Derby

Philpott fire deaths: Fear and control at Victory Road

  • 2 April 2013
  • From the section Derby
The Philpott home in Victory Road on 14 May 2012

The deaths of the six Philpott children in May 2012 put the family's home life under close scrutiny.

It was a domestic situation that had already featured in the newspapers, and on television programmes including The Jeremy Kyle Show.

But during the trial of Mick Philpott and his co-defendants, the arrangements at their Victory Road home were laid bare in stark - and often uncomfortable - detail.

So what do we now know?

THE FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS

Click on the images below to read more about the family.

Graphic: design by Claire Shannon; production by Tom Housden

THE FATHER

Michael and Mairead Philpott speak to media in Derby on 16 May 2012

Mick Philpott was notorious even before being accused of killing six of his children.

He was dubbed "Shameless Mick" and "Britain's biggest scrounger" in 2006, after his demands for a bigger council house were splashed across the front pages of several newspapers.

At the time he was father to 15 children with five different women, and both his wife and live-in mistress were pregnant.

Amanda Platell, writing in the Daily Mail, described him as "the ultimate feckless father, a man to be pitied and despised in equal measure".

But faced with criticism of his lifestyle, Philpott was defiant.

He defended himself on The Jeremy Kyle Show in typically heated fashion, making an offensive gesture and telling the host: "Talk to that, pal, talk to that."

When asked about having two partners he said: "Oh yeah it's great, great lifestyle."

He added: "Anybody else who wants to see me, my wife, my other partner and my kids, they can come and stop with me for a week and I will guarantee after a week they will be amazed, especially [with] the way my children behave. My children are brought up properly."

In 2007 he appeared in a documentary with Ann Widdecombe, in which the then Conservative MP tried to get him a job.

He called her a "bitch" and a "battleaxe", but after the fatal fire she told the media: "Nobody would ever call him a bad father."

During his trial however, evidence about his behaviour at home left little room for sympathy.

Former girlfriend Heather Kehoe told the jury Philpott was a Jekyll and Hyde character - charming when they first met, but later violent.

Ms Kehoe said she was often "punished" by being locked outside the house in the garden, and told police Philpott once held a knife to her throat when she tried to leave him.

Women 'groomed'

Eventually, she climbed over the fence and fled.

The prosecution said Philpott was similarly controlling towards Mairead and live-in mistress Lisa Willis.

While they went out to work, he stayed at home watching television. Any benefits they claimed were paid directly into his bank account.

All three women had been teenagers when they met Philpott and police said they had effectively been groomed while vulnerable.

It seemed he was willing to go to any length to maintain that control.

When Miss Willis eventually left in February 2012 - taking her children - Philpott became, the court heard, "obsessed with getting Lisa and the kids back".

He started the fire in a bid to frame her for the crime and win custody of the children - and perhaps obtain a bigger house, according to the prosecution.

Questions about his character were raised almost immediately after the fatal fire.

A mortuary manager said Philpott engaged in "horseplay" when he went to view his children's bodies, even putting a family liaison officer in a headlock during one visit.

A female police officer said he called her "gorgeous" and inferred he would like her to come back to his hotel.

He admitted having three or four sexual encounters with his wife and co-defendant Paul Mosley, not long after his children's deaths.

"I was finding it very difficult to cope with what was going on," he said. "Having sex or smoking cannabis was one way of blocking it out."

According to police, it remains difficult to assess whether Philpott is a danger to the public at large.

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cotterill said: "I think he is certainly a very, very unpredictable individual and I think that unpredictability then becomes the danger, because you don't really know what he's going to do next.

"Personally I have given up trying to understand his behaviour. It doesn't fit within the bounds of normality to me."

THE MOTHER

Mairead Philpott

Mairead Philpott said she was a 19-year-old single mother at "rock bottom" when she met Mick.

She told the court she had been abused by her father when she was a young girl, bullied at school and raped while on holiday as a teenager.

At 16, she became pregnant with her first child Duwayne, and her boyfriend left her when he found out.

Her next partner was abusive, she said, and gave her black eyes and shaved off her hair so she could not go out.

Mick Philpott, on the other hand, became her "guardian angel".

When she moved into Victory Road he took on responsibility for Duwayne and proposed to her in hospital after the birth of their first child, Jade.

Mairead said Philpott "cared for me and loved me and made me feel safe".

But her evidence suggested that when he started seeing Lisa Willis, he was willing to use fear to convince her to allow the teenager into the house.

"I was scared of losing what I had, my family, my home," she admitted.

Lisa moved into Victory Road with the couple, and both women agreed that they eventually grew close.

"Maybe to others it was [unconventional] but to us it was a happy family," Mairead said.

Philpott also had a noticeable influence on her behaviour.

Claire Tyler, a cleaner at the Royal Derby Hospital, said her former colleague was often bubbly and talkative at work.

But she said that in the presence of her husband, her personality changed and she became very subdued.

Mairead said her husband encouraged her to have threesomes with friend Paul Mosley, despite admitting she felt "disgusted" by it.

She did it, she said, "to please Mick, to make him happy".

Defence barrister Shaun Smith QC said Mairead had effectively become a slave to her husband.

He told Philpott: "You think you own her, don't you?"

Following the deaths of the children, numerous witnesses said Mairead spent a lot of time in silence or crying.

ACC Cotterill said: "She tended to huddle towards Mick Philpott. I just got the impression of somebody that was under control and was under instruction."

THE MISTRESS

Mick Philpott / Lisa Willis silhouette

Mick Philpott met Lisa Willis - the sister of one of his friends - when she was a young single mother.

At the time, the 17-year-old was struggling to get larger council accommodation so Philpott suggested she move in with him and Mairead.

Outwardly, the arrangement seemed to be a happy one, and Miss Willis was later a bridesmaid at their wedding.

But the prosecution said Philpott sought to exert total control over her "almost from the outset".

Miss Willis said they had started having sex several weeks after she moved into Victory Road, though he claimed it had been earlier.

She told the court Philpott was sometimes violent, including hitting her with a piece of wood and throwing a cup of coffee at her.

The prosecution said Philpott prevented her from speaking to other men because he was "convinced she was having an affair with everyone".

"He would ask me questions - where I'm going, how long I'll be and what for," she said.

"I could leave if I wanted to, but I did not go out because I was so sick of all the questions and answers of when I'll get back, so I did not bother."

Caravan being taken from house for forensic examinations
The trial heard Philpott slept in a caravan, with the women taking it in turns to be with him

Perhaps because of Philpott's domineering presence, Miss Willis and Mairead became very close.

The court heard that they regularly confided in each other, and Miss Willis said she had treated Mairead's children as her own.

An apparent suicide note written by Mairead described Miss Willis as "my best friend, my sister, my lover".

And another letter, written by Mairead, quoted a love song.

"My message to Lisa is simple. As Barry White said, you are my first, my last, my everything," she wrote.

Lisa Willis was not convicted of any crime. She and her brother-in-law were arrested shortly after the fire - when Philpott tried to frame them - but both were released without charge.

Reporting restrictions prevent the use of any photographs of Miss Willis.

THE FRIEND

Paul Mosley photographed at the Derby Telegraph offices

Paul Mosley did not give evidence in his defence at the trial and police say his role in the plot, and any motive, remains unclear.

What is clear is that Mosley was deeply involved in the lives - and perhaps motivations - of Mick Philpott and his wife.

Mairead has admitted having threesomes with the two men.

In police interviews, Mosley said he had sex with Mairead over a snooker table hours before the fire broke out.

The trial also heard he was a drug user, and that the Philpotts had obtained cannabis for him that evening.

So did he feel a sense of loyalty towards the couple?

Melissa John, the girlfriend of Mosley's nephew, said he told her he had rehearsed the fatal blaze with the Philpotts weeks earlier.

She said the couple were meant to shout for help and Mosley would then rescue the children. Why this did not happen is not clear.

Police said they had found no evidence of such a rehearsal.

Ben Nolan QC, representing Mosley, said he was merely an attention seeker and a fantasist who used to exaggerate in order to "big himself up".

The trial also heard that Mosley had been bragging to a number of people about being a suspect - including on internet dating sites.

Whatever Mosley's role, it seems that Philpott was keen to keep him on side - and police believe coercion may have been involved.

'Some responsibility'

The court heard that, in the weeks following the fire, Mairead performed a sex act on Mosley in front of her husband.

The hotel room had been bugged and Philpott was heard telling his wife: "I'm proud of you because you didn't want to do it."

Fire damaged house at Victory Road
It is still not known if Mosley was at the house when the fire was started

Whether he was coerced or not, Mosley appeared to feel some responsibility for his friend.

In a smoking room at Gala Bingo in Derby, he was overheard saying: "I might go and hand myself in. I can't let Mick take all the blame."

Police ultimately charged Mosley because petrol was found on his clothes, but exactly what he did on the night of the fire is unknown.

ACC Cotterill said: "He was certainly part and parcel in the plan and, I think, the initial laying of the petrol behind the door - otherwise, why did it end up on his clothes?"

He said none of the defendants had been honest in their replies, making it difficult to know what really happened on the night of the fire.

"If you are asking me who poured the petrol and set the fire - I don't think we will ever know."

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