AN appeal has been launched to raise funds to support a former Hampshire doctor who lost his wife and five children in a house fire.

The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust in Essex today launched the fund in a bid to help Dr Abdul Shakoor.

Dr Shakoor, who has worked at the hospital since leaving Winchester’s Royal Hampshire County Hospital last year, lost his wife Sabah Usmani and children Hira, 12, Sohaib, 11, Muneeb, nine, Rayyan, six, and Maheen, three, in the blaze at their home on Monday.

Today, prayers were said at the Harlow Islamic Centre, in the town where the family lived, in memory of those who died and in a show of support for Dr Shakoor.

Melanie Walker, the hospital's chief executive, expressed her condolences outside the multi-faith ceremony.

She said: ''All of us have been saddened by this tragedy and as a close-knit hospital community, many of us know Dr Shakoor and have been overwhelmed by what has happened.''

Zia Rehman, from the Islamic centre, said: ''The community is deeply affected by this tragedy but they have all come together to share their grief and sorrow and to help in any way they can.''

The aim of the fund is to support Dr Shakoor through a ''very difficult time'', a hospital spokesman said.

Dr Usmani and her four eldest children all died on Monday shortly after the fire.

Maheen lost her fight for life last night.

Dr Shakoor had been transferred to the Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, to be closer to her.

Essex Police initially treated the blaze as a suspected arson attack but no trace of an accelerant used to spark the flames has so far been found.

Although officers are continuing to investigate all possibilities it is now thought ''increasingly likely'' the fire was a tragic accident.

Cash donations will be accepted at the hospital's general office and cheques made payable to PAH NHS Trust with the reference Dr Shakoor 9H50 will also be accepted.