Much has been made in the last few days of the terrible tragedy which saw six children die in a house fire at the hands of their parents. Mick and Mairead Philpott were accused of manslaughter along with an accomplice and friend Paul Mosley and on April 4th this year, all three were sentenced to prison for the deaths of these children.
Viewed as the driving force behind the incident, Mick Philpott received a life sentence for his part in the house fire, having to serve a minimum of 15 years whilst Mairead and Paul were told they would serve half their 17 year sentences.
Now widely acknowledged to be aggressive, abusive and controlling, Mick Philpott leaves behind a litany of violent crimes, sprawling almost forty years. From breaking a former girlfriend’s arm, to receiving a caution for slapping his wife and dragging her by the hair, as well as stabbing another woman thirteen times with a knife, Mr Philpott was also facing a court case whilst on trial for the murder of his children: he was on bail for a violent road rage incident.
His lifestyle too, has been put under the microscope, with journalists and politicians all clamouring to pick out what they feel are the salient bones of the travesty. Predictably, like tired 80s game show hosts, our politicians flick their perfectly coiffed hair-dos in front of the camera to hash out age-old platitudes which put down our welfare system, because punishing the many for the sins of a few is what our politicians have come to do best.
That Mr Philpott was perhaps a benefits scrounger, had a Catholic upbringing, or indeed engaged in polyamory has somehow sparked the rather jaded imaginations of those who write for a living, but we can’t understand why. All of these topics can be summed up, perhaps rather brazenly, in one sentence: it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it that matters. We have nothing against polyamory, or organised religion as long as all parties are happy and benefits scroungers are not the result of the welfare system and do not account for the majority of desperate families, who will grow in number as austerity measures kick in, and who need that support in order to survive. The real issues in this case have largely been ignored and they speak to the heart of the now deceased children whose deaths could easily have been prevented.
On Detection and Prevention
Mick Philpott was not a quietly violent man. His behaviour had been documented since before the 1980s and the police were aware that he was domestically violent. At no point in this story do Social Services emerge. At no point are we told that the police decided to share the information they had with Derby Social Services, knowing the nature of the domestic violence in the home and Mr Philpott’s violent tendencies. There were no unannounced visits to their home and no one came to check up on the children to see if they were experiencing things that might have caused them to suffer.
It seemed as if Mick Philpott, despite his powerful posturing and loud lifestyle, was invisible. Invincible.
On Celebrity Status
Having read several articles on the internet about Mick Philpott, it turns out he had acquired a kind of celebrity status, by association. Having appeared on TV for the Jeremy Kyle show (our equivalent of the Jerry Springer Show in America) and done various other things on TV, including doing a documentary with Ann Widdecombe, perhaps as this journalist suggests, Mick Philpott felt he was untouchable.
Even more poignantly though, we would suggest that perhaps others felt he was untouchable as a result. Did Social Services know about Mr Philpott’s violent behaviour at home and decide to turn a blind eye, or did the police take the view it would be too much hassle meddling with someone who appeared to have influential connections? These may be things we will never know, but if Mick Philpott’s status in his community affected the manner in which his children were neglected by the local authority, we still have much to learn in the wake of the Jimmy Savile case, where celebrity status was the shield behind which Savile performed some of his most unpleasant performances.
On Multi Agency Co-Operation
For us at least, the Philpott case is not about money or marriage or lifestyle, but about how our support services in England fail to protect our children at various stages. The many failings are now heavily documented: from a lack of trust between police, social services and the legal profession to conflicts of interest and the illusion of power, bandied about between officials, used as a shield by some of our most dangerous offenders, these are the underlying dynamics at play in this terrible story.
What if the police and social services had worked together? What if Mick Philpott had had a psychiatric assessment and was given a course of treatment or had been removed from the family home? What if the mother had been given the support she needed to make the right decisions for her children?
We will never know the answers to any of these questions, but it would have been wonderful to have been given the chance to find out: not least of all, because Jade, John, Jack, Jesse, Jayden and Duwayne might still be alive today.