Blaze mother killed herself after gang threats

A mother who killed herself and her disabled daughter in a blazing car had faced constant abuse and threats from a gang of youths, an inquest heard today.

Fiona Pilkington, 38, set light to her car with her 18-year-old disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick and herself inside.

The blazing car was found in a lay-by on the A47 near Earl Shilton, Leicestershire on 23 October, 2007, an inquest at Loughborough Town Hall heard today.

The inquest heard that Ms Pilkington, a single mother and full-time carer to her daughter, had apparently carried out the act of murder-suicide after suffering years of abuse, a jury of four men and four women was told.

Ms Pilkington's son, Anthony Hardwick, now 19, who is severely dyslexic, was also abused.

Giving evidence, Pam Cassell, 72, said her daughter Ms Pilkington had taped up her letter box the week before she died because she feared fireworks would be put through it.

Mrs Cassell said: "It was Halloween and firework night coming up and Fiona was dreading them because she knew that the children would start throwing things at the house and start putting fireworks through the letter box.

"They would start on Fiona and throw things and then go round the back and do things in the garden. It was always the same group of youths.

"Sometimes they would go round the side of the house and urinate.

"They used to ring on the doorbell and say that she had been hitting her kids. They were petty things like that.

"They used to throw stones at the house and then they threw acorns and flour and eggs.

"Frankie was frustrated because she couldn't go out in the garden without being tormented or teased. We used to take her to the park and take her out in the rain because she used to love jumping in puddles.

"Frankie could be genuinely loveable but when she was frustrated she used to pull hair and bite and punch because she couldn't do what she wanted to do."

Mrs Cassell added that the gang, which often numbered 16, would torment Francecca and her brother before they went to bed. They would throw stones at the window and try and get her to lift up her nightdress.

The inquest heard that the abuse started when the family moved into the house on Bardon Road in Barwell, Leicestershire, but it escalated after Anthony fell out with a friend who lived on the street.

The unnamed boy was at the centre of this gang, even though Anthony had attended sleepovers at his house as a young child, the inquest heard.

He would taunt them at the front of their house by shouting: "We can do anything we like and you can't do anything about it."

Mrs Cassell added: "Fiona couldn't defend herself. She was very shy and she didn't want any trouble so she tended to ignore them. She was very vulnerable."

Asked by coroner Olivia Davison why the family were picked on, Mrs Cassell said: "Fiona existed and they didn't like it. I don't think she was their sort and there was something that she did that they took exception to."

During one incident Fiona Pilkington's son Anthony was put at knifepoint into a shed, the inquest heard. But despite dozens of calls to the police and Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council, little was done to help the family.

Mrs Cassell said that at one point the council imposed a 300-yard exclusion zone for the youths around the family's house but that had failed to enforce it. She said her daughter contacted the council four or five times and phoned police at least 10 times a year demanding help.

She said the school holidays and the weekends were the worst and her daughter constantly had the curtains in her front room closed.

Mrs Cassell added: "On the day that they died, Fiona rang up the police and told them about the children who were walking on their hedge and she was told to just ignore them.

"The same girls that were walking on the hedge were taking the mickey out of Frankie and imitating the way she walked.

"On another day it was beautifully sunny and I asked her why she had the curtains drawn and she said the police had told them to do so, so they couldn't see the children walking on the hedge.

"It was going on for so long I thought somebody would have done something. Fiona just gave up."

Mrs Cassell said: "She was in despair really, nobody did anything and she was just frustrated. She wanted them just to do something.

"Nobody was doing anything to help her, not the police, the council or the Neighbourhood Watch were doing anything."

Ms Pilkington's mother added that the family had never taken a holiday together and her daughter did not receive respite care because she did not know how to get it.

She also said that the support from Frankie's special school, the Dorothy Goodman School in Hinckley, had failed to take on board the family situation. As Mrs Cassell gave evidence, her grandson Anthony cried.

He was described as being close to his sister, who was getting stronger as she grew older.

The court also heard Ms Pilkington, who had a boyfriend, had attempted to kill herself and her two children before but changed her mind after she failed to find a spot to park and set light to her car.

Asked by the coroner why her daughter took Frankie on the fateful trip, Mrs Cassell said: "She didn't think anybody would be able to cope with Frankie, she was getting a lot stronger."

The court also heard that when the family made friends with the paperboy, the gang started abusing him so he stopped being friendly.

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