Sobbing father of 17 who lost SIX children in house fire talks for the first time about inferno which police say was started by petrol being poured th



-Mick Philpott speaks for the first time since last Friday's fatal fire in Derby
-Flanked at press conference by his distraught wife Mairead, he thanked fire crews for their efforts to save his children
-Police confirm seat of the fire was below letterbox in the front door
-One theory is that arsonist bore 'grudge' against Mr Philpott because of his 'celebrity status' following television appearances

By Graham Smith

Grief-stricken: Mick and Mairead Philpott, the parents of six children that died following a fire at their home in Derby last week, speak at a news conference today

A father broke down in tears today as he relived the moment six of his children died in a house fire as police revealed the callous arsonist ignited the blaze by pouring petrol through the letterbox.

Mick Philpott was in the family home in Allenton, Derby, when the fire broke out in the early hours of last Friday morning.

The father of 17 was woken up downstairs by a smoke alarm and made desperate attempts to rescue his children from the inferno.

However, five died of smoke inhalation at the scene and Mr Philpott and his wife Mairead made the agonising decision to turn off the life support machine of a sixth in hospital.

The dead children were all born to Mrs Philpott and were asleep when the fire tore through their three-bedroom semi-detached home.

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Mr Philpott thanked fire crews for their efforts to save his children. Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cotterill (right) confirmed that an arsonist poured petrol through the letterbox in the front door of the the house

Jade Philpott, 10, and brothers John, nine; Jack, seven; Jessie, six; and Jayden, five; all perished in the blaze, while Duwayne Philpott died of his injuries in Birmingham Children's Hospital at the weekend with his parents at his bedside. The six children all died from the effects of smoke.

Mr Philpott's former mistress, Lisa Willis, 28, and her brother-in-law Ian Cousins were arrested on suspicion of murder but later released without charge.

Speaking at a press conference this morning, just five days after the fatal fire, Mr Philpott, supported by his wife, thanked fire crews for their efforts to save his children.

He also praised members of the local community for their 'overwhelming' support since the tragedy.

He said: 'First of all, I want to thank my three eldest children because they have helped us cope.

'And then there's a young lad who tried to get in the house the same as myself.
'Then of course there is the four firemen, the police, the ambulances, the doctors and nurses - everybody who tried to help save our children.

'We can't express our gratitude enough. It's not just us that have suffered, it's them as well - it's everybody.'

Respect: Well-wishers had left hundreds of cards, flowers, teddy bears and candles after a candlelit vigil

The family in 2007, including five of the six children who died. Back row from left, Katrine and Kirk in Lisa Willis's arms, Yawery and Jayden in the arms of Mr Philpott, Jade, Jack and Jordan. Front row, from left, Shareen and Jesse with Mrs Philpott, Duwayne and John

Mr Philpott, speaking at Derby Conference Centre, frequently dabbed away tears with a tissue as he thanked the emergency services.

Disclosing that Duwayne's organs had been donated to help another child, the devastated father said: 'That makes us happy and it takes a bit of the pain away.

'We grew up in a community that's been through a lot of problems with violence and to see this community come together like it has, it's too overwhelming.

'Those poor gentlemen from the fire brigade, who saw what we saw - my heart goes out to them.'

Steve Cotterill, Assistant Chief Constable of Derbyshire Police, confirmed that the seat of the fire was below the letterbox in the front door of the the house.

Investigations had also shown petrol was used as an accelerant, he said.

Smoke from the fire travelled up the stairs of Mr Philpott's home while he and his wife were on the ground floor.

Mr Cotterill said one potential line of inquiry was a possible 'personal grudge' against Mr Philpott because of his 'celebrity status'.

The 55-year-old hit the headlines in 2006 when demanding a bigger council home for his family, before TV appearances with Ann Widdecombe and Jeremy Kyle.

The was dubbed 'Shameless Mick' in 2007 after reportedly demanding a larger council house.

Mr Cotterill said it was common knowledge in the local community that Mr and Mrs Philpott and their children lived at the property.

The officer added that detectives were investigating reports of threats against Mr Philpott on Facebook to see if there was 'any substance' behind them.

And sending a message directly to the arsonist, he said: 'This person should examine their conscience. There are six children who died. The person responsible should do the right thing and hand themselves in.'

He went on to question the 'mentality' of a person who would pour petrol through the letterbox of a house knowing eight people - including six children - were inside.

Police are also asking local homeowners who have private CCTV systems to examine their footage from the night of the fire, and contact them if they believe they captured anything suspicious.

It is thought that detectives have still not had the chance to discuss the events of the tragic night itself with Mr Philpott and his distraught wife.

Appealing for further witnesses, Mr Cotterill added: 'I would like to thank members of the community who have come forward with information to date.

Grief: Mick Philpott holds his wife Mairead today at the derby Conference Centre as he issued an appeal for the public to help police find the people who started the fire which claimed the lives of six of his children

'Since my last appeal more people have come forward and I'm grateful to everyone who has contacted us.

'I would ask people to continue helping us with our investigation by checking the area they live for signs of discarded containers which may have contained petrol.

'I am also appealing for forecourt staff to come forward if they can recall selling petrol in a container to anyone in the days leading up to the fire.'

Whoever was responsible for the fire should examine their conscience and hand themself in to the police, Mr Cotterill said.

'The investigation is progressing very well and we are continuing with our examination of the scene,' the officer told reporters.

'What I can tell you is that the fire was started deliberately. There is a clear indication that petrol was used as an accelerant to set the fire.

'The consequences of that were that a fire took hold and smoke then went upstairs to the bedrooms where the children were sleeping. Mr and Mrs Philpott were elsewhere in the house on the ground floor and thankfully they managed to escape.'

It is understood Mrs Philpott had Duwayne before she met her husband, but Mr Philpott, a former baker, raised him as his own.

Mikey Philpott, a brother of the six children killed, on Monday called for 'justice', while a group of local businessmen offered a reward to help catch those responsible.

Crime scene: The blaze broke out at the house in Allenton, Derby, at around 3.45am last Friday

The 14-year-old said: 'It’s tearing us to pieces that they have gone just like that. It’s been really hard to take it all in. I’ve broke down a few times.

'I’d like justice for my brothers and sisters more than anything - it is strung out that someone can just do something like that.'

Mikey, whose mum, Heather Kehoe, is an ex-girlfriend of Mr Philpott, told how he first heard about the devastating fire.

He said: 'I knew there was something wrong as soon as I saw there had been a fire. I rang my dad, and it went straight to voicemail, then I rang Mairead and there was nothing.

'Then I ran my step-brother, Richard, and went straight off to hospital. Everyone was around us.

'When I went around to see my grandma I’ve never been squeezed so tight. But the support we have had in so far, from everyone, is amazing.

'I was pretty close to my brothers and sisters. I didn’t realise how close until I lost them. Duwayne was a great brother. I spent a lot of time fishing with him at weekends. Jade was a proper daddy’s girl, always smiling. You could never get John to shut up, bless him. He was really playful.

'Then there was Jessie. You couldn’t get five minutes alone without her, she was always clinging on to your leg. It was the same with Jaden. Jack was like me, a proper computer nerd, always on his Nintendo DS.'

Mr Philpott also praised members of the local community for their 'overwhelming' support since the tragedy

Public appeal: After five minutes, the distraught couple left the news conference in tears

Mikey, who lives in Clipstone, Nottinghamshire, added: 'They were a lovely bunch, I really miss them. They were like my best friends, always there for me and keeping a smile on my face. But now they are not here.'

Neighbours spoke of resentment in the area towards Mr Philpott, who had 17 children by five women and became known as ‘Britain’s biggest scrounger’.

His former mistress, Lisa Willis, 28, and her brother-in-law Ian Cousins were arrested on suspicion of murder but later released without charge.

She is currently staying at a hotel in Derbyshire, where she is being offered support from specialist police officers.

Until they separated in February, Miss Willis and her five children also lived at the cramped home where the blaze broke out.

Four of the children were fathered by Mr Philpott, though he had also raised Miss Willis’s eldest child, Jordan, 12, from a previous relationship. It is understood she had taken the children with her when she moved out.

Miss Willis then stayed with Mr Cousins and her sister Amanda, 37.

The unorthodox family set-up came to light six years ago when Mr Philpott got both his wife and Miss Willis pregnant. Mrs Philpott later gave birth to Jayden a month before her husband’s lover gave birth to a daughter.

Neighbours said that Mr Philpott's mistress, Lisa Willis, moved out of the family home with five of the couple's children when he refused to divorce his wife and marry her.

TV appearance: Mr Philpott's mistress Lisa Willis (left), who moved out shortly before the tragedy, has previously appeared with his wife Mairead (right) on The Jeremy Kyle Show

'Celebrity': Mr Philpott on The Jeremy Kyle Show, where he talked about the 15 children he had at the time

The dead children were all born to Mrs Philpott and were asleep when the fire tore through their three-bedroom semi-detached home.

It is thought that Miss Willis may now be pregnant with Mr Philpott’s 18th child.
He has four biological children with Miss Willis - Shareen, aged eight, Katrine, seven, Kirk, six and five-year-old Yawery.

A fifth child, Jordan, 12, was Miss Willis’s from another relationship, but was raised by Mr Philpott and his then-mistress.

Mr Philpott also has six more children - David, 25, Richard, 24, and Michaela, 21, with his first wife, Pamela Lomax; Mikey, 14, and Aidan, 13, with ex-girlfriend Heather Kehoe; and Joshua, five, who Mr Philpott once said was the product of a liaison with the partner of a friend.

A series of anguished Facebook postings over the last month reveal Mr Philpott’s torment over the turbulent situation as he declared his love for all his children.

He had made a public appeal to be moved from the home where the blaze occurred to a bigger property to accommodate his unusual and growing family.

Just days ago, Mr Philpott, one of nine siblings himself, wrote of missing his ‘beautiful babies’ as part of a string of Facebook postings professing his love for of his children.

He wrote on May 1: ‘I love all my children more than life itself, including the ones who are not my flesh and blood.’

But less than an hour later, another comment apparently about Miss Willis laid bare the souring of relations between them.

He wrote: ‘All I want is my wife and all my kids they mean more. I’m sorry things turned out like this for my family. Thank Christ I did not divorce Mairead and marry that.’

Tribute: A police officer lays candles at the scene in tribute to the victims

Local residents release a Chinese lantern as they pay tribute to the five children who died in the fire

It is understood the couple parted in late January and had some sort of reconciliation in mid-April, before tensions grew again.

The blaze broke out at the house at around 3.45am at the front of the 1960s semi on Friday. It is near the city’s giant Rolls Royce factory.

Next-door neighbour Joe Peel, who alerted the emergency services, said he was woken by his dog barking and looked outside his window to see the Philpotts’ front door alight.

He said: ‘I ran out of the house, screaming to the neighbour to wake him up. No one could get near the house because of flames and smoke.

‘Everyone was screaming. A couple of minutes later the fire brigade came down with the police.

‘Two or three minutes later you could see the flames going up the stairs through the side window of the house. When the fire brigade came it was billowing smoke going up the road – it was absolutely horrible’.

A neighbour said Mr Philpott was later seen trying to smash the conservatory window to get back in.

Neighbours in Allenton mourning the deaths of the five children have now set up a charity to help pay for their funerals.

Bobby Sutherland, who has lived on the estate all his life, was inspired to set up an online charity called Catch Me When I Fall because of the children.

Mr Sutherland said: 'The original statement was about the kids. Everybody's got kids, everybody wants kids or everybody's had kids, so it affects everybody.'

He said people should not judge Mr Philpott because 'he loved his kids', adding: 'You make mistakes but you don't deserve that. Nobody deserves that.'


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