targeted because they had told the two Munshi sisters and their friends to stay away from their son Amjad Khan after he was jailed for dealing heroin.

The court was told Fiaz Munshi was in love with 22-year-old Amjad and was furious with his family when they turned him against her.

Oxford Mail:

The fire-ravaged house

A year after the fire, five men – Haroon Sharif, his cousins Haq and Mohammed Nawaz, and their recruits Alan Swanton and Thomas Liedl – were convicted of murdering the two children.

Fiaz’s older sister Riaz, then 26, was convicted of manslaughter a year later.

But it took 17 years to bring Fiaz, then 21, to justice as she fled to Pakistan two days before her accomplices were charged.

A police error meant she was not flagged up as wanted for the arson when she returned to the UK in 2004 and she was only picked up last year when the investigation was restarted in 2012.

Jurors heard Munshi left the UK three months after the fire to be with her ill father in Pakistan.

Oxford Mail:

Oxford Mail:

Our coverage of the 1998 trial

But the jury heard that the former Donnington Middle School pupil said she was not afraid when she returned to the UK in 2004.

She was eventually arrested by detectives in Oldham, Greater Manchester, where they were living on October 22, 2013, and charged with murder.

It apparently came five days after she reported a crime in her street.

Oxford Mail:

Police recovered two drinks bottles from the scene containing petrol

The family welcomed the arrest at the time and the children’s mother Mehfooz Khan said once justice had been done she promised herself she would visit their graves for the first time after 17 years.

SISTERS BOMBARDED FAMILY WITH NUISANCE CALLS

THE MUNSHI sisters were described in court as aggressive and disreputable young women.

Fiaz and Riaz had secret boyfriends and had fights in public, to the shame of their family, the jury heard.

Fiaz, who was born in Sheffield, the daughter of a crane operator in the city’s steel works, was said to be in love with Amjad Khan when his family told her to stay away from him.

Amjad had been studying for an economics degree at Oxford Brookes when he met Fiaz, who had wanted to be a lawyer or join the police.

But his studies suffered due to the intense relationship and he got involved in drugs through his friendship with Haroon Sharif, the jury in this year’s trial heard.

The court was told after Sharif was jailed for dealing heroin his family told him and the Munshis to stay away.

Oxford Mail:

Riaz Munshi pictured at a wedding

And it heard after two clashes with the Khan Akhtar family, the sisters were kicked out of their Freelands Road house. They went to Letchworth to live with Haroon Sharif and Haq Nawaz before finding places at a women’s refuge in Stevenage.

It was claimed in court that the sisters then bombarded the Khan Akhtar family with nuisance phone calls and would drive past their Magdalen Road house hurling abuse and playing loud music.

And it was said that Anum Khan, eight, picked up the last prank call on the evening of the blaze. Afterwards she is said to have hugged her father Mohammed and said: “Don’t worry daddy, it was those silly girls.”

During the first trial in Birmingham Crown Court in 1998, Riaz Munshi said Fiaz had blackmailed her into coming to Oxford on the night of the arson and threatened to tell their brothers where they were living.

She also said Fiaz was determined to fight Shehnaz Khan, adding: “I used to tell her let’s forget about it. Let’s get on with our lives and that but she wouldn’t.”

Oxford Mail:

Fiaz Munshi

Munshi left the UK for Pakistan two days before her sister and friends were arrested and charged. She married there and had four children before returning to the UK in 2004.

Her husband came to the country later on and they moved to Oldham together in 2012.

On the witness stand former Milham Ford School, New Marston, pupil Fiaz told jurors her elder brothers were abusive and controlling and beat her and her sister.

She also said they were facing arranged marriages they did not want.

WITNESS DESCRIBES 'DRIVING FORCE' BEHIND CRIME

SUNDER Khutan was a key witness in three trials.

Following the fire, detectives had found the Tango bottles used to squirt petrol into the home nearby but could not connect it to those suspected of being involved.

That was until Mr Khutan, who now lives in London, came forward and told police he had been in one of the two cars the suspects travelled to the house in.

He said he had been hired by Haq Nawaz to beat someone up in Oxford and told the jury he knew nothing about the fire until after it was started.

He said Alan Swanton and Thomas Liedl had set fire to the house for the gang.

Police arrested Swanton and Liedl and matched their fingerprints to those found on the bottles.

Mr Khutan spent more than five days on the stand in the latest trial as he testified that Fiaz Munshi had been the “driving force” behind the plan.

He described her aggressive behaviour in the journey from Stevenage and also told jurors she pointed out the Khan house to those who would set the fire.

He said Munshi had held up a Stanley knife and said she was going to cut eldest daughter Shehnaz Akhtar, 25. He also said Munshi had told Haq Nawaz she wanted him to burn the house down.

Mr Khutan, now 37, told the Oxford Mail after the trial: “For 15 years I heard this in my mind and I thought she had got away with it.”

LONG-RUNNING FEUD BETWEEN TWO FAMILIES WHICH ENDED IN TRAGEDY

1995: Amjad Khan becomes friends with Haroon Sharif and the Munshi sisters Fiaz and Riaz. He later begins dating Fiaz

May 1997: Amjad Khan is jailed for three-and-a-half years for possession of heroin with intent to supply. Khan Akhtar family tells Sharif and the Munshis to stay away from their son but later spot them after visiting him at HMP Bullingdon. Amjad’s mother and sisters later confront the Munshis at their home

June 1997: The Munshi sisters allegedly attack Amjad’s sisters Shehnaz and Nazmeen Akhtar in the Westgate Centre in Oxford. The Khan family then begin receiving nuisance calls

August 26, 1997: Arson attack at the Khan family home in Magdalen Road leaves Anum, eight, and Majid, 15, dead

September 23, 1997: Fiaz and Riaz Munshi are arrested in connection with the fire along with Haq Nawaz and Haroon Sharif. They are later released

December 1, 1997: Sunder Khutan comes forward as a witness

December 9, 1997: Fiaz Munshi leaves the UK for Pakistan. Prosecutors at her 2014 trial said she would have been put on trial back then if she had remained

December 12, 1997: Alan Swanton, Thomas Liedl, Mohammed and Haq Nawaz, and Haroon Sharif, and Riaz Munshi are charged with conspiracy to murder and commit arson

February 1998: The six suspects are all charged with murder

November 1998: Alan Swanton, Thomas Liedl, Mohammed and Haq Nawaz and Haroon Sharif are all found guilty of murdering Anum and Majid. Jury discharged after failing to reach a verdict on Riaz Munshi

May 1999: Sharif, Swanton and Mohammed Nawaz are told they cannot appeal against their sentences

December 1999: Riaz Munshi is convicted of manslaughter at Leicester Crown Court and jailed for 12 years

2001: Fiaz Munshi flies to Paris 2003: Fiaz again flies to Paris in June and returns to Pakistan in September

2004: Fiaz arrives back in the UK and moves to Sheffield with her children

2005: Thames Valley Police are informed Fiaz Munshi is back in the UK but an error means this is not acted upon

2007: A High Court judge rules Liedl, Swanton and the Nawaz brothers must serve a total of at least 69 years before they can seek parole

2012: Fiaz Munshi moves to Oldham with her husband and children

September 2012: Nazmeen Akhtar has three nightmares about Fiaz Munshi and the police investigation is restarted after she asks for an update

October 2013: Fiaz Munshi is arrested and charged with the murders of Anum and Majid Khan

June 2014: Fiaz Munshi stands trial at Oxford Crown Court

July 2014: Fiaz Munshi is convicted of killing Anum and Majid Khan

Oxford Mail:

Fiaz Munshi's trial this year

SIX WEEKS OF EVIDENCE

ALMOST 17 years after the fatal fire that tore the Khan family apart, Fiaz Munshi was finally arrested on suspicion of murder.

On October 22 last year detectives took the 38-year-old into custody in Oldham, Greater Manchester, and a week later she appeared for the first time at Oxford Crown Court.

Munshi pleaded not guilty to murdering eight-year-old Anum Khan and her brother Majid, 15, in East Oxford in August 1997 and her trial began on June 4.

Opening the prosecution’s case barrister Neil Moore said the fire was started against a “background of hostility”.

He said the Khan family blamed the Munshi sisters after their son Amjad – who was in a secret relationship with Munshi – was jailed for plotting to deal heroin.

Mr Moore said: “Fiaz Munshi, of the two sisters, held the biggest grudge.”

He added that the defendant had started a relationship with the main organiser of the attack, Haq Nawaz, so it was “inconceivable” she had not known about it.

 

Oxford Mail:

Anum Khan, nine, was killed in the fire

Members of the Khan family then gave evidence of fights with the Munshi sisters, as well as nuisance phone calls they received before the fire.

Cross-examined by defence barrister Stephen Kamilsh QC, Amjad Khan denied the real motive for the fire was a drugs turf war with Haroon Sharif, one of the men given a life sentence for murder.

Then over five days “star witness” Sunder Khutan told the jury how he went to Oxford with the Munshi sisters and Haq Nawaz, but knew nothing of their plans.

He said he heard Fiaz say “burn the house down” and witnessed her pointing out the Khan family house.

But giving evidence herself, Munshi denied any knowledge of the plan, claiming Nawaz never told her about it.

However, the jury did not accept this explanation and found her guilty of two counts of manslaughter yesterday after about eight hours of deliberation.

At the end of the trial, Mr Justice Robin Spencer thanked the jurors for their “diligence” in deciding the six-week case and exempted them from jury duty for four years.

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