by James Sturcke
Ten Leicestershire police officers are under investigation over the way they handled the case of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca Hardwick, who were found dead in a burned out car after suffering years of abuse from yobs, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said today.
An inquest last September found that police errors and inaction were partly responsible for driving the vulnerable single mother to kill herself and her severely disabled daughter.
Returning a verdict of suicide on Pilkington, 38, and unlawful killing for her 18-year-old daughter, whose bodies were found in a blazing car on a layby in October 2007, the jury decided that the police action "contributed" to the deaths, notably the failure of officers to connect dozens of separate calls for assistance.
The IPCC said it had served advisory notices on 10 officers informing them that their conduct was under investigation.
"This complex inquiry is going back over police contact with Fiona Pilkington, her daughter and neighbours over a period of several years. We are assessing information from family members, neighbours, the authorities involved, records of police contact, and the accounts of relevant police officers themselves," the IPCC said in a statement.
The inquest jury heard Pilkington contacted police on no fewer than 33 occasions in seven years in which youths throwing stones and shouting abuse had kept her a virtual prisoner in her home in Barwell, near Hinckley in Leicestershire.
Asked how police were responsible, the jury said: "Calls were not linked or prioritised."
The IPPC subsequently launched an investigation into the way the "distressing" case was handled, in particular, how seriously the police responded to Pilkington's calls for help.
The commission added that substantial work was still left to do: "We are progressing this rigorous investigation as swiftly as possible and will make our findings public in due course."
The inquest verdict also held the local council partly accountable for failing over a period of years to take action against the young gangs, and criticised the county social services department for not referring Pilkington for professional help after she said she felt suicidal.
The coroner, Olivia Davison, said: "I am concerned about the evidence I have received in this inquest about the process for gathering and recording information from victims of antisocial abuse."
Separately, the jury blamed poor sharing of information between the police and councils for contributing to the deaths, but also noted Pilkington had neither "sought nor accepted" help on occasions.
Pilkington's blue Austin Maestro was found in flames on a layby by the side of the A47 near the family's home on the night of 23 October, 2007. Inside the car, which had been set ablaze with petrol, were the severely burned bodies of Pilkington and Francecca. The inquest was told that Pilkington probably took the family's pet rabbit in the car as well to soothe Francecca, who had a mental age of about four.
The six-day hearing heard a mass of evidence, at times deeply harrowing, of the way in which gangs of teenagers and children, some as young as 10, had kept Pilkington, Francecca and Pilkington's son, Anthony, who has milder learning difficulties, "under siege".
Reacting to the news of the investigation, the shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, said: "There's no doubt that the tragic deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca have massively undermined public confidence in the ability of police to deal with antisocial behaviour.
"That's why it's really important that all the lessons are fully learned by those who were directly involved."
The same police who had time to delivers flowers to the home of Gerry and Kate McCann on September 10, 2007 in Rothley, England a day after the arguidos left Portugal. - photos from Life Magazine
The same Police who was working on a matter of International cooperation with the Portuguese Judiciary Police on the investigation to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann and whose site still links to the former arguidos site.
Press Release from the IPCC
Update on IPCC investigation into death of Fiona Pilkington - 16 March 2010
The following is an update from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC):
The IPCC's independent investigation into the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter is ongoing. We have gathered a variety of material and liaised with the police force, local social services and Hinckley Borough Council, who have co-operated fully. We have now served advisory notices on a total of 10 Leicestershire police officers and this situation is being kept under review. Such notices are not judgemental in any way, but are required under police misconduct regulations, and served on officers to advise that their conduct is under investigation.
This complex inquiry is going back over police contact with Fiona Pilkington, her daughter and neighbours over a period of several years. We are assessing information from family members, neighbours, the authorities involved, records of police contact, and the accounts of relevant police officers themselves. The extensive nature of the investigation means there is still substantial further work to do, and enquiries to be made by the IPCC. We are progressing this rigorous investigation as swiftly as possible and will make our findings public in due course.
Mark Pearson, IPCC Regional Communications Officer (Central Region) Tel: 0207-166-3239