Police and councils blamed for tragic deaths of mum and daughter

A jury has partly blamed the police and two councils for the tragic deaths of a mother and her disabled daughter. The coroner then singled out one of the authorities for criticism, saying it failed to protect a vulnerable family from the anti-social behaviour which haunted their daily lives.

Fiona Pilkington and her 18-year-old daughter, Frankie Hardwick, of Bardon Road, Barwell, died on October 24, 2007, in a car parked in a lay-by in Earl Shilton.

Ms Pilkington had doused the vehicle with petrol and set fire to it.

Speaking after the conclusion of an inquest into the deaths, relatives told how their lives would “never be the same again”.

Yesterday afternoon, coroner Olivia Davison, instructed an eight-member jury sitting at Loughborough Town Hall to consider nine questions as part of their verdict.

In responding to these questions, the jury concluded the response of Leicestershire police, Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council and Leicestershire County Council’s adult social services department all contributed to Ms Pilkington’s decision to kill herself and her daughter.

The foreman of the jury said Ms Pilkington’s calls to the police “were not linked or prioritised.”

He said the borough council were also responsible, saying “prior to February 2007, actions to control anti-social behaviour were not evident.”

The jury added that the adult social services team did not act on reports of Ms Pilkington’s suicidal thoughts in February 2007, saying “a referral was not made for a professional assessment of Fiona’s state of mind.”

The jury believed other factors also drove Ms Pilkington to suicide and their foreman said: “Information sharing between agencies was not sufficient.”

The jury concluded Ms Pilkington’s death was suicide and Frankie was unlawfully killed by her mum.

Coroner Olivia Davison said she would be writing a report directed at the borough council, which she would also send to the Ministry of Justice.

She said: “I’m concerned about the evidence I have received in this inquest about the process of gathering and recording information from victims of anti-social behaviour abuse.

“I’m also concerned about the activities of the council and the work they carried out to monitor the response of victims.”

All the authorities involved said they had learnt lessons from the deaths.

A serious case review carried out by an independent panel set out five ways in which things could be improved.

Mick Connell, chairman of the Safeguarding Adults Board and director of adult social care at Leicestershire County Council, presented the recommendations of the review to the inquest.

He said: “This has been a thorough review into very sad circumstances and, as mentioned earlier, our thoughts are with the family at this painful time.

“However, the findings and the recommendations, which are all in place, will be used to help improve the way in which local professionals and agencies work – both as individual agencies and in partnership.”

Thisisleicestershire video report on the inquest, including an interview with Alan Johnson.

The temporary Chief Constable of Leicestershire police, Chris Eyre, apologised to the family after the inquest.

He said: “We are extremely sorry that, at times, our actions failed to meet the family’s needs; in retrospect there are things we would have done differently.”

Steve Atkinson, chief executive of the borough council, said: “Sadly, we were not aware of the long history of harassment towards Fiona and the vulnerability of herself and her family, hence the lack of involvement from the council prior to February 2007.”

Speaking after the inquest, Pam and David Cassell, Ms Pilkington’s parents and Frankie’s grandparents, added they hoped the pair had not died in vain.

They said: “This case has highlighted the difficulties that families with disabled children face. We know that the agencies involved have looked to see how they can improve the way they work.

“If this helps just one family then their deaths would not have been in vain and something good will have come out of this tragedy.

“It’s been almost two years since we tragically lost Fiona and Frankie and we still find it hard to take in.

“We are hoping that now the inquest is over, we can try and get back to some kind of normality, although our lives will never be the same again.”

Over a period of more than 10 years, the family were terrorised by a group of youths who roamed their street.

The family were apparently targeted because of Frankie and her brother Anthony’s learning disabilities.

Frankie had a mental age of four and Anthony, now 19, has severe dyslexia.

The inquest heard how Ms Pilkington dreaded Bonfire Night and Hallowe’en because alongside those celebrations came flour bombs, eggs thrown at windows and verbal taunts.

One night, Anthony was held at knifepoint in a shed and on another occasion, documented in a diary given to her by the borough council, Ms Pilkington drew her curtains in despair. On May 12, 2007, she said four youths shouted insults outside the house until the early hours.

She wrote: “I drew back my rear curtains, turned my lights out and sat in the dark until 2.30am stressed out.”

The next day, she wrote: “I’m fed up, cheesed-off. Why can’t they just walk past without doing anything or walk on the other side of the road?”

In 2004 and 2007, Ms Pilkington wrote letters to her MP David Tredinnick, asking him to help.

In one, which was read out at the inquest, she wrote: “Eleven years of misery, no wonder my hair is coming out. What do you do? Take another 11 years of criminal damage and abuse?

“What do I have to do to get my street back to a normal one so people can go out at night?”

One family involved in the Pilkington case are still living on Bardon Road and causing anti-social behaviour problems.

No-one has ever been prosecuted in relation to Ms Pilkington’s complaints.