'They were so evil towards Francecca – they just would not leave her alone'

Local residents blame 'street rats' but the Simmons family is defiant
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The Independent Online

There is little love lost between Alex Simmons and his neighbours on Barwell's Bardon Road, to outward appearances a quietly unremarkable 1930s-built neighbourhood on the rural fringes of an ancient Midlands village.

"Nobody likes the Simmons. They say we are scum," said the slightly-built 16-year-old as he leant on his grandmother's gatepost munching away on a tea-time packet of crisps. "It is stupid. It's all crap and they can all shut up."

The Simmons family, three generations of whom live on Bardon Road, remains defiant in the face of claims their antisocial behaviour was partly responsible for the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her mentally disabled teenage daughter, Francecca Hardwick, after years of taunts and physical attacks.

"It is them up there that's the troublemakers," insisted 75-year-old Dorothy Simmons, gesticulating up the street which has been her home for 47 years. The family say the suggestion made at this week's inquest that local children – including their own – drove the vulnerable 38-year-old single mother to end her and her daughter's life by setting fire to her car in a nearby lay-by is fanciful.

"How can a few kids spirit knocking and throwing snowballs cause this? It is nothing to kill yourself over," said Alex's mother Suzanne, 44.

"She used to report things that never happened. She used to report people just sitting outside having a fag," claimed Alex. "It was just silly," added his mother. "I know the whole street is saying it's our family. But they are not latch-key kids. I am at home all day and my husband works," she said.

"What do we do wrong? Our kids aren't thugs, they are good kids," the mother of four boys insisted.

"Alex is no angel but he is not a bad boy. I make sure he is in bed by 11pm every night," she said.

"Are we talking about children here or are we on about thugs?" demanded Alex's father Steve, 43, a stockily-built local Tarmacker, who sports an Elvis tattoo on his arm and who has been with Suzanne since they met at the age of 13. He has lived all his life on Bardon Road and while one problem family has already been moved on he is not planning to move out.

"We are just a normal family," he said. The Simmons are one of three families accused of anti-social behaviour in the Bardon Road neighbourhood, one of whom was rehoused six months ago in a suburb of nearby Hinckley. Alex used to be best friends with Fiona Pilkington's son Anthony Hardwick. "We were like brothers," Alex recalled. Anthony was a regular visitor to the Simmons' home just a few doors down the street but the two fell out.

According to the inquest evidence Anthony was viciously bullied, locked in a shed at knifepoint and attacked with an iron bar while his mother and sister became virtual prisoners in their own home. Despite repeated calls to police and the local authority no one came to their help.

"I would never do that to Anthony," said Alex. "People used to bully him and I used to stick up for him. Everybody says Anthony Hardwick spent all his life being bullied but I have been pushed in hedges or pushed off my bike and called a long-haired Jessie," he insisted.

The teenager's parents said they were proud of their son who has undergone a major heart operation and suffers from dyslexia, asthma and attention deficit disorder. Today he works part time in a local butcher's shop and devotes his energies to tending his two pet polecats, they said.

Yet despite their best efforts, the Simmons claim they continue to be unfairly blamed by their neighbours and victimised by the council which launched civil proceedings against them in the county court in November 2007 soon after the death of Ms Pilkington.

A district judge at Nuneaton County Court banned Mr Simmons from letting his three youngest children including Alex threaten, harass or swear at neighbours. The local authority, Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council, was granted power of arrest over Mr Simmons, if the order was breached.

"The whole street tried to get us evicted – they blame us for everything. They always have the finger pointed. It is a nightmare for me," said Mrs Simmons. But nightmarish is the way other residents describe life on Bardon Road, too.

Despite the death of Ms Pilkington and the ensuing outrage, trouble from local teenagers – described by local residents as "street rats" – continues to plague the community.

One close neighbour, who asked not to be named, said: "One lad said she deserved to die. That's the attitude. They get it from the parents. Some people are scared to death and won't stand up to them. They are the sort of people to scratch your car or damage your fence," added the mother of two, whose own children have been called "slags" and "prostitutes" in the street by the gathered youths.

Even the family dog had been attacked with a lighter, she said.

She said the trouble was not confined to a single family. "The girls are as bad as the boys. One night recently there were two girls completely paralytic lying on the grass shouting 'I want sex'. But if you say anything to the parents they get aggressive with you."

Another neighbour described being circled by youths as she walked down the street, having nails put under the tyres of her car and how her husband's council work vehicle was defaced with the word "wanker" scrawled on it in felt tip. On another occasion a local youth broke into her house and fell asleep on her settee.

A resident from a nearby street who repeatedly tried to help the troubled mother recalled being in Ms Pilkington's house one night when she came under attack. "There was an almighty crash and a wallop when something hit the window. Fiona screamed and Anthony just stood stock still. It was a For Sale sign which they had uprooted and thrown at the window," said the woman who also asked not to be named.

She said: "They were so evil towards her they just would not leave her alone. They could see the disability in Frankie's face. Fiona was vulnerable being a single mother. They recognised that and exploited it. They just didn't give a damn. They haven't got a genuine bone in their bodies."

Donna Glover, 39, said many on the street had not known of the extent of Ms Pilkington's problems, while those that did felt powerless to act. "I saw a gang kicking on her door trying to get in but I didn't know what to do. What can one person on their own expect to do? If we had the backing of the whole neighbourhood maybe we could do something."

She said: "A lot of people are too scared to say anything. But in the end it is down to the parents. People are quick to blame the government or the school but responsibility rests with the parents. You can't blame anyone else. These kids have to learn their behaviour from somewhere. The problem is the laws have changed and there doesn't seem to be anything anyone can do. They think it is cool to have a police record or an Asbo."