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Moment that mattered: Mick and Mairead Philpott are convicted of manslaughter

Tributes outside Mick Philpott's house as he and his wife Mairead were sentenced to life and 17 years respectively of the unlawful killing of the six siblings in the blaze at the family home in Victory Road, Derby, on May 11 last year.

“There was never any doubt that Mick and Mairead Philpott would be convicted of killing their six children in a fire at their home. I wasn’t surprised and nobody else was either. Although it was ultimately the forensic evidence that nailed them – traces of petrol were found on all three defendants [Paul Mosley, a family friend, assisted the couple in their plans] – the turning point for me was the infamous press conference they gave after the fire.

I made a film for Channel 4 about crocodile tears – insincere displays of emotion – and we featured this press conference because it was just so extraordinary. Mick Philpott had been on TV before, loved the limelight and thought he could handle the media. But he overestimated his own ability to play to the cameras and the extent to which his performance would be scrutinised. He’s clearly crying crocodile tears and he gives himself away by only thanking people for their support, not appealing for information on the killers. Guilty people have always maintained their innocence, but what has changed in recent decades is the level of media coverage and the public review of those crocodile tear moments.

I don’t think Mick Philpott planned to kill his children. It seems he had been planning to save the kids and look like a hero while framing Lisa Willis, a former mistress who had left him, hours before he faced her in court in a custody battle. It was most likely an attempt at arson that went horribly wrong. At first, most people in his community, a mainly council house part of Derby, believed his version of events. He was, after all, a bit of a folk hero. He was a Robin Hood figure, somebody who’d fathered 17 children, who sponged off the state, who lived with two women with whom he slept on alternate nights. He was anti-authority and anti-establishment and that creates a sort of mythology. Also, he’d been on ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’ and was a bit of a celebrity. A lot of people liked him and in the aftermath of the fire many felt real sorrow for what had happened. The community rallied round and had a collection for the funerals.

While making the film I met many people from the community where the Philpotts lived. I spoke to brothers Darren and Jamie Butler who had tried in vain to rescue the kids. They’re people you wouldn’t want to mess with, but they were incandescent about what the Philpotts had done and devastated by what they’d witnessed. We spoke to the kids’ godparents who initially believed the Philpotts but started to question their behaviour in the days after the fire – Mick singing ‘Suspicious Minds’ at karaoke in the pub and Mairead boasting about the new trainers she’d bought. When they realised that the Philpotts had done it, there was a huge sense of betrayal in the area.

I’ve made many films about crime and I think over the years I’m becoming more affected by them. But the Philpotts’ crimes didn’t affect me as much as cases when somebody has set out to kill. In the film we also featured Stuart Hazell, who killed 12-year-old Tia Sharp, his partner’s granddaughter. He was a sexual predator whereas Mick Philpott hadn’t set out to kill his children. That said, Philpott is a very nasty piece of work. If he didn’t get his way he was capable of anything.”

Nick London is the director of ‘Catching a Killer: Crocodile Tears’, a film for Channel 4 about the Philpotts’ crime and others where guilty people have feigned innocence.

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