Police cleared over abuse case that saw mother kill disabled daughter

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The Independent Online

Four police officers accused of failing to stop a campaign of abuse that drove a mother to kill herself and her disabled daughter have been cleared of misconduct.

Fiona Pilkington, 38, and Francecca Hardwick, 18, died in 2007 when Ms Pilkington set fire to their car after years of harassment by neighbours. Officers were contacted 33 times in 10 years by Ms Pilkington, complaining that groups of up to 16 youngsters had repeatedly attacked her home, in Barwell, Leicestershire, with stones, eggs and flour. But an inquest last year found that she only received only eight police visits.

In a 180-page report published in May, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said that the family should have been identified as "vulnerable" and that officers had missed opportunities to take "robust action". But Leicestershire Constabulary cleared the four officer yesterday after concluding in an internal inquiry, overseen by the IPCC, that misconduct "was not proven".

Instead, the force acknowledged that it had not put in place the necessary systems that would have recognised that the family were vulnerable and repeatedly attacked.

Speaking after its hearings, Dave Evans, the deputy chief constable of Leicestershire, said: "The misconduct meetings have now been completed. The findings for the four officers was that misconduct was not proven."

He said that the force was "completely different" than it was seven years ago and that "significant resources" had since been put into neighbourhood policing and tackling antisocial behaviour.

"The conclusion from the misconduct meetings were that failings were of an organisational nature due to the systems and processes in place at the time not enabling officers to provide the most effective service," he added.

On Monday, an inquiry set up by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission found that public authorities are guilty of a "systemic failure" to protect disabled people facing harassment. The inquiry was set up after the deaths of Ms Pilkington and her daughter. Its report, Hidden In Plain Sight, found that abuse of disabled people is commonplace, often ignored and rarely included in official statistics.

The inquiry looked at severe abuse in 10 cases, nine of which resulted in the death of the victim. Frequently public authorities including the police, health, housing and social services had done little to tackle harassment and petty crimes against the victims which then escalated into more serious assaults.

Following yesterday's IPCC report, Mr Evans added: "The force accepted in 2007, following its internal review, that it could have given a better service to Fiona Pilkington and her family. The tragic deaths of Fiona and her daughter acted as a turning point for the force in how it prioritised and dealt with antisocial behaviour, linking incidents and identifying vulnerability.

"In the past four years, radical organisational changes have been made, not just to systems and processes but in the way officers and staff think, looking not just at the incident but the victim and the wider context.

"We hope the significant changes we have made, and continue to make, give the family some comfort and as always our thoughts are with them."