A ‘PRIME mover’ in an insurance scam that ended in a man’s death stood twice for election to Sheffield City Council.
Mohammed Hafiz, aged 32, is one of five men facing jail for his involvement in a plot to set fire to the Advanced Taxis office in Abbeydale Road on Bonfire Night 2009 in which an accomplice carrying a tank of petrol died in the explosion.
Hafiz was a Liberal Democrat candidate for Burngreave in 2002 when he was heavily defeated by Labour. He switched to Labour the next year because the Lib Dems refused to give him a target seat and stood in Nether Edge in the 2008 council elections, losing to the Lib Dems.
Both parties distanced themselves from Hafiz. Liberal Democrat cabinet member Shaffaq Mohammed said he could barely remember Hafiz and his role in the Lib Dems. “He was a paper candidate for us in an area where Labour were very strong.”
Meanwhile, Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central, with whom Hafiz was pictured in 2008, said: “This is a shocking crime and I’m appalled that it was committed by someone who stood as a Labour candidate. Everyone who met him will feel deeply betrayed.”
Sheffield District Labour Party chairman Paul Wood said: “What he’s done is horrendous. He was someone I had placed a reasonable amount of trust in and I feel very let down.”
Hafiz admitted conspiracy to commit arson when he appeared at Sheffield Crown Court his two brothers, a cousin and a business partner.
Timothy Darby died in the fire the men had planned in a bid to extract money from an insurance company.
Det Supt Colin Fisher, who led the investigation, said Hafiz was the leader of the family and a ‘prime mover’ in the plot.
Hafiz, who lived in the Nether Edge ward on Machon Bank, hoped to stand again for Labour in the 2010 elections but the fire ended his hopes, said Det Supt Fisher. “He was ready to stand for the council elections but was unable to because of the investigation.”
Judge Robert Moore, who adjourned the case for sentence, warned Hafiz to put his affairs in order because he would receive “a certain sentence of custody”.
His brothers Ilyas Khan, aged 23, and Mohammed Sarab Khan, 20, both of Machon Bank, their cousin Irfan Khan, 29, of Montrose Road, Carter Knowle, and business partner Abid Ali Khan, 35, of Abbeyfield Road, Burngreave, also pleaded guilty. No evidence was offered against a sixth defendant, Ehsaas Khan, aged 26, of Machon Bank.
The court heard the force of the blast was so severe that Timothy Darby, of Langsett Road, Hillsborough, who set the blaze himself using half a car tank of petrol, was blown down the stairs despite his 26 stone weight.
Det Supt Colin Fisher said afterwards: “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.”
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.
“They found the premises ablaze. 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.”