The fire destroys shops and apartments on Darling Street. Photo: Steven DavidsonIn the early hours of of September 4, baby boy Jude did what 11-month-old babies do, waking his parents Bianka and John as they slept in their inner-western Sydney apartment.
The young couple, living in a unit above a set of shops on Darling Street, Rozelle, comforted their son. After taking him downstairs, Ms O’Brien allegedly told her husband it smelt like someone was spray-painting a driveway outside.
A little while later Mr O’Brien headed off for work early, leaving the unit at about 3:45am, with his wife and baby boy together in bed.
Less than 20 minutes later a large explosion ripped through the convenience store below, causing a fire that would claim the lives of Bianka, 31, Jude, their 27-year-old neighbour, Chris Noble, and destroy the homes where they lived.
On Tuesday, almost three weeks after the fateful blast that flattened a set of shops, detectives charged convenience store owner Adeel Khan, 44, in his hospital bed at Royal Prince Alfred with three counts of murder, three counts of manslaughter and two of attempted murder.
He was also charged with 17 offences relating to the property damage caused by the fire.
Police will allege that Mr Khan, who took ownership of the store with his wife in December last year, deliberately set out to the destroy the business with a disregard for human life. The motive? An insurance payout.
Detectives will also allege what Ms O’Brien smelt that morning was petrol, spread throughout the store in a “complex and elaborate” set-up by Mr Khan, who had allegedly twice increased his insurance policy to its current value of $225,000 in the months before the blaze.
Mr Khan had allegedly been suffering “financial distress”, with bills many months overdue, and having received a disconnection notice from his electricity provider. His $8800 monthly rent was due on the day of the blast.
It will also be alleged that Mr Khan, who has been in hospital since the blast after he was trapped under a drinks fridge, told paramedics after he was rescued: “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean it, I’m so sorry.”
When he later spoke to police, police will allege he made up an elaborate story, saying he was robbed by three men at gunpoint, one who took thousands of dollars, ate food in the store and put him in the store room before drenching his shop in petrol.
Mr Khan allegedly told police that after the bandit fled, he opened a door and the building exploded.
No CCTV footage collected from nearby businesses surrounding Mr Khan’s store backs his version of events, police allege, and items he claimed were stolen were allegedly found among the store rubble.
However, detectives have obtained CCTV footage of Mr Khan at a Croydon Park service station on September 1, filling four containers with close to 40 litres of fuel.
Police will allege that Mr Khan placed fuel containers, similar to those seen in CCTV footage, throughout the store, some connected by strips of material used to make wicks, as well as a number of batteries believed to have been used as an ignition source.
It is also alleged Mr Khan knew that people, including a baby, lived above the store at the time he caused the fire, and that “even a small fire” demonstrated a “disregard for human life”.
Property Crime Squad Commander Detective Superintendent Murray Chapman said it had been a long and difficult investigation.
“This has been a painstaking, thorough and tedious investigation,” he said.
“There were problems in accessing the crime scene, unusually long delays for police, and we will be alleging that evidence has been found at the crime scene.”
Mr Khan was given a bedside court hearing on Tuesday afternoon. He was remanded in custody and will appear in court again in October.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.