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Philpotts' case is on the table for ministers

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: November 13, 2013

  • BLUDGEONED: Ten-year-old Ben Philpotts

  • Patricia Philpott

  • DEATH HOUSE: The family home at Trevarrian where Harold Philpotts, who had a history of mental illness, killed his son and his estranged wife. He also died due to a fire he started.

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ONE OF THE worst scenes witnessed in a coastal village, which saw a father kill his wife and son in a house fire, has been discussed by ministers as part of a call to crack down on so-called 'family annihilation'.

Ministers drew upon the case of Harold Philpotts in Westminster Hall this week following calls action is needed on cases where a parent kills their partner and children, then takes their own life.

Harold is believed to have bludgeoned his ten-year-old son Ben with a sledgehammer before starting a fire at their home at Trevarrian, near Newquay. Both his son and his estranged wife Patricia died.

Harold died of severe burns eight days after the fire in January 2010.

This week Cardiff North MP Jonathan Evans led a ministerial debate on the subject after Harold's brother, Don Philpotts, visited him at his constituency surgery to tell him about the tragedy.

During the debate on Wednesday, Mr Evans discussed "family annihilation", which he said was an American term applied to cases where a parent, "almost invariably a man", murders his partner and his own children before killing himself.

The debate drew upon research which has shown a history of domestic violence in most cases of family annihilation but it "had not been taken seriously" in some instances.

Earlier this year a report found Harold's actions could not have been predicted, despite history of mental illness. However, his brother Don hit back at the report at the time, which referred to Harold only as Mr A, and was carried out by the Health and Social Care Advisory Service (HASCAS), claiming there was "ample evidence" to suggest otherwise.

The 47-year-old had been diagnosed with mental health problems, possibly schizophrenia and depression, but often refused to accept this, according to the independent report.

An earlier serious case review, released after a Freedom of Information request by this newspaper in January last year, revealed Mr Philpotts had mental health issues and had not been managing his "delusional and paranoid symptoms".

Although the review found no one could have predicted the "tragic outcomes" for the family, it suggested police and mental health services failed to share information after Mr Philpotts returned to live with the family in 2009.

It revealed that for two years prior to his death, Mr Philpotts had experienced mental health problems and had once had "delusional thoughts" about his son.

No evidence could be unearthed proving mental health staff had considered the implications for Ben or had informed Children's Social Care. The report said on occasions Mrs Philpotts told police and mental health services of instances when Mr Philpotts had "upset or distressed" Ben but the information was not always shared effectively with Children's Services.

The Home Secretary announced in September that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary is to look at the performance of individual forces in England and Wales to examine the way they approach, investigate and record domestic violence.

Mr Evans called on ministers to build on the Home Secretary's review by creating a cross-government initiative to:

• Encourage better risk assessment and information-sharing between health professionals, the police and those who may be at risk;

• Promote better statistical information about cases of family annihilation;

• Examine the concept of undertaking psychological autopsies in cases where the perpetrator of family murders has committed suicide by undertaking a full assessment of the history of that person, including questioning family members;

• Strengthen gun control legislation to ensure no person with a history of domestic abuse or suffering from mental illness can get access to lethal weapons.

MP for Newquay and St Austell, Stephen Gilbert, was present at the debate and congratulated Mr Evans for securing it.

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