Philpotts case a 'classic example of domestic violence'

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Mick Philpott has been jailed for life for killing six children in a house fire in Derby by a judge who said his relationships were marked by "control, aggression and fear".

The behaviour exposed during his trial was a "classic example of domestic violence", says one expert.

"Women were your chattels, there to look after you and your children. You bark orders and they obey... you were king-pin, no-one else mattered," judge Mrs Justice Thirlwall told Philpott during sentencing.

Over 30 years, Philpott exercised both physical and psychological abuse towards a string of women.

The wages and benefits earned by his wife and mistress were paid into his account which he controlled. They did not have their own front door keys and had to ask permission to leave.

He had earlier tried to kill one of his girlfriends when she tried to leave him, a fact which was kept from the jury.

'Coercion and control'

Polly Neate, chief executive of Women's Aid, said that at the "absolute heart" of the case was "a fairly classic example of domestic violence".

"A lot of it really illustrates some of the things people struggle to understand, like the level of coercion and control the perpetrator can exercise over a victim," she said.

"Unless you understand the dynamics and how control can be exerted, it is very difficult to make sense of the case."

In 1978, Philpott tried to kill girlfriend Kim Hill when she plucked up the courage to leave him.

He stabbed her more than a dozen times and attacked her mother when she tried to intervene. He was jailed for seven years for attempted murder.

He used this incident to control his subsequent relationships with fear, the court heard.

"It does not have to be as the result of physical violence that women were terrified of him, but... the knowledge that someone is capable of extreme acts of violence is enough to make someone extremely afraid," Ms Neate said.

It also supports the fact that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she tries to leave a violent relationship.

Research shows most domestic homicides happen during or just after separation.

When Lisa Willis left Philpott in February 2012, taking her children, he snapped again - this time concocting a revenge plot that would claim the lives of six children.

"The perpetrators feel anger that the women have left and fear about what may happen to them through the authorities," Ms Neate explained.

"They are also no longer in control. It all comes back to control."

'Guardian angel'

The 56-year-old appeared to target vulnerable, much younger women, acting as their protector and saviour at first.

His wife Mairead was a 19-year-old single mother at "rock bottom" when they met. The court heard she was abused as a child and bullied at school, she was raped in her teenage years, before entering an abusive relationship during which her then boyfriend shaved her hair off to stop her going out.

At first, Philpott seemed to offer her the prospect of happiness and stability.

"He was my guardian angel," she told the court.

"He loved me and cared for me and made me feel safe."

It was a similar story with Miss Willis, a young single mother with no family network who was looking for a home when she moved in with the couple at the age of 17.

"The control builds up over quite a period of time, the evidence from Mairead that when she first met him he seemed to be quite kind, Ms Neate said.

"He gradually used that to create a dependency, which became a total dependency on him."

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cotterill, of Derbyshire Police, said there was an element of grooming in the fact that Philpott selected young partners - "probably because he's incapable of forming proper relationships with people his own age and he's unable then to control those individuals".

'Shrinking' resources

Charities say one woman in four will experience domestic violence at some point in her lifetime, and every week two women are killed by current or former partners.

The case illustrated why greater support was needed for those experiencing domestic violence - who can be from any walk of life - Ms Neate said.

"Wouldn't it have been better if not only Lisa, but Mairead, too, had managed to find the support to leave Mick? It is so, so, important we keep domestic violence on the radar. It's a very significant problem," she said.

"But the resources for women who need to flee these situations are currently shrinking, not growing.

"Local services are facing the impact of spending cuts and of welfare reform which threatens to undermine their funding, including measures that will specifically impact on women with more than two children.

"We need to increase help for abused women and children living with domestic violence so that they can safely escape life-threatening situations."

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