UK Couple Face Jail for Killing 6 Children in Fire

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Mick Philpott presented himself as an amiable rascal with an unorthodox lifestyle and a rambunctious brood of children - 17 in all, with five women.

The 56-year-old Englishman's ramshackle existence took a horrifying turn when he and his wife set a fire that killed six of the children, in an attention-grabbing plan that prosecutors said "went disastrously and tragically wrong."

A judge said she would sentence Mick and Mairead Philpott Wednesday afternoon for the manslaughter of Jayden, Jesse, Jack, John, Jade and Duwayne, aged 5 to 13.

The May 2012 deaths and the twisting saga that ensued have horrified and fascinated Britain.

Before the fire, Mick Philpott was something of a local celebrity - nicknamed "Shameless Mick" after the television program about a disreputable working-class clan - who had appeared on a daytime talk show defending his lifestyle. In 2007, a Conservative lawmaker stayed at his home for a week as she filmed a critical documentary about the country's welfare system.

The trial furnished details of Mick Philpott's life with his 32-year-old wife, his girlfriend and as many as 11 children in a three-bedroom social housing property in Derby, central England.

The jury - and the nation - heard of threesomes and public sex, of Philpott's controlling behavior, and of his claim that he had not washed for 12 weeks before the fire.

At times three adults and 11 children lived in the house, but shortly before the fire girlfriend Lisa Willis moved out, taking her five children. Mairead and Mick Philpott's five children and Mairead's 13-year-old son from a previous relationship remained in the home, and died in the blaze.

After the fire the Philpotts made an emotional televised appeal, with Mick describing how he had battled the flames to try to save his children.

But police soon grew suspicious of the couple's erratic behavior, and bugged a hotel room where they were staying. The jury was played recordings of Mick Philpott asking his wife: "Are you sticking to the story?"

The couple was arrested two weeks after the fire and charged with murder, later downgraded to manslaughter.

Prosecutors said the couple hatched a plan to start the gasoline-fuelled fire and then rescue the children, pinning blame on Willis, so Mick Philpott could gain advantage in a child custody battle.

The couple and a friend, Paul Mosley, were said to have planned to get all the children to sleep in one bedroom so that they could be rescued through a window when the fire started. Mosley was also convicted of manslaughter.

Prosecutor Richard Latham said the plan went wrong within minutes, because the fire was far bigger than expected and the father was unable to smash a window to get in.

"It was started as a result of a plan between the three of them to turn family court proceedings in Mr. Philpott's favor," said Crown Prosecution Service adviser Samantha Shallow. "It was a plan that went disastrously and tragically wrong."

Steve Cotterill, assistant chief constable of Derbyshire Constabulary, said it had been "one of, if not the most upsetting cases any of us has ever investigated."

"Six young children lost their lives needlessly in a fire and all our efforts have been focused on getting justice for those children," he said.

The jury was not told that Mick Philpott had a previous conviction for attempted murder, for stabbing a former girlfriend and her mother when he was 21.

The conviction of the couple was front-page news in Britain, with publications seeing all manner of social ills reflected in Mick Philpott's moustached face.

For the liberal Guardian, he was "a control freak whose domestic violence went unchecked." For the conservative Daily Mail he was "a vile product of welfare U.K." To the tabloid Daily Mirror he was simply "pure evil."

"He was the sort of person who gives compassion and public support a bad name," said lawmaker Margaret Beckett, who represents Philpott's constituency in Parliament.

"I wished he lived in somebody else's constituency, if that doesn't sound a ridiculous thing to say," she told the BBC. "He wasn't somebody you wanted to be responsible for in any way."