'I've left you a present' – a Father's Day warning to the wife who lost a family

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The Independent Online

Brian Philcox gave no inkling of his intentions to the many people with whom he discussed his marital problems prior to Father's Day. On Saturday, the karate expert and outwardly compassionate pillar of his community took his two children on an outing to a miniature railway and was last seen smoking a cigarette while looking out over a north Wales beauty spot.

It was only when a passer-by noticed on Sunday afternoon that his light blue Land Rover Freelander had not moved overnight and contacted police that the grim reality of what Mr Philcox, 52, had been planning became clear. His body was found on the back seat of the vehicle alongside those of his son Owen, three, and his seven-year-old daughter Amy.

North Wales Police said they believed Mr Philcox had gassed himself and his children to death on a hillside road near Llanrwst in the Conwy Valley. A length of hosepipe was found running from the exhaust of the car into the interior through a rear window. A post-mortem examination found all three had died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Mr Philcox, who had other children from previous relationships, had been in contact with the campaign group Fathers 4 Justice a fortnight ago seeking advice on the custody battle he was fighting with his wife, Evelyn. He was due to attend a court hearing this week at which she was seeking possession of the family home, a four-bedroom bungalow in Runcorn, Cheshire. Mrs Philcox is believed to have left him 18 months ago amid allegations of domestic violence.

A family friend said the martial arts expert, who had been chairman of the Federation of English Karate Organisations for 14 years and was once voted "man of the year" in his local community, left a message for Mrs Philcox, 37, on Sunday saying: "I've left you a present. I'll make the papers, just you watch." He is also alleged to have told a neighbour: "I've lost my wife, I've lost my kids, I've lost my job, now I'm going to lose my house. But I'd rather burn the house down than let that bitch get it."

A suspicious-looking parcel bomb arrived yesterday at the home Mr Philcox had shared with his wife. Examination by a bomb disposal squad found that the device was a hoax.

Killings of children by their parents remain rare in Britain. Last year, 33 children were killed by a parent with most of victims being under one year old, according to Home Office figures.

Flowers and tributes, including four teddy bears left by friends of Amy, were placed on railings outside the bungalow. Police forensic experts continued to examine the property, where the couple had lived since their marriage in 2000.

Alan Carruthers, honorary secretary of the karate organisations federation, who had known Mr Philcox for many years, said: "I am completely shocked. I never would have thought Brian capable of suicide, let alone killing his children. He was much more of a talker and open about his problems.

"He was a great dad. The divorce was difficult for him. He was fighting for custody of the children but he had been quite positive about it. When I spoke to him a few days ago he seemed like he was wanting to just get on with his life."

Mr Philcox, a former security guard who had also worked in the food industry but had recently lost his job, picked up his children for a regular weekend access visit on Saturday morning before driving with them to north Wales. They visited the Llangollen miniature railway, although it was unclear whether they took a ride on the train.

A farmer spotted Mr Philcox smoking at a passing area at Talycafn in Snowdonia at 5pm on Saturday, shortly before he was due to return the children to their mother. After the alarm was raised, the car was found at 3pm on Sunday.

North Wales Police said they were treating the deaths of Mr Philcox and his children as suspicious and were not seeking anyone else in connection with the deaths. An inquest is expected to be opened later this week. Mrs Philcox, who was described as being "utterly distraught", was last night being cared for by family members.

A police source said: "These children were doubtless expecting to have a nice day out with their father. He seems to have chosen deliberately chosen Father's Day to carry out what is a truly awful tragedy."

Born in Liverpool, he nursed his first wife, Jan, through Hodgkin's disease in the 1980s and set up a charity appeal in her memory. Writing about the appeal in 2005, he said: "This has allowed me to further enhance my own values in the knowledge that a simple smile, and a warm greeting can do so much more than money ever could, in raising the hopes of somebody who is less fortunate than myself."

Fathers 4 Justice, which is best known for publicity stunts aimed at prominent politicians, said it had been contacted by Mr Philcox two weeks ago.

Matt O'Connor, a founder of the group, who took the call from Mr Philcox, said: "He was concerned primarily about custody of the children. There was a degree of anxiety but he was rational and calm. Certainly he gave absolutely no cause for thinking he would act as he seems to have done. His was one of hundreds of calls we get each week and our best advice was for him to join the group and meet fathers in similar positions."

Parents who kill

*There are about 700 homicides in Britain each year, about 30 of which involve the killing by a parent of a child aged 16 or under, according to the Home Office.

*The number of children aged under 16 killed by a parent in 2007 was 33. In 2006 it was 24 and in 2005 it was 29.

*Fathers are responsible for 53 per cent of the killings.

*Babies and children less than a year old are at greater risk of being killed than any age group under 18. A study found that, between 1995 and 1999 in England and Wales, 80 per cent of homicide victims aged under one were killed by a parent.