Alistair MacDonald QC and James Gelsthorpe, assisted by Mark Robinson, have successfully prosecuted Shahid Mohammed for the murder of eight people in a Huddersfield house fire in 2002 in a case which has attracted national notoriety. The defendant and his accomplices threw petrol bombs, filled with metal nuts to increase their potency, through the living room window of a terraced house in the Birkby area, before pouring petrol through a letter box and igniting it, which resulted in the deaths of three generations of a single family, including five young girls.
The defendant, who had fled to Pakistan shortly after his crime, was only brought to justice after he had been extradited to the UK. The prosecution were able to demonstrate that he, together with Shaied Iqbal who was convicted of murder for his role in the offence in 2003, held a deep hostility towards one of the occupants of the house which had arisen from the defendant’s disapproval of his sister’s relationship with a man he deemed unsuitable for her. Together they had planned the attack on the house and, with Nazar Hussain and Shakiel Amir Shazad who were convicted of manslaughter in 2003, they carried out their scheme.
The case involved detailed consideration of eye witness accounts, the evidence of two witnesses who had admitted their own limited role in the plot to use petrol bombs against cars and complex scientific evidence of the molecular composition of the petrol which had been used as an accelerant by the defendant when setting the fire. The task for the prosecution was made all the more difficult due to the significant passage of time which affected the ability of witnesses to recall with clarity the detail of the events they were called upon to describe.
The defendant was sentenced by Mr Justice Spencer to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 23 years, less time spent on remand. The sentencing exercise involved complex submissions on the application of the provisions which relate to offences committed several years ago, whereby minimum terms were set by the Home Secretary. Had the offences been committed after the implementation of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, a minimum term of 38 years imprisonment would have been imposed.
The case was described by the senior investigating officer as “up there with the most evil and wicked I have ever encountered in all my years in the police”. This was also the largest loss of life sustained in one incident ever investigated by the West Yorkshire Police.