Woman guilty of manslaughter in connection with 1997 arson - Oxford

22/07/2014

A woman has today, Tuesday, 22 July 2014, been convicted at Oxford Crown Court of the manslaughter of two children in Oxford in 1997.

Fiaz Begum Munshi, aged 38, of Manley Road, Oldham, Lancashire, was found guilty of the manslaughter of Anum Khan, aged eight, and her brother Majid, aged 15.  Munshi is due to be sentenced on Thursday, 24 July 2014.

Fiaz Munshi was arrested by officers from the Thames Valley Police's Major Crime Unit, supported by Greater Manchester Police, in Oldham on 22 October 2013, and charged the following day in connection with the deaths of Majid and Anum in 1997.

The circumstances are that on 26 August 1997, the police and fire service were called to a property, which was on fire in Magdalen Road, Oxford at around 3.20am. Seven members of the Khan/Akhtar family had been asleep in the property when the fire started. They were Mehfooz Akhtar (known as Mrs Khan), four of her daughters, one of her sons, and one of her grandchildren.

Six of the seven occupants escaped from the house.  However, Anum, died in the fire and Majid suffered severe burns to his head and body.  Despite being taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, Majid died two days later on 28 August 1997.

Forensic examination of the property found that the fire had been started deliberately with petrol found in the doorway of the house. Searches conducted by the police located two plastic bottles, which contained petrol, at a telephone kiosk near to the scene.

Fiaz Munshi and others were arrested on suspicion of murder on 23 September 1997. At this point there was insufficient evidence to charge Fiaz Munshi, so she was released from custody, and on 09 December she flew to Pakistan. Just two days later, as a result of new evidence, a number of arrests were made, and six people were charged in connection with the murder of Anum and Majid.

In October and November 1998, the six were tried at Birmingham Crown Court for the murders. Five of them; Alan Swanton, then 19, from Letchworth; Thomas Liedl, then 19,from Letchworth; Mohammed Nawaz, then 21, from Letchworth; Haq Nawaz, then 30, from Letchworth, and Haroon Sharif, then 21, from Letchworth were convicted of murder and jailed for life. The jury could not reach a verdict on the sixth, Riaz Munshi, then 26, from London, who was discharged and re-tried the following year, where she was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.

In the autumn of 2012, a member of the Khan/Akhtar family contacted Thames Valley Police and made enquiries about Fiaz Munshi. As a direct result of that call, enquiries established that information had been received in 2005, that indicated she had returned to the UK from Pakistan. Following the discovery of this information the Major Crime Unit worked with the Crown Prosecution Service to re-open the investigation leading to Fiaz Munshi being arrested and subsequently charged in October 2013.

Adrian Foster, Chief Crown Prosecutor for Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: "This case involved the tragic deaths of 15-year-old Majid Khan and eight-year-old Anum Khan.

"Today, the jury found Fiaz Munshi not guilty of murder and guilty of manslaughter. Although disappointed for the family of Majid and Anum, we respect the decision of the jury. Today's conviction, which is the eleventh, concludes this complex and lengthy case.

"Of the ten previously convicted, five were convicted of murder, one was convicted of manslaughter, and four were convicted of perverting the course of justice.  Motivated out of revenge, those convicted of murder and manslaughter took matters into their own hands and decided to set fire to the house. That decision left behind devastating consequences. The deaths of Majid and Anum are the reality of their actions.

"This case represents a tragedy for the family of Majid and Anum. Their family and friends have been devastated by their untimely deaths. I would like to pay tribute to the family for their wholehearted support of this investigation, the dignity they have displayed while hearing again the horrific details of how Majid and Anum were killed, and the courage demonstrated by those that gave evidence. I would also like to thank the witnesses, who once again gave evidence in very difficult circumstances.

"We know that nothing will bring Majid and Anum back to their family and friends, but we hope that today's conviction brings them at least a small sense that justice has once again been done. Our thoughts are very much with them all at this time."

Detective Inspector Craig Kirby of the Major Crime Unit said: "I cannot put in to words how difficult this case has been for the family of Anum and Majid and I know how important this verdict is to them. I am grateful that we have finally been able to bring their long wait for justice to an end as the last person involved in this horrendous fire in 1997 has been convicted.  I cannot praise the family enough, for their dignity, patience and courage throughout this lengthy investigation and trial, despite the unimaginable nightmare they have had to endure.

"Enquiries undertaken following the call from the family in 2012 have not established why action was not taken by TVP in 2005 to investigate the evidence against Fiaz Munshi.  However, as soon as we identified this new opportunity to bring her to justice, a full review of the case was conducted with the Crown Prosecution Service which resulted in her successful arrest and prosecution. I hope the verdict today sends a very clear message to anyone who thinks they have escaped justice that no matter how much time has passed we will continue to pursue you and bring you before the courts, no matter how long it takes."