Two arrested on suspicion of murder after fire kills five children

Father of 17 had allegedly received death threats and had been vilified by tabloids for his lifestyle

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The Independent Online

Two people were being questioned last night on suspicion of murder after a fire at a family home in which five children died and one was badly injured.

A 38-year-old man from Derby was arrested this afternoon by detectives investigating the deaths. Earlier a 28-year-old woman was also arrested in connection with the tragedy.

Witnesses described seeing Mick Philpott, a father of 17, being beaten back by flames and heat as he battled to save the children at the semi-detached house in Derby as desperate neighbours used a ladder to try to rescue them. The children were asleep upstairs when the fire broke out. A friend of the family said: "There was eight of them living there – the children wouldn't have had a chance to escape."

Mr Philpott, 55, whose large family and unusual living arrangements have prompted tabloid newspapers to label him a "benefits scrounger", escaped unhurt with a woman believed to be his wife Mairead, aged 30, the mother of four of his children.

A friend of the family said Mr and Mrs Philpott had allegedly been the subject of a number of death threats. Police said they were keeping a "very open mind" on how the fire started.

The children who died were Jade, 10, John, nine, Jack, seven, Jessie, six, and Jayden, five, who all attended St George's Catholic Primary School in Littleover, Derby. Duwayne, 13, was receiving specialist treatment at a hospital in Birmingham last night.

Thirty firefighters were sent to tackle the blaze. Derbyshire's Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cotterill said Mr Philpott had made "valiant attempts" to rescue the children. The victims were all carried out of the building, where paramedics tried to resuscitate them.

Julia Bosworth, 34, a neighbour and mother of six, described Mr Philpott as an "amazing" father. "They were brilliant kids, dead polite, always well behaved, well-dressed, clean," she said.

Mr Philpott, who is unemployed, was the subject of vitriolic newspaper stories six years ago when he asked Derby City Council to re-house him and his large family. The local authority said he had the largest property available. The household was said to receive £24,460 a year in benefits.

Mr Philpott appeared on the Jeremy Kyle Show and on the 2007 ITV series Ann Widdecombe Versus the Benefit Culture. Miss Widdecombe said: "Nobody would ever call him a bad father. I'm so sorry to hear the news and my thoughts are with the family."

In interviews, Mr Philpott described his unconventional life with his wife and mistress. "I'm a lucky man... I've got the love of two wonderful women and a house full of great kids."