Relatives of dead toddler Sanaya Sahib lash out at media over ‘bulls–t’ reports
Relatives of dead toddler Sanaya Sahib, whose West Heidelberg home has been surrounded by a media pack since she went missing on Saturday, have rounded on journalists and photographers.
The verbal attack on the press came as it was revealed that the Department of Health and Human Services had specific concerns about the safety of a relative of Sanaya in the months before her death last weekend.
Fairfax Media is unable to identify the family member involved for legal reasons. A spokesman for DHHS declined to make any comment.
At about noon on Tuesday, Sanaya’s relatives Habib Ali and his son Irfaaz Ali, who had been in the house all morning, lashed out at the waiting media .
Irfaaz had to be restrained by Habib after gesturing towards a photographer, who was taking pictures from across the road, and then threatening them.
Habib then turned to the media and said that reports in the newspaper were “full of bullshit”.
A woman wearing a black scarf over her face was also with the two men, who packed a basket of laundry in a car before driving off.
Neighbours on Perth Street remained tightlipped about the shocking crime on Tuesday, indicating that they did not want to comment.
It has also been confirmed that Sanaya was treated by paramedics at the West Heidelberg home of a relative, Habib Ali, on April 3, a week before she was found dead.
It is understood the 15-month old had suffered a seizure.
Sanaya and her mother Sofina Nikat had been staying at Mr Habib’s Perth Street home at the time of her alleged abduction from a nearby park.
Her body was discovered semi-submerged in Darebin Creek and an autopsy conducted on Sunday afternoon is understood to have revealed the toddler had been smothered.
On Monday, Fairfax Media revealed Sanaya grew up in an environment of dysfunction and violence.
In the past week, the 15-month-old was in close contact with two men facing serious criminal charges.
One of the men is charged with serious family violence offences, including assault with a weapon. Neither man can be identified for legal reasons.
It has also emerged that Darebin councillors were strongly advised during a briefing with Victoria Police on Monday night not to comment about whether CCTV in the park where Sanaya was reportedly abducted was operational, for fears it could jeopardise the investigation.
While police in Melbourne are hunting for a man matching the description given by Sanaya’s mother, Sofina Nikat, homicide detectives are also expected to examine links between the men, who were close to the family, and the toddler’s death.
Ms Nikat was taken to a safe house on Sunday afternoon and is understood to have been instructed not to make contact with the relatives whose house she had been staying at in Perth Street, Heidelberg West.
It is not known if police have questioned the child’s father, Sameer Sahib, who was estranged from Ms Nikat after the relationship ended acrimoniously. A relative said Mr Sahib was not in a position to talk.
It is understood that homicide detectives have not spoken with Ms Nikat or her relative, Mr Ali.
Ms Nikat, 22, said her daughter was snatched from her pram by a stranger as they were walking in Olympic Park about 10am on Saturday.
They had been staying at Mr Ali’s home, which is less than two kilometres from where the child’s body was discovered.
The property was searched by forensic investigators on Sunday afternoon.
Homicide detectives have refused to reveal if CCTV cameras captured the final moments of the 15-month-old’s life.
Footage could have corroborated her mother’s account that the toddler was abducted by a stranger.
There are several cameras in the area where the toddler’s body was discovered at 2.45am on Sunday, about 10 kilometres north-east of the city centre.
But a Victoria Police spokeswoman refused to make any comment, while a representative of Darebin Council also refused to confirm if the cameras had been operational over the weekend.
It is understood councillors — including those on a panel which has been overseeing the installation of the CCTV — were told by police in strict terms not to comment on the status of the cameras.
While CCTV had been installed for months, it is believed council was working through the considerable “red tape” that must be addressed regarding privacy, storage of footage, and costs.
It is unclear whether this work had been completed, but minutes from an October 5 council meeting suggest they were not operational at that time.
The cameras were installed under the Northland Precinct Action Plan under a partnership between shopping centre management, council and Victoria Police.
Council listed the operation of the cameras as a priority for completion before July, but it is believed they have not been discussed at any subsequent council meeting.
It is therefore unclear whether “governance documents,” which had to be finalised before the system could be operated, have been completed.
“The location has been chosen due to its isolation, low perceptions of safety, its use as an access route pre- and post-offending and its potential as a vibrant community space.”
On Monday, Mr Ali warned residents in the Heidelberg community to be vigilant.
Mr Ali also thanked the family that found Sanaya’s body in Darebin Creek, to the rear of Northlands Shopping Centre, in the early hours of Sunday.
Speaking to the media outside his home, Mr Ali said: “I would like to tell the neighbours around this area to be very, very careful, especially with the kids – don’t go out in parks alone or at night or in the morning. Just be very, very careful”.
Mr Ali said he wanted the person responsible for his niece’s death to be caught as soon as possible.
“I appreciate what police are doing, they’re doing a very great job and I’m pretty sure they’ll come to a quick conclusion and justice will be served,” he said.
“It’s very frustrating and whoever is out there, whoever has done it, I hope that he is caught as soon as possible and dealt with.
“Whatever happened shouldn’t have happened, she didn’t deserve it. She’s such a cute little kid, she was so attached to me. I don’t know why this happened. Whoever done it, shame on him, he is a coward.”