Sheffield taxi firm fire death: Five admit arson

Ilyas Khan
Ilyas Khan
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FIVE men who admitted a plot to torch their Sheffield taxi firm, which caused a huge explosion and left a man dead, have been warned they face jail.

The force of the blast was so severe their accomplice Timothy Darby - who set the blaze himself using half a car tank of petrol - was blown down the stairs despite his 26 stone weight, and his entire body burned.

Irfan Khan

Irfan Khan

He was rushed to hospital but the 37-year-old from Langsett Road, Hillsborough, died a week after the fire at the Advanced Taxis office on Abbeydale Road, Sharrow, on Bonfire Night 2009.

Yesterday four members of the same family, plus their business associate, pleaded guilty at Sheffield Crown Court to conspiring to commit arson.

The court heard Mohammed Hafiz, aged 32, his brother Ilyas Khan, 23, both of Machon Bank, Nether Edge, and their cousin Irfan Khan, 29, of Montrose Road, Carterknowle, were the “prime movers”.

The plot to set fire to their family-run Advance Taxis was part of a “cynical” scam to cash in on a “huge” insurance policy taken out only days earlier.

Mohammed Sarab Khan

Mohammed Sarab Khan

Brother Mohammed Sarab Khan, 20, of Machon Bank, and family business partner Abid Ali Khan, 35, of Abbeyfield Road, Nether Edge, also admitted their parts.

Detective Superintendent Colin Fisher, who led the investigation, told The Star: “This was a cynical attempt to extract money from the insurance company.

“Days before the fire they had taken out a huge insurance policy. They had a substantial number of outstanding bills - but the only one they paid was the insurance.”

Det Supt Fisher said on the night of the blaze police received a bogus call from Mohammed Khan who said intruders had come into the taxi office, beaten up Irfan Khan, and thrown him out.

Mohammed Hafiz

Mohammed Hafiz

“They found the premises ablaze,” said Det Supt Fisher. “This was on Bonfire Night - a night when the fire service was stretched to its absolute limit.

“I believe it was a deliberate ploy to maximise the damage before the fire service could respond.

“The conspirators failed to comprehend the damage involved - and what was probably intended to set the premises alight detonated an explosive device created by a mixture of petrol and air.”

He added: “Had Timothy Darby survived he would doubtless have been charged as a co-conspirator.

Abid Ali Khan

Abid Ali Khan

“A lot of people’s lives were put in danger because of the reckless acts of Timothy Darby and his co-conspirators.

“The evidence is that he started the fire using 26 litres of petrol. He was seen on CCTV buying the fuel in the hours before the fire, and the canister was found at the scene of the blaze.

“He was an associate of Ilyas Khan.”

Adjourning the case for sentencing, Judge Robert Moore released the men on bail but warned them they were facing jail terms and would be arrested if they failed to attend court.

He told the three main players: “You are looking at certain sentences of custody for this matter. You must get your affairs in order so it doesn’t come as a shock when it comes.”

Afterwards Det Supt Fisher said: “They have pleaded guilty at the very last minute when the full weight of the evidence that had been collected by the investigation team was clearly visible to all.

“I believe this is a cynical attempt to minimise the impact on themselves.

“What cannot be underestimated is the level of damage and fear to the neighbourhood these people have caused.

“The immediate neighbours were students, young people living away from home for the first time, and they had to encounter the dreadful sight of Timothy Darby engulfed in flames.”

No evidence was offered against a sixth man, Ehsaas Khan, 26, of Machon Bank, Nether Edge.