Just over two years ago, nine men from Derby were jailed in three separate trials for preying on teenage girls. The victims were aged between 12 and 18 and had been groomed by a gang led by 28-year-old Mohammed Liaqat and Abid Saddique, who was 27. Because all but one of the convicted men were Asian, the Derby trials were quickly subsumed in a controversial narrative about the role of ethnicity and culture in cases of systematic abuse of girls. But in the very same town, another man had been targeting vulnerable teenagers for decades.
In the mid-1970s, Mick Philpott began a relationship with a 15-year-old girl, Kim Hill. A couple of years later, when h e was in his early twenties, he tried to kill her. He served time in prison, came out and married Pamela Lomax, with whom he had three children. He was 37 when he met 14-year-old Heather Kehoe, whom he began sleeping with a year later. She ran away with him just after her 16th birthday and they had two children together. When Heather left Philpott, his next victim was Mairead Duffy. She was 17 when he met her in a pub, a single mother who was "at rock bottom" after an abusive relationship.
Philpott married Mairead, but one young woman wasn't enough to satisfy his massive ego. His next target was Lisa Willis, a 16-year-old single mother whose parents were both dead. The two women shared Philpott until last year, when Lisa took their four children and sought shelter in a refuge. That was when Philpott tried to frame her for a fire, killing the six children he'd had with Mairead.
Philpott is such a horrible man that it's tempting to see him as a one-off. But his story is familiar, and it highlights a huge social problem: predatory older men who target vulnerable young women from chaotic backgrounds. Philpott forced Mairead and Lisa to pay their wages into his bank account and insisted on Mairead having sex with other men, including his co-accused Paul Mosley.
Passing girls around for sex was also a habit of Liaqat and Saddique, who roamed the streets of Derby looking for vulnerable teenagers. The modus operandi in these cases recalls that of the serial killer Fred West, who targeted his future wife Rose when she was 15.
Some of the girls involved are under the age of consent, but the chief attraction for sexual predators is a combination of youth, unstable backgrounds and a craving for affection. Many teenagers don't get sensible advice about relationships from their families, which is why there's an urgent need for the issue to be addressed in schools. Two months ago, a coalition of women's groups called on the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to make sex and relationships education compulsory. His department stonewalled, saying that schools "are encouraged" to provide it.
It was a feeble response even before the Philpott case. Now there is no excuse for the Government's continued failure to protect teenage girls from dangerous men.