Ben Philpotts inquest: Death of boy ruled unlawful

Ben and Patricia Philpotts
Image caption Ben and Patricia Philpotts were found dead in their house

A 10-year-old boy found with head injuries after a fire at his home was unlawfully killed, an inquest says.

Ben Philpotts is believed to have been bludgeoned to death by his father, Harold, who is then thought to have set fire to the house in Newquay, Cornwall.

His mother died in the fire in January 2010, and his father, who had mental health problems, died eight days later.

Open verdicts were recorded for the deaths of parents Patricia and Harold Philpotts at the hearing in Truro.

Delusion and paranoia

Fire crews found Ben Philpotts in his bedroom of the house in Trevarrian with head injuries. A sledgehammer was found nearby.

He was taken to the Royal Cornwall Hospital, but was later pronounced dead.

The body of his 44-year-old mother was found in her bedroom, where the fire started.

She was killed by a flash fire caused by an accelerant, such as petrol, the inquest heard.

Image caption The fire at the house was believed to have been accelerated with petrol

Harold Philpotts, 47, was arrested close to the house. He had serious burns and smelled of petrol.

He died in hospital as result of injuries sustained in the fire.

He had been diagnosed with mental health problems including depression, delusion and paranoia, and believed friends, family and others were conspiring to kill him, the inquest was told.

The inquest heard there was no evidence Mr Philpotts was ever physically violent, but he had verbally threatened to harm his wife and sent threatening text messages.

The reasons behind the fire would never be known, Cornwall Coroner Dr Emma Carlyon said.

Dr Carlyon said circumstantial evidence pointed to Mr Philpotts dousing his wife's bedroom in accelerant. Petrol cans were found in the room and a lighter was later recovered from his trouser pocket.

The coroner said there was "no evidence to how the fire was started", and acknowledged testimony given in court from mental health professionals which said the deaths could not have been avoided.

Not enough support

Mr Philpotts was under the care of a mental health team, but staff did not believe he was a risk to his wife and son.

They said Patricia Philpotts was a strong, capable woman who could protect her son.

After the inquest, Mr Philpotts' family said Patricia Philpotts had not been given enough help, support or guidance by the mental health team.

They said they always feared that something unpleasant was going to happen.

The Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust commissioned an external investigation into the care of Mr Philpotts.

It concluded the deaths could not have been predicted but added it had made changes to some of the ways it worked.

A Serious Case Review was carried out by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Safeguarding Children Board.

It cited some weaknesses in communication between agencies dealing with the family, but said the deaths of Ben and his mother could not have been foreseen.

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