Derby house fire deaths: Botched plot to frame ex-lover led to house-fire tragedy, court told

Mick Philpott and wife Mairead deny manslaughter after losing six children in blaze

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The Independent Online

Six children died in a house fire started by their parents after their father attempted to frame his former mistress as part of a bitter custody feud, a court heard.

Mick Philpott, 56, who made a tearful appeal for information at a press conference after the fire, was described as a violent and controlling man who lived with his wife and lover along with their 11 children in a three-bedroom home in Victory Road, Derby.

Mr Philpott wept again in court as he was played the recording of a desperate 999 call made by the couple following the blaze last year.

The decision of his mistress Lisa Willis, 28, to walk out on the “unacceptable” domestic situation three months before the fire was the catalyst which led to the tragedy, Nottingham Crown Court was told.

Mick Philpott and his wife Mairead, 31, along with a third defendant, 45-year-old Paul Mosley, deny six separate counts of manslaughter. Jade Philpott, 10, and her brothers John, nine, Jack, eight, Jesse, six, and Jayden, five, died of smoke inhalation at their parents’ semi-detached home in the early hours of May 11. Their older brother Duwayne, 13, died of his injuries two days later.

Richard Latham QC said Ms Willis had left the family home in February along with her five children – four of whom were fathered by unemployed Mr Philpott – ending a ten year relationship which had been characterised by physical and mental abuse. It was claimed that he used to beat her with a piece of wood and controlled her benefit payments of £1,000 a month.

Mr Philpott refused to let either women form outside relationships, routinely accusing Ms Willis of having affairs, and encouraging his wife to have sex with his friend Mr Mosley in front of him, Mr Latham said.

It was also alleged that Ms Willis used Mairead as a “lapdog” and that Mr Philpott, a father of 15 had spoken regularly of divorcing his wife and marrying his mistress whilst continuing to live with both women. But Ms Willis’ decision to walk out led Mr Philpott to hatch a plan to frame his former lover and persuade a judge to grant him custody of their children in a scheme that went “horribly wrong”, Mr Latham QC said.

The Philpotts were due to go to court on the day of the blaze, which began shortly after 3am. In the run-up to the hearing Mr Philpott was heard telling people that Ms Willis had threatened to kill him and set fire to the house with the children inside, it was claimed.

“She was being set up as the culprit,” Mr Latham QC said. It was alleged he was heard boasting to friends that he had a “plan up his sleeve” and reported his “nonsense” concerns over his former lover to the police in a bid to influence the court. Ms Willis was arrested but later released without charge.

Life inside 18 Victory Road was rigidly controlled, the court heard. “He was in charge and he was the only one who took the decisions,” Mr Latham said. “He is very controlling and very manipulative, he will do anything to get his own way. He simply will not tolerate dissent,” he added.

Describing Ms Willis’s decision to leave, the prosecutor said: “She had stood up to him, he was no longer in control and that was absolutely unacceptable to him. What she had done challenged the very core of his attitude to his family and his women.”

Police described Mr Philpott’s behaviour after the fire as unusual. He was spotlessly clean despite claiming to have tried to rescue the children and he appeared to show little emotion. Mr Mosley also intimated he and Mr Phil-pott had rehearsed rescuing the children in a fire six weeks before the tragedy.

The jury was shown a series of photographs and plans of the house. The children all slept upstairs and conditions were “pretty cramped”, the court heard. The internal handles had been removed from the bedrooms although the doors were left open and the windows were all locked.

The trial continues.