THREE relatives have been jailed after a plot to torch their failing taxi firm went tragically wrong when the blaze caused a huge explosion and left a man dead.
Firestarter Timothy Darby, aged 37, who was recruited to torch Advance Taxis on Abbeydale Road, Sharrow, Sheffield, was blown down the stairs by the force of the blast and fatally burned.
The plot was an insurance job orchestrated by Sheffield Council Labour party candidate Mohammed Hafiz, 32, his brother Ilyas Khan, 23, who was vice chairman of the Nether Edge Labour Party, and their cousin Irfan Khan, 29, who hoped to become a barrister.
Jailing the brothers, of Machon Bank, Nether Edge, and their cousin of Montrose Road, Carterknowle, for four and-a-half years each, Judge Robert Moore told them: “Conspiring to destroy a failing business by arson, in order to make a claim on the insurance, is so serious only immediate sentences of custody can be justified.
“Your instructions must have been to do the job properly and leave no trace that could be brought back to the family.”
David Gordon, prosecuting, said: “The ultimate aim of this enterprise was to make a fraudulent insurance claim.
“In the course of setting the fire Timothy Darby suffered severe burns from which he died.”
Mr Gordon said by autumn 2009 the failing business had debts of over £100,000.
Prior to the fire the plotters took out a £70,000 insurance policy to cover the Advance Taxis office building and disruption to their business.
Ilyas Khan recruited Darby and on Bonfire Night 2009 Darby, of Langsett Road, Hillsborough, doused the office in half a car tank’s worth of petrol and set it alight.
Mr Gordon said: “Witnesses heard a large explosion and then saw flames coming from the windows of the taxi firm.
A man was seen in the rear yard of the premises on his hands and knees, engulfed in flames. This was Timothy Darby, who appeared to be naked and was screaming and panicking.
“He had been severely burnt, mainly to the front of his body, and his clothing had been burnt away.”
A statement from Mr Darby’s family said: “We are bitterly disappointed about what he did.
“He was reckless and his actions – and those of the men who have pleaded guilty – placed people’s lives at risk.
“We will have to live with the knowledge of what Tim did and will always remember the horrendous and painful way in which he died.”
Detective Superintendent Colin Fisher said: “Timothy Darby was clearly a willing participant and no doubt would have received some reward had he got away with it. Instead, he paid with his life.”
Mohammed Sarab Khan, 20, of Machon Bank, and the family’s business partner Abid Ali Khan, 35, of Abbeyfield Road, Nether Edge, have also admitted their parts in the plot and will be sentenced next week.