Sad and sordid tale of a sex-mad bully
As debate rages over why Mick Philpott set fire to his house, we shouldn't forget the victims, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards
Mick Philpott has attained one of his ambitions: millions are talking about him. He'll be disappointed that they're focusing so much on why he was so selfish and stupid as unintentionally to cause the death of six children in an effort to win a custody battle for another five, but from what one knows of Philpott, being infamous is better than being ignored.
Is it nature, nurture, the foolish tolerance of the welfare state or the slackness of social workers that is to blame? Well, let's start by considering the summary of startling evidence heard during Philpott's trial.
Philpott was born in 1958. Mother, Peggy, now 86, was the eldest of seven who had emigrated from Ireland to Manchester in the Forties. Her first marriage failed and her two children were taken into care. She moved to Derby where with John Philpott she had eight children. Mick, the fourth, bullied her, but she loves him still.
When Mick joined the army, relatives hoped he would learn to control his aggression, but owing to his being found when AWOL having sex with a minor, his fiancee Kim, he was imprisoned and then discharged. His response to Kim's attempt to end the relationship was to stab her 27 times. Philpott's lawyer said he had been "carried away by jealousy" and "out of his depth" because he couldn't handle emotional relationships.
Convicted in 1978, he got seven years and served three. In jail he was visited by his eldest brother and teenage girlfriend, Pam, whom Mick stole and married in 1986. They had three children, but in 1995 Pam left when she found him having sex with a 16-year-old called Helen (whom he'd been sleeping with for two years). Helen moved in, had two sons, and they were given the three-bedroom council house in Victory Road that he would later set fire to.
She says now that he was sexually insatiable, beat her frequently, forced her out to work and took her earnings. She ran away when – on Philpott's instructions – their two-year-old punched her. Philpott was furious that he didn't win custody.
In 2000 he met Mairead Duffy. After her son Duwayne was born, his father left and Philpott took over and moved her into Victory Road. Jade, John, Jack, Jesse and Jayden followed, but, meanwhile, from 2003, when Philpott married Mairead, he was involved with mother-of-one, Lisa Willis, who joined the household and had four children.
Philpott did the occasional cash-in-hand odd job, but mainly the women did all the domestic work and worked as part-time cleaners: their wages, tax credits and child benefit went straight into Philpott's bank account. The three-bedroom house had a snooker table, on which Philpott liked sex, and a caravan where he received his women on alternate nights. Sometimes, he and Mairead went dogging, and he also liked her to have sex with his best friend, Paul Mosley. On The Jeremy Kyle Show, where he, Mairead and Lisa appeared in 2007, he asked: "What man wouldn't want two women?"
There were dalliances, and another child, but at the core were these three grown-ups with 11 children, which was wrecked when Lisa found the courage to run away, taking her children and benefits with her. It was her impudence in fighting Philpott's custody suit that would lead to his cunning plan to set fire to Victoria Road with the help of Mairead and Mosley, save the six remaining children but blame Lisa and be allocated a bigger house. It would end with six dead children, three jailed adults, and Philpott becoming Public Enemy Number 1 as well as the focus of a row about whether he was, as the Daily Mail put it, the 'Vile Product of Welfare UK'.
Nature? Possibly. But maybe society's nurture of Philpott also tolerated him being a bully. He certainly had a genius for finding, exploiting and enslaving vulnerable women. Mairead – the one that didn't get away – proffered no blame, but preferred to allege baseless child-abuse by her father, Jimmy, whose daughters, Bernadette and Jennifer, have defended him utterly convincingly on the BBC's Panorama, as they have equally convincingly exposed the wickedness of their brother-in-law and the spineless amorality of their sister.
George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, is under fire from the usual suspects just for suggesting that such lifestyles should not be underwritten by the taxpayer. Personally, I don't understand why the deliberately unemployed should be subsidised to have children the employed can't afford, why social services should ignore depravity that is boasted about publicly and why the police don't occasionally check on people they know engage in domestic violence. But while we argue, let's remember with pity and rage, Duwayne, Jade, John, Jack, Jesse and Jayden.