Leading article: Tragic lessons of a shameful saga

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The Independent Online

A more sickening and depressing tale it would be hard to conceive. A woman and her disabled daughter suffer years of unspeakable abuse and harassment from a group of local bullies. After failing to receive any help from neighbours, the police or the social services, they are driven to despair and, ultimately, suicide.

That was the sequence laid out in stark detail by the inquest into the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and Francecca Hardwick. Moral responsibility for their deaths lies – first and foremost – with those who subjected this poor family to such vile treatment. But, as the inquest jury found yesterday, the police must also bear heavy responsibility. The inquest laid bare the sheer negligence of the Leicestershire force in its dealings with this family. Ms Pilkington requested the help of the police more than 30 times over a seven-year period. But she was never given assistance. Her last complaint of intimidation was made on the day she took her own life and that of her daughter. Chris Tew, the former Assistant Chief Constable of Leicester Police, argued in the inquest witness box that the behaviour of Ms Pilkington's neighbours did "not pass the threshold of a crime". What ineffable stupidity. Here, surely, was a clear pattern of harassment that should have been met with the force of the law.

The inquest also revealed shocking incompetence by the social services. Despite several visits to the family by representatives of Hinckley and Bosworth borough council, nothing was done to get the police to take their complaints seriously or to move the family into safer accommodation. There will, doubtless, be calls for new laws in the wake of this tragedy. One expert has already called for the persecution of disabled people to be recorded as a high priority "hate crime" by the police. But that would be a diversion. What this wretched case demands is not new guidance for police forces or the social services, but a requirement for them to do their jobs properly.

The failure was not one of inadequate guidance, or inadequate legislation, but inadequate competence by public servants charged with upholding the rule of law and protecting the vulnerable. They failed to do so – and the appalling price was the death of Ms Pilkington and her daughter.