Uncomfortable truths from the Philpott killings

While we wait for Mrs. Justice Thirlwall to sentence hopeless self-obsessed chav arsonist Mick Philpott it's worth reflecting on how this case relates to the current debate about benefit payments in the UK. Indeed, I find it best to focus on this rather than the current mitigation being carried out:

Anthony Orchard QC, representing Philpott, said: "Despite Mr Philpott's faults he was a very good father and loved those children. All the witnesses, even Lisa Willis [Philpott's former mistress], agree on this. There's no evidence at any stage that he deliberately harmed any of them.
Lord have mercy. I think I just threw up in my mouth a little. While realising that Orchard QC is doing his job in mitigating for his client - and Heaven knows it's a job few would want to undertake - the chutzpah in this claim makes one's eyes water. We are apparently to trust the character judgement of a woman who felt led to shack up with Philpott - while he was already married to Mairead. And yes, I concede that he did not deliberately harm them, but I'm sure that Orchard QC is aware of the ins and outs of involuntary manslaughter including such by gross negligence. Intent to harm is not required. Showing that "the defendant's negligence was gross, that is, it showed such a disregard for the life and safety of others as to amount to a crime and deserve punishment" would seem to have been a slam dunk in this case. When the families of both Philpotts regard justice as having been done by the convictions, you know you're on a bit of a loser of a case.

The mother's QC is also clearly out of ideas and trying a similar line of mitigation:

Shaun Smith QC, for Mairead Philpott, said there was no evidence "any of these children were in any sort of danger or peril prior to that night [of the fire] whatsoever".
This falls into the "not particularly true, and spectacularly irrelevant" category. Philpott's previous 7 years in chokey for attempted murder of a former girlfriend, and violence in every relationship since (according to the judge) should at least raise an eyebrow, even if it wasn't enough for Social Services to get involved.

It feels wrong to turn to the Mail for my facts, but those facts do seem to be rather damning:

Of the six children pulled dead or dying from the Philpott family home in the early hours of the morning of May 11, 2012, only ten-year-old Jade was wearing pyjamas. Jack and Jesse, eight and six, were in their underwear while Duwayne, 13, was in his jeans, as was John, nine. As for the youngest, Jayden, just five, he was wearing his full school uniform.
Right, so Philpott didn't care whether his children were comfortable in their beds. At least he ensured they didn't go hungry?
"The children would be given a quarter of a bun each with a bit of hot dog or burger in it, served with chips," he said. "There never seemed to be enough food to go around. Little Jayden just lived on chips."
Apparently not. He seemed to be able to afford a large TV or two, though. So apart from neglecting, starving and failing to clothe his children, Philpott was a very good father. Well, there was the whole burning-six-of-them-to-death-with-arson thing but let's not dwell, eh?

Sorry. There's something about this case that makes me see red.

Back to my original point, and I promise I had one. For backers of the current benefit system, this case could not have come at a worst time. When they wave their hands and say "cuts are bad, children will suffer and starve", the obvious rejoinder for their political opponents is to point to this case. "Hey, it seems that providing free housing and an alleged £60K/year of benefits (across all his children, presumably) isn't enough to prevent children starving, because scumbag parents like the Philpotts spend the money on themselves." This is of course unfair as a generality. There are relatively few people like Mick and Mairead Philpott in the UK with sprawling families, complete unwillingness to work, and a total dependency on benefit payments. Like it or not, though, people on near-minimum-wage paying income tax will be looking at these cases and thinking "hang on, just why am I working to provide these arseholes with a comfortable work-free life?"

It remains to be seen what impact cutting benefits to a family like the Philpotts will have. I have a horrible suspicion that, however their lifestyle changes, it won't be much to the detriment of the father nor to the benefit of the children. Regardless, the Philpott case is going to be the spur for further changes to the welfare system, presumably on the lines of "something must be done! this is something, therefore we must do it."

As for Mick and Mairead Philpott, I don't see them getting much leniency out of Mrs. Justice Thirlwall (aka Dame Kathryn). She has already stamped on Orchard QC trying to argue that the 1978 attempted murder was an isolated incident. In a impotent rape appeal case last year the defendant's argument that his victim wasn't really vulnerable didn't fly with her either:

O'Keefes lawyers said the vulnerability of his victim was not an aggravating factor and argued his sentence should be reduced, at the appeal court.
But Mrs Justice Thirlwall slammed this argument as a 'startling submission'. She said: "Not only is it startling, it is wrong. This application to appeal sentence is refused."
Not a dame to mince words. I look forward to her sentencing remarks tomorrow.

Update: Zoe Williams is first out of the gate defending the benefits system.

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