Terri Judd: In Bardon Road, deaths still cast a long shadow

Sympathy for Fiona Pilkington is in short supply where she once lived
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The Independent Online

"No uninvited callers", read stickers in the windows of Bardon Road, an otherwise unremarkable road seemingly under siege "I don't want to get involved," is the refrain of residents behind net curtains. They hide, not from the yobs that once terrorised the road in the small town of Barwell, Leicestershire, but from the legacy of a woman who was driven to her death by their taunts and the uncomfortable spotlight that cast on the street.

Driven to desperation after a decade of abuse, Fiona Pilkington drove her disabled 18-year-old daughter, Francecca Hardwick, to a lay by off the A47, and set alight her Austin Maestro with them inside.

The local authority and the police have been castigated for their failure to save this vulnerable woman and her child despite repeated calls for help, but what of the community that lived within earshot?

"They all said it should not have happened but the neighbours knew what was going on," said Ken Bailey, a pensioner tending to his garden, adding: "I have never had any trouble. It is an old-fashioned street."

"There are police patrols now and the person that did it, the leader of the gang, has turned out to be a nice young man," he continued.

The Simmons family, whose children were blamed for much of the taunting, still live in the road despite a petition by some of their neighbours to have them evicted and their complaints they were hounded after the inquest.

"He was just easily led. He sent me a Christmas card this year and we are the best of friends," added Doreen Davies, 74, talking about one of the family. "We have been happier here. It is a nice place, much improved." Yet when Hinckley and Bosworth Borough councillor Mathew Hulbert was canvassing for election many locals did not paint such a rosy picture.

There was still a minority of youths, he conceded, that drink and cause problems on their scooters, making life "intolerable" for some.

"Not everything has been solved but strides have been taken," he said. "I know most of the local beat bobbies in person. They really are working flat out to try and make the area better, to reduce anti-social behaviour."

Certainly there has been a concerted effort improve matters. The recently opened £2m George Ward Centre in town offers youth clubs.

"Barwell is like anywhere else in the country. Where doesn't have problem families?" Mr Hulbert said. "What happened to Fiona Pilkington and her daughter, what drove that family to desperation, must have been absolutely horrific.

"But lessons have been learnt and lessons continue to be learnt. We should not tarnish the village."

Yet one young mother in Bardon Road admitted: "I want to move. I don't like living here. There are always kids on scooters, drinking and foul language. I have asked the council to move but nobody wants to move to this road and I don't blame them. We are stuck. It has a reputation."

It is a reputation that Barwell, and Bardon Road in particular, is desperately trying to shake off. "It is a lot quieter now, totally changed. It is a very nice place, nice people. There is no trouble," insisted one local shopkeeper before asking to remain anonymous. He explained: "I don't want to get any hassle."