Derby fire deaths: How police uncovered Mick Philpott's lies

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Media captionListen to secret police recordings of the Philpotts' conversations

On Friday 11 May 2012, Derby woke up to the news there had been a fire at a house in the Allenton area.

Within hours, the five children who lived at the home were dead, while a sixth was critically ill in hospital.

By the end of the month the children's parents, Mick and Mairead Philpott, stood accused of starting the fire.

So what was it about the couple that saw them change, in the police's eyes, from parents devastated by an arson attack into suspects capable of killing their children?

Tapes played during the couple's trial at Nottingham Crown Court suggested the scene at Victory Road on the night of the fire was one of panic.

Philpott can be heard shouting down the phone to the emergency services: "Help me! My babies are trapped inside!"

Image caption Police found a petrol can near the scene at Victory Road
Image caption A glove and a Dr Pepper bottle found near the scene were taken as evidence
Image caption The fire was started at the front door of the house while the children slept upstairs
Image caption The fire quickly spread to the landing

The couple claimed they had been asleep in the conservatory downstairs when the fire broke out.

The six children, Duwayne, 13, Jade, 10, John, nine, Jack, eight, Jesse, six, and Jayden, five, were all upstairs.

Philpott claimed he used a ladder in what Derbyshire Police described as "apparent valiant attempts" to rescue them.

However, Det Supt Kate Meynell was starting to hear a different side to the story from the Philpotts' neighbours, who had also tried to rescue the children that night.

She said: "Within a few days they commented on how they felt they were making more effort to rescue the children and that Michael Philpott was not as instrumental as he should have been."

'A sham'

The fire began in the hallway, below the letterbox, where petrol had been poured. Police found a petrol can near Victory Road and a glove which was taken as evidence. The blaze was clearly arson.

The police began their investigation by eliminating those closest to the family. A man Philpott was accused of assaulting was also ruled out.

More than 5,000 statements were taken by the 88 officers working on the case. The police even checked on everyone who had bought petrol in a container within a five-mile radius of the house in the days before the fire.

But their suspicions began to centre on the couple after they gave a press conference on 16 May.

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cotterill described Mick Philpott's behaviour as the most astonishing thing he had seen in three decades of policing.

"I would have expected him to be completely and utterly destroyed," he said. Instead, Mr Cotterill said, it was like watching an actor playing a part. "It was a sham, in my view."

'Stick to your story'

Officers had to tread carefully in investigating their suspicions.

Mick Philpott had a certain celebrity status, having appeared on the Jeremy Kyle show.

The police used covert recordings in the couple's hotel room to find the evidence to back up their suspicions.

Philpott was heard to tell his wife: "You make sure you stick to your story" and "They're not gonna find any evidence are they? You know what I mean?"

Image caption Det Supt Kate Meynell heard Philpott wasn't "as instrumental as he should have been" in the attempted rescue of his children

The evidence led to the couple's arrest on 29 May - initially for murder, although the charges were later changed to manslaughter.

In turn, those arrests brought about a chain reaction. People who knew the couple felt able to share their suspicions with the police.

"It gave some witnesses the confidence to come forward and talk about their concerns," said Det Supt Meynell.

By early November, forensic evidence had revealed there was petrol on the Philpotts' clothing and that of the couple's friend Paul Mosley. He too was arrested.

But what motive could have prompted a father to set fire to his house with his children trapped inside?

The police discovered that on the morning after the fire, Philpott had been due to face his former mistress Lisa Willis in court over access to his four children with her. The fire was an attempt to frame her in order to win custody of them.

But while the police's case was ultimately successful, Det Supt Meynell remains sorrowful.

She said: "I would never lose sight of the fact six children have died in the most horrendous circumstances at the hands of their mother and father and their friend."

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