Mohammed Riaz made every conceivable attempt to prevent his wife and daughters enjoying their Westernised lifestyle. He destroyed their clothes – modest by Western standards but tight fitting by his own – when they came out of the wash and he railed against plans to allow alcohol at his terminally ill son’s 18th birthday party – which had been brought forward because of his prognosis.
Increasingly alienated and in despair over the illness of his son, Adam, the labourer killed his wife and four daughters by throwing petrol over them as they slept and igniting it.
At the inquest in Blackburn, Lancashire, yesterday the coroner, Mike Singleton, recorded a verdict that Caneze Riaz, 39, and her four daughters, Sayrah, 16, Sophia, 15, Alicia, 10, and Hannah, three, were unlawfully killed at their terrace home in Accrington, and that Mr Riaz, who died in hospital two days after the fire, took his own life. Adam died six weeks later.
Police investigations revealed how estranged Mr Riaz, a traditionalist and a practising Muslim who grew up in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, had become from his vivacious wife, a high-profile community worker who had co-founded the local Aawaz women’s group, mentored teenage girls at a high school in nearby Rishton, and was a school governor and board member on several diversity groups.
Mrs Riaz, whose father married an English woman after becoming one of the first Asian men to emigrate to the area in the 1960s, was sent back to Pakistan for 15 years after completing primary school, but she returned in the early 1990s with Mr Riaz, with whom she had an arranged marriage. The children flourished in Britain. The eldest daughter, Sayrah, was a “second mother” to her sisters, according to the family, and had a passion for fashion design; Sophia, 13, loved rap music and wanted to be an MC, while Alicia was the closest to her father. She embraced Asian culture the most and was a regular at the mosque.
While their mother thrived, their father struggled to find employment, eventually working for a plastic bag manufacturer in Blackburn. Their relationship had deteriorated rapidly after the death of Mrs Riaz’s father, in 2003, and her husband had taken to sleeping downstairs. The pressures on their relationship were made worse when Adam, who had moved in with his uncle, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer. Doctors said he would live only six months.
“[It meant] the financial situation was bad,” said Det Supt Mick Gradwell, of Lancashire Police. “A lot of money was being spent on presents for Adam as he was coming to the end of his life. They were spending a lot more than they earned – at Caneze’s will, not Mohammed’s.”
The pressures drove Mr Riaz to drink heavily. Sclerosis of the liver was found after his death. On their last afternoon, Mr Riaz saw his wife being dropped off after enjoying a meal with friends in Manchester, but police say there was no suggestion she was involved in a relationship with anyone else.
Early on 1 November last year, Mr Riaz decided the pressures were too much. As his wife and daughters slept in three upstairs bedrooms, he threw petrol over them and trailed more around the house, then lit three fires.
Police believe his wife awoke and may have tried to throw one of the two petrol cans he used away from her bed. But she died almost immediately. Mr Riaz stood downstairs and waited for the flames to come down and engulf him. When they didn’t, he ran back upstairs through a wall of fire and was found by firefighters in the bathroom. He died of 65 per cent burns and smoke inhalation.
Barry Khanan, 38, Mrs Riaz’s brother, said her alienation from Mr Riaz was a result of “the different ways in which they approached their lives”. He said: “She had become frustrated with his lack of emotional support and involvement throughout Adam’s illness. Caneze was outgoing and wanted to better herself. Her husband was more withdrawn. Words cannot express how we feel about the man we believe killed our family.”