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Mother killed herself and daughter in car fire

Years of abuse from gang led to death of single parent and her disabled daughter

A single mother who was the focus of a sustained campaign of abuse from a gang of youths killed herself and her teenage daughter by setting her car on fire, an inquest heard yesterday.

Fiona Pilkington, 38, committed suicide in October 2007 by parking in a lay-by in South Leicestershire with her daughter, Francecca, 18, dousing the back seat in petrol before setting it alight with both women still inside.

The fumes in the car caused an explosion, destroying the Austin Maestro and killing Ms Pilkington, who was in the driver's seat next to her daughter. The pair had to be identified by matching DNA samples taken from relatives with swabs recovered from the scene.

The inquest, held yesterday at Loughborough Town Hall, heard that Ms Pilkington and her two children had been targeted by a gang of 16 youths that carried out a string of abuse to their home in Bardon Road, Barwell. In a campaign that lasted more than 15 years, youths pelted the house with flour, eggs and stones, urinated on the property and abused her children.

The court heard how the gang would shout vile abuse at her daughter, who had severe learning difficulties, and lock her son in a shed at knifepoint and beat him up with an iron bar.

The attacks started when the family moved into the house. But it is believed to have intensified after her son, Anthony Hardwick, now 19, fell out with a friend who lived on the street.

The inquest heard that despite Ms Pilkington's repeated calls to police for help, officers never brought a prosecution against any member of the gang, an issue that was argued extensively in court. Assistant chief constable Chris Tew said it was difficult to bring prosecutions against the gang because it was not what the family wanted.

But Coroner Olivia Davison said: "This was a woman who may have been terrified, who might have been vulnerable and not the best person to make the decision about a prosecution under the circumstances."

Mrs Pilkington's mother, Pam Cassell, told the hearing the council imposed a 300-yard exclusion zone for the youths around the family's house but had failed to enforce it. Mrs Cassell, 72, added: "Fiona couldn't defend herself. She was very shy and she didn't want any trouble so she tended to ignore them. She was very vulnerable.

It also emerged that Ms Pilkington wrote to Tory MP, David Tredinnick.

The inquest heard that Ms Pilkington's letter resulted in a beat officer being appointed to monitor the road. But the abuse continued and in February 2007, the mother-of-two wrote again to her MP. Nine months later, Ms Pilkington and Francecca were dead. The letters were handed to police, who are holding a separate inquiry. A serious case review was launched, the findings of which will be published after the inquest concludes today.