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Mother Tells Court Of Escape From Fire That Killed Three Relatives

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Melissa Crook and her son, Noah, were killed in the fire
Melissa Crook and her son, Noah, were killed in the fire

A bereaved woman told how she escaped her burning home as flames engulfed it following an arson attack which killed her daughter, grandson and husband.

Amanda Crook was asleep in bed with her husband Mark when petrol was squirted through their letterbox and a fire started at the base of their stairs, jurors heard.

It led to a "mass of flames" blocking off any escape route for them, their son Bohdan, daughter Melissa and their 15-month-old grandson Noah, at their terraced house in Chatham Hill, Chatham, Kent.

At Maidstone Crown Court on Friday, Mrs Crook fought tears as she described watching her husband burn after she escaped through a window on to a flat roof just before 2.30am on 10 September last year.

Mr Crook, 49, was too large to follow her through the small window and he became stuck just as the fire intensified.

He was left critically ill with severe burns in hospital and died six days later from his injuries.

An emotional Mrs Crook told the jury: "I stood and watched him burn. I saw the windows melt.

"As Mark came through the window, there was a fireball which blew the windows out and engulfed him.

"I was screaming at someone to 'Get the children out, get the children out'. It seemed like time had stopped, like time had stood still."

After she escaped, Mrs Crook said she came across her son who had also managed to get out and his demeanour suggested to her that there were no other survivors.

Fighting back tears, she said: "When I got out the front, I looked to see Bohdan who was on next door's driveway and I knew that they had not survived that fire."

Melissa and Noah had died after becoming trapped in their bedroom. Prosecutors allege the "principal figure" behind the arson attack was Melissa Crook's estranged husband, Danai Muhammadi, 24.

The trial has heard that he had been "encouraged and goaded" by his new girlfriend, unemployed Emma Smith, 21, of Barley Lea, Stoke Aldermoor, Coventry.

Muhammadi, of Britannia Street, Coventry, was also helped by his friend, 35-year-old door supervisor Farhad Mahmud, of Fernhill Road, Maidstone, it has been alleged.

All three deny three counts of murder, and two counts of attempted murder.

Today Mrs Crook described the moment she knew something was wrong. She said: "I woke up and there were pink flames above my head. There was shocking pink across the ceiling in the bedroom.

"Mark was asleep. I got up out of bed and ran round the bed to try to get to the hallway and to the children. The whole of the hall was just a mass of flames. I couldn't go past it."

She went on: "The heat was awful, it was incredible. I could hear my hair singeing. The smell was awful. As you breathed in the heat, you could feel it burning."

She told police she could think of no reason why anyone would seek to harm her or her family, and that there had been no previous attacks on their property.

Melissa Crook was 16 when she announced to her family that she was moving out of the family home and going to live with Muhammadi in Coventry.

Asked how she felt about seeing her young daughter move away, Mrs Crook said: "There was nothing I could do. Melissa had made her own mind up that she was going to go to Coventry.

"We gave our blessing. We knew where she was and thought she was safe." When Melissa was 18, the couple married and later that year she fell pregnant unexpectedly with Noah.

Mrs Crook said she maintained civil relations with her daughter and Muhammadi, with them spending frequent weekends at each other's homes.

But the couple broke up after Muhammadi assaulted Melissa, resulting in him receiving a police caution, and she decided to return to the family home in Chatham, the court heard.

Contact was maintained between Melissa and Muhammadi following the split in April last year up to the fatal fire five months later so that he could still see Noah.

During those months, Mrs Crook said her daughter received calls and text messages from Muhammadi's new girlfriend, which started out friendly but then developed a hostile tone.

Mrs Crook told the court: "Melissa said to me, 'You'll never guess what she said to me, Mum - I'm wearing your clothes, your jewellery and sleeping with your husband'.

"And Melissa replied, 'You may have my jewellery and clothes but when he's sleeping with you, it's me he's thinking about'."

In his evidence to the court, Bohdan Crook said Muhammadi had once offered him £3,500 to throw acid in the face of someone during a drunken conversation they shared one Christmas.

Mr Crook dismissed Muhammadi's suggestion as "nonsense" and the matter was taken no further and never mentioned again, he said.

He also spoke of the injuries he sustained after he leapt to safety from the burning building. He suffered a broken right heel and three broken bones in his left foot.

He said he was woken by his father screaming at him to get himself and Melissa out of the house as fire engulfed it. He said: "There was no smoke or fire in my room. All I remember was the floor being hot.

"I opened my bedroom door and all this fire just came towards me and hit me in the face. There was just nothing but fire. It was like a wall of fire in front of me."

Describing his sister's relationship with Muhammadi, he said he treated her "like a slave".

"Mel would do as she was told," he said. "If he said make me a cheese sandwich, she would do it. If he wanted a cup of tea, she would do it. It was like my sister was a slave."

The court heard that texts were exchanged between Melissa, Smith and Muhammadi, known as Danny or Saman, in the weeks before the fire.

They started off friendly but later descended into being "offensive and insulting".

In the first text that Smith sent, she wrote: "Hi Melissa, it's Emma. Danny has told you about me. I have just spoke to Danny. I am a friend of Dannys. I met him 4 weeks ago...

"I do like him very much and I think he likes me too. I honestly think we will be good together.

"I just want to know what your plan is because at the moment I know you're not together but at the same time I don't want to get in between you both and Noah because I know he does still love you.

"I hope you don't mind that I text you or if you want to talk I will ring you."

Minutes later, part of Melissa's reply read: "Look chick, its fine that you texted me. I have been telling Saman for months that it will never work because of his anger problems... I am not going to allow my son to see it."

The trial continues.